High North Movement was undoubtedly the strangest thing I saw at the Fringe all week. This is no mean feat, given that other productions included a Japanese re-telling of a Brecht musical set in a funeral parlour, another musical about death and a dance piece performed in a tiny box. So props to dance artist Liv Hanne Haugen for surpassing all these other contenders to win the title with this one-woman show. Haugen helpfully describes her piece as “a political performance in motion”; she plays with the themes of politics and movement, highlighting the variety of ways in which they connect in a manner that is bright, humorous and effective.
She begins by lecturing us from a podium, wearing a ‘serious’ trouser suit and a headset microphone. She tells of how she has lived in Brussels for most of her adult life but in 2009 decided to return home to her native Norway. Arriving home, she discovered that the area she was from, the northern part of the country, had been transformed from being a countryside backwater to a place of great political importance, hype and investment (due to its oil reserves and vast swathes of uninhabited land). Haugen is incredibly likeable in her expressiveness and wry style as she weighs up the pros and cons of the Norwegian government’s ‘High North strategy’, displaying both positivity and scepticism.
After ten minutes of oration in this vein, we are a bemused and confused audience – then Haugen picks up the Norwegian and Russian flags that flanked her podium and begins dancing with them. The dance is beguiling and ridiculous in equal measure. Haugen mixes what seems like advanced technical training in contemporary dance with folksy movements that give her choreography a more personal edge. She has a fantastic eye for shape and uses the movement of her clothing to enhance this; unfortunately she is clearly constrained in a few of her dances by the insufficient stage space.
The piece continues to move between discussion and dance as Haugen reveals interesting details about the relationship between Norway and its neighbour Russia, her Russian sister-in-law’s experience of living in Norway and several political dance actions undertaken by Haugen, to give a few examples. Dried fish also feature prominently and physically. There are some technical issues that need resolving as they did make the piece drag somewhat. High North Movement is definitely a Marmite show: I know I have friends that would find it torturous, but I always admire experimentation and, when Haugen asked us to join in with some of her movements, not one member of the small audience declined.
*** – 3/5 stars
High North Movement played at C Venues until 27 August as part of the Edinburgh Festival.