The following review is courtesy of Marcie Hill-Jacobsen, writer:
I know nothing of Norse mythology except for my passing familiarity with Odin, thanks to preadolescent Dungeons & Dragons explorations in the basement of my childhood neighbor’s house. So at the opening of Joe Chvala’s “ Between Fire and Ice (Mjllnir II)” I found myself out of my mythological depth, struggling to catch up with the myth stories presented, working out the names and characters and each piece’s relationship to the others in the show. Clipping on my literary cap, I dutifully searched for parallels between the myths and the postmodern world gone awry, following Chvala’s statement in the program notes that the original “ Mjllnir” was “ a way…to make sense of the twentieth century,” in 1995, reworked for 2005 to reflect on the world that has by now gone in “ every possible wrong direction.” I drank in the gorgeous but unfussy visual presentation. (Drapey brown robes on the singers! Green lighting! White plastic garbage bags for ice!) I listened to the Scandinavian-language singing. (Beautiful and unintelligible–so transporting!) I giggled at the comic moments in the dramatic sequences (Funny husband in purple silk jammies!), I watched the images of land, trees and human bodies undulating across the screen upstage, and did everything I could to link one piece with another to discern an overarching narrative in all this theatrical excellence. My conclusion: I didn’t get it. The pieces never coalesced to tell one story and I wasn’t learning a darn thing about Norse mythology.
But that’s fine with me. “ Between Fire and Ice (Mjllnir II)” isn’t a platform to tell ancient stories or edify its audience toward any pro-Scandinavian Humanities end. Generally, each vignette as lifted from the Volsunga Saga and The Niebelungenlied is an avenue to examine the human relationships and flaws found in the stories, through movement, in the most kinetic and perfectly fierce ways possible. These dances are unashamedly beautiful and acrobatic, often masculine, surgically fluid, and sometimes frightening in their speed and confrontation–such as the standout duet between legendary rival queens Kriemhild and Brunhilde. Played out here it the erotic connection between enemy women and its violent, horrific manifestations. Dancers Megan McClellan and Karla Grotting face off with ferocious grace and naked emotion, hating yet loving the power their hatred of each other gives them. Honestly, I loved it too. And I was terrified for them as they screamed and threw each other and interlocked limbs. For a moment I wasn’t watching a performance, but rather, the darker selves of two stunning dancers emerging for real.
In its most literal moments, this show’s analogies to contemporary life are intellectual and easygoing, such as a corporate-world parody in which a number of human figures in suits or skirts engage in martial dances on a boardroom table to win a king-of-the-hill-style contest. Once the contest is won and dancer and archetypal masculine figure Luke Walrath dances triumphant, the trickster god Loki handily throws Walrath off the table, who hits the floor and reels with shock, then laughs. He’s laughing off the humiliation of a failure he didn’t foresee, the failure of a man who’s won because of his skill and craftiness but lost because of his arrogance–he hadn’t seen Loki coming during his victory dance. This tidy exposé of human folly makes for the clearest connection between myths and the living realities they seek to inform.
I enjoyed this rare slice of (relatively) straightforward storytelling; it seemed appropriate given Chvala’s outspoken intent to explore modern life through story, but again, this show isn’t about stories. It’s about the dreamlike power that myth exerts, and dance’s ability to showcase that power.
By the time the cast bowed and the audience howled its congratulations, my efforts to intellectualize the show were thoroughly irrelevant. I’d seen a collection of risky, gorgeous, deeply human dances that took me to the heart some of my own personal conflicts and fears. And this is how I knew that the myths presented in this show are not to be studied, but rather to be understood through the singular, physical liturgies of movement and music. See Mjllnir II for its pain and power. See it for its reckless beauty. See it and let it happen to you.