ALAN LUCIEN ØYEN

Looking Ahead

Massimo Leardini

Joe Szekeres

To speak with dance artists from across the globe has become personally enlightening as I learn more about this intricate art form.

A recent press release I received from Harbourfront Centre spoke about artist Alan Lucien Øyen's upcoming production of 'Story, story, die' at the Fleck Dance Theatre June 28-29 as part of his company Nordic Bridges. The Harbourfront Centre release stated: “[Alan] is a master of staged performance. Based in Bergen, Norway, Øyen and his labyrinthine work straddle dance, theatre, opera and film, and his hybrid approach to all forms is acclaimed for their highly emotional and dramatic drive.”

I’m unable to attend this upcoming production at the end of this month but the more I read about Alan, the more I wanted readers to see how he incorporates the world of dance to tell a story.

Alan came across as a very humble man during our conversation. I received the strong impression he is extremely grateful for the opportunities given to him professionally. For him, dance and the creation of the performing arts becomes a social experience both for the artists and audiences and Covid did certainly change the trajectory of the art form going forward into an uncertain future.

At this point in time for him, Alan wonders about the long-term effects of Covid and will audiences at this time return. He also remarked about a strange phenomenon that musical theatre has seemed to return with audiences present while theatre is still trying to gain its hold with audiences. What makes movement and singing different from someone who speaks?

Even within this conundrum, he's hopeful audiences will return.

I am as well since the Harbourfront press release also states that Story, story, die is a work that questions who we (really) are and who we pretend to be. It’s like an open wound. Both artists and audiences will have to tread carefully as we begin to emerge slowly and return to performing and sharing stories.

Personally, Alan believes after being shell-shocked at the result of Covid, it taught him how the artist had to flex the imagination. He first showed his humility while sharing a laugh with me in stating he wasn’t going to be the most creative in the Tik Tok territory venture.

After we shared a quick laugh, Alan then stated he felt like a ‘bad creative’ for a bit when he felt like he didn’t want to venture into the Tik Tok territory or into any creative streaming presentation online. Why? That third dimension of the physicality and energy of dance is not great on screen. Alan then shared how he was able to capture this third dimension of the physicality of dance filmed which was quite exciting for him. Hopefully, moving forward, the creative and immersive work of dance can continue in the theatre once again as safely as possible for all involved.

What does Øyen still believe he must accomplish in the world of dance? For him, it’s both simple and complicated. For him, the ambition and the goal have always been the same. He wants to move people.
When Alan attends any theatre, he hopes he can forget about himself for a while and immerse himself in the lives of those on stage. While he works in dance, he also works in theatre. If dance and theatre can move him emotionally when he watches something, this is exactly what Alan hopes as well for audiences when they see his work. By forgetting oneself and immersing oneself in the work, Alan hopes he walks away with a new perspective. This is exactly what he would like audiences to do with his dance works as well – to walk away with a new perspective.

Usually, when I comment or review something, I like to ponder and ask why the story needs to be told at this time. The Harbourfront press release states: “Story, story, die. features seven extraordinary dancers in a charged choreography that looks at the complicated synergy between lies and love and the staged images we create to be accepted [through] a raw, unfiltered and a deeply vulnerable take.” I asked Øyen to explain further why it needs to be told:

“It’s a piece that in very many ways is a response to our time. I don’t know if we intended to do that with it, but it became that way. We started looking at fictionalization in everyday life. I’m always deeply fascinated by the concept of staging and the element of fiction and where they meet and how they affect each other. Whether it’s a true story or not, fiction always comes into play. When it’s a true story, then it’s the how and why it is fictionalized.”

Alan claims the artists involved did not set out to create a social media piece, but in many ways, it can be looked at through the social media lens. It is through social media this piece is clearly articulated through the staging. When he worked on the preparation of this production, he watched YouTube selections of young kids and how their various channels were strategized for relaying their life. What became clearly obvious in all Alan’s preparation was the fast-paced element of the world in which we now find ourselves.

One message he hopes audiences will take away from Story, story, die? It’s okay, it’s totally fine that whatever happens in your life, you will be fine. You’re not alone. The FJORD REVIEW described “‘Story story die’ as admirable for its sexiness and startlingly original highlights.” When I asked Alan what this comment meant, it appeared he might not have seen that comment as he laughed for a quick second and then said:

‘Well, sexiness is very subjective, isn’t it?”

I think I put Øyen on the spot initially because he didn’t know what to say. He accepted the compliment readily and stated he agrees the dancers in his production are very sexy people as they are truly phenomenal dancers. There is an intimate connection between the person and the body with dancers that actors in a stage production might not have. That connection comes from touch and physicality for the entire day through rehearsals. whereas theatre, for Alan, is an intellectual exercise that may not involve the same degree of physicality and touch.

Nathalie Bonjour, Director, Performing Arts at Harbourfront Centre stated: “Øyen’s Story, story, die. is a theatrical experience that both challenges our notions of love and happiness and unites us in our collective search for meaningful connection in an increasingly disconnected world.” Alan smiled and felt she encapsulated rather well what the presentation was all about. He said he would describe what Bonjour stated in lay person’s terms so that it could be understood by all. Alan stated if there are two people in a relationship, then the question arises of who am I with you? And what is the real me? And is it ever possible to get to this realization? And who are we together?

Story story die runs June 28 and 29. For tickets and further information visit www.harbourfrontcentre.com

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