Jo Strømgren Kompani

'Tok Pisin' and 'Destination Moscow'

by Jurate Terleckaite

September 2003 -- Vilnius, Lithunia

Image of "Tok Pisin" by Mikhail Rashkovsky


Since 1999, Lithuanian dance lovers have had the opportunity to see Jo Strømgren’s works, such as “There”, “A Dance Tribute to the Art of Football“, “Masculine Mysteries” and “The Arrival”, in the New Baltic Dance festival.

His new work, “Tok Pisin“, is a typical modern dance performance about everything and nothing, without a clear story,. Four dancers, Line Tørmoen, Maxime Lannarelli, Yasmine Hugonnet together with the choreographer attempt to dream about “something exotic”, located perhaps in Papua New Guinea, as well as analysing their relationships. The men, led by instincts, abuse the women and vice-versa. The couples move closer to each other and back, associations form and break, implying the absurdity of searching for love, and ending on a darkened stage without a future. However, the relationships on stage seemed artificial and the rhythm slow and faltering. Using projected images from a 1938 film about Papua New Guinea, the choreographer tried to create an exotic atmosphere. In the words of Strømgren, he wanted to mock the passion of Europeans for travelling in exotic countries.

The dancers’ plastique was illustrated by rather poor movements, which have been abundant during the entire history of modern dance in Lithuania: swinging hands and legs, lunges, jumps and falls. Sometimes they were synchronised and sometimes expressed by each dancer individually.

The lightning (by Stephen Rolfe) was interesting and gave the performance a certain playfulness and warmth. The darkness would narrow the space when the actors were overcome with boredom and the light would reappear with the return of resolution. But at the end the darkness caught the “hunters for the exotic” and would not let them escape from their boredom and the audience also felt in the grip of the darkness.

“Tok Pisin” was less convincing compared with Strømgren’s previous performances. Lithuanian critics described “Tok Pisin” as “hanging around“ or even a step backwards for the choreographer.

Jo Strømgren and the film director Runar Hodne also presented the world première of the film “Destination Moscow” in Vilnius. The action takes place “somewhere“ east of Poland“ a few decades ago. The film was actually made in Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave bordering Lithuania, a near impossible task and it is positive that Jo Stromgren made his film despite all the difficulties.

As in “Tok Pisin”, journey is a central theme. Through the blood and guts desire of the 6 provincial actors to travel to Moscow and perform in the Pushkin Theatre, the film makers attempt to return to the Soviet era and destroy Norwegian myths about life behind the Iron Curtain. The film’s language is rude and sarcastic, but also snappy. The story is far from realistic and overall I suspect the authors got more from making the film than the public gained from watching it. Rather than being funny, it reminded me of the horrible reality of life under the Iron Curtain; the positive thing is that the Soviet reality, at least in Lithuania, is over.

The team remembers several funny situations. In one of them, an old man, seeing on the street enormous posters of Lenin left by the team, said with pain in his voice, “I knew that the Soviets will return…“.

The film’s team describe Strømgren as a quiet, uncapriciuous and warm artist, able to inspire others with his ideas and his feeling of responsibility. The impossible becomes possible for him.


Edited by Stuart Sweeney

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