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Nordic Tour March 2013 - performance notes

In March this year 26 years after Anúna was formed, I took a group of young singers to the Nordic countries. We did three concerts in three very different venues. In Oslo it was the flag hall of the medieval Askerhus fortress overlooking Oslo Fjord, a large room with an invited audience. The focus in the room was a compact raised stage.

In Stockholm it was Sofia Kyrkan which was a more traditional church but with a huge area in front of the altar and seating almost “in the round”.

The final venue was Temppeliaukion Kirkko in Helsinki. A highly unusual space with radiating aisles and a nave that unfortunately we couldn't pair with the altar. In other words the natural and intended axis was usable but not relevant in terms of where the choir were processing from and there they would eventually end up [you can see the grey steps on the left hand side of the altar which was our performance area - a gift to all chiropractors]. 

Oslo was simple because the restriction of space and the size of the audience made the performance easy to work out. This was a secular venue so we played down the spiritual elements in terms of restricting movement in the space and concentrating on the sonic elements.

Sofia Kyrkan [built.1906] in Stockholm is a working Lutheran church and the design pertained directly to the method of worship. Because of the area in front of the altar I concentrated on movement and treating this space as the heart of the church, almost surrounded by the audience. The focal point shifted from the edges to the middle and culminated in a procession to the center. It was simply a device to draw the congregation into the performance, which in itself was a direct reaction to the space and nothing else.


Temppeliaukion Kirkko [built.1969] in Helsinki was a completely different issue altogether. The building was designed with the intention that any potential ritual and movement would be focused on one place: the altar. However with this performance we were prohibited from using the altar. The result was that the processional axes no longer had any relevance to the design of the space.

Over many years we have had to tackle spaces as difficult as this and when the natural axis of the building is disrupted we improvise, constantly using what are perceived problems and turning them into advantages. In this case we opened with the Quis est Deus as a reaction to the restrictions. Our "angels" congregated at the altar and our lead vocal asked the audience "where is God? Of whom is God and where does He live?”. In Architecture we used to use a process whereby the initial concept [usually a plan or section] would be sketched on butter paper and then flipped over so we were looking at it in reverse. Sometimes clarity comes when the problem is approached from a different perspective. Since then when faced with concept on any artistic project, I always flip it over to see what results. So when it came to this particular performance of Quis est Deus this is what I did. We had to create a single moment of focus and relevance, drama to be blunt.

Procession was proving impossible to maintain along the natural axes of the church. The point of ritual would have to be a single act. In the past the final stanzas were intoned with the hands presented to show the wounds of Christ. A four-hour rehearsal before a two hour gig is draining but it was necessary to capture the significance of this so we did it over and over again and each time I told the soloist to show her hands repeatedly. I didn’t know whether she was doing it right. In fact I wasn’t even sure that she fully knew the implications of the act. We weren’t re-enacting any known practice that I know of. But when she knew she was doing it right, everyone else in the room did too. We were there in that moment creating our own ritual for that particular space and it became important because it was important to us. To me the irony of a young woman showing Christ's wounds is significant for many reasons that I won't go into here. Also fully one third of these singers were from Northern Ireland. We had been there at the end of the troubles and now we were here with our tiny country beleaguered by banks and politics and corruption, representing our whole island to the world on our national week.

There were over thirty Ambassadors present. Were they asking who she was and what she was representing? Was she enacting something that they were supposed to understand?

What was actually happening in that beautiful space at that precise moment?

A tall young woman in a black dress was showing them her hands and nothing more. I knew it was that simple and yet I shuddered when she raised her outstretched palms.

All I know was that in that moment we were doing it right.

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