singing another end of the world

The sonic science-fiction performance, Solastalgia, created and directed by Madeleine Kate McGowan and with music composed by Soho Rezanejad & Cæcilie Trier, as part of an ambitious music-drama program at Sort/Hvid Theatre, invited guests into a micro universe on the other side of a climate collapse. As a guest you visited Ma-Ma, or as they call themselves, Those Who Sing, a nomadic group seeking collective catharsis out of the penetrating state, solastalgia, – the feeling of being homesick even though you are home. A feeling spreading across the world. They do this through song, the vibration of the voice and mythological stagings.

Mille Lindberg Hansen, director in the theatre company UBESTEMT, visited Solastalgia. Here is her experience in her own words:

Rose Marie Lindstrøm as Grainer in Solastalgia. Photo by Christian Friedländer

It is just below zero degrees, and completely dark outside, as I walk from Copenhagen Central Station through the Meatpacking Districk to Sort/Hvid Theatre. I am on my way to a 48-hour long ritual “Solastalgia”.

“You come from The Surface where a pandemic of grief has left millions homesick. Everyone has Solastalgia. Everyone is longing for home, as our common home, Earth, is falling apart because of widespread eco-collapse and climate catastrophe. And as you know, in the region once known as Europe, social and political unrest has created a constant war in the borderlands, all national states have dissolved, millions of people are displaced. You have heard rumours about us, ‘Ma-Ma’, or as we call ourselves, ‘Those who Sing’” – This was the introduction granted to guests by entry.

Francesca Burattelli as Terra in Solastalgia. Photo: Martin Høyer

When I walk into the stage at Teater Sort/Hvid, a scarf is tied around my arm by a performer. I must give it back when I leave. The same performer leads me into a big room. There are metal racks that separate the stage into smaller rooms, while you can walk on metal platforms above it all. The sect Ma-Ma has taken over, and they have created six small rooms where they sleep, eat, write and perform rituals. I am being invited into their world. The ritual has been going on for 46 hours, and I am here to experience the last two.

The performer whispers in my ear: “I need you to keep your eyes and ears open”. Then she walks away.

I keep my eyes and ears open, as I was told. After 20 minutes I feel comfortable enough to walk around inside the installation and explore it by myself. Suddenly everything starts to shake. It is dark in the room, and the lights start to flicker. A fog rises from below, as a loud rumbling gets louder and louder, until it is unbearable. I feel the panic inside. As quickly as it starts, as quickly it stops.

Madeleine Kate McGowan as Shannon in Solastalgia at Sort/Hvid, Copenhagen. Photo: Martin Høyer.

I go to the other side of the room to listen to a performer playing cello beautifully, while it looks like two performers are healing an audience member. A ritual starts by a well. The performers start to clap their thighs while walking in unison back and forth.

I walk up the stairs to watch the ritual from above. Suddenly I hear light footsteps on the metal stairway that connects to the platform where I am standing. The steps are gentle. My body freezes, as I can feel the sense of a person standing behind me. It is the performer that I just witnessed by the well. She takes a step forward and stands right beside me. She is so close that our shoulders and arms are touching each other. As she stands next to me, I notice, a before invisible, microphone tied to the metal rack. Both of us are standing right in front of it. I am unsure if I am in the middle of a ritual, and I do not want to disturb it.

But then she starts singing.

It is beautiful. It is melancholic. It is gentle. It is strong. It is filled with sorrow. It is soothing.

It feels like a lullaby, and at the same time a cry for help.

I have been so focused on the woman beside me, that I have not noticed that everybody in the room is also looking at her. They heard her call across the open land, as if they were animals waiting to be summoned. They know what to do. This call means assemble. It means unite. It means to gather. And they do just that.

I look at the woman again. It feels too intimate, almost as if I can see her inner thoughts. That is how close she is standing to me. My breathing has become fast. So, I look around instead.

Aaron Nora Scherer as Grainer in Solastalgia. Photo: Martin Høyer.

It feels like one big collective movement acting as one body, positioning itself around the singing woman beside me. The performers have joined her song, and they are singing as a choir in canon following their leader.

As they look at her, they also look at me. Accepting me into the collective. I feel brave enough to look at her now.

Standing there, feeling unity, feels good. Her pain is my pain, and my pain is her pain. Our pain is all the performers’ pain, and theirs are ours.

The pain of the world.

I see that the performers follow the audience out, one by one. I know that my part in Solastalgia is coming to an end as well. So, I pretend that I have not seen what is happening. I stand as still as I can, hoping that the performers have forgotten about me, or that they have accepted me as a part of their sect. Or maybe they will just let me stay. Just for one more minute…

I am the last person being followed out by a performer. I look back at the woman standing on the metal rack.

Still singing. Still uniting the group. Still fighting.

Fom Solastalgia at Sort/Hvid, Copenhagen. Photo: Martin Høyer.

Credits SOLASTALGIA, 2021

  • Concept, direction, and performance: Madeleine Kate McGowan
  • Music by: Soho Rezanejad & Cæcilie Trier
  • Performers: Aaron Nora Scherer, Rose Marie Lindstrøm, Francesca Burattelli, Madeleine Kate McGowan, Soho Rezanejad, Cæcilie Trier, Lucie Cure
  • Canon composition: Clarissa Connelly
  • Hybrids: Alberte E. Clausen and Oliver M. Guedes
  • Scenography: Dicki Lakha and Jonathan Hjorth
  • Scenography assistant: Ira Kapaj
  • Documentation: Frida Stannum
  • Textile print: Cæcilie Vangberg
  • Produced by Sort/Hvid
  • Supported by: The Danish Arts Council, NXT

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