A post by our guest blogger, Kari Tauring, Nordic roots scholar, performer, and educator
This past spring I was contacted by Circus Juventas and asked to lend my expertise in the myths and runes of the pre-Christian Nordic countries to their new summer show. I was quick to recommend Ingebretsen’s for unique catering and the organization Asafolk for Viking Era martial arts. We live in the center of a thriving Nordic ethnic enclave and resources are abundant! What a delight to get behind the scenes of such a production. The week before show opening my friend and colleague from Norway, Sonja Lidsheim and I presented Nordic songs and stories at the lunch hour. We sang in Old Norse, blew the birchbark lur and cow horn, and answered a barrage of questions from these talented youths who aimed to deepen their characterizations of these mythic entities. We gave the horn blessing at that time too. The first prayers in the horn were from Co-founder and Artistic Director Elizabeth “Betty” Butler whose first words were for the safety of these children as they push themselves to the limits of their ability. This set the tone for the opening night blessing as well.
It was a perfect summer evening outside the Big Top on opening night. Asafolk were sword fighting and ax throwing, venders were selling beers called Saga and Hell, and the crowd was swelling as we sang and staved Komme Alle, Come Everyone. We offered the earth gifts of water from this sacred land, geitost (brown goat cheese) from the land of Nordic peoples, and put it together with potato lefse, the inter-continental “glue”. Then we passed the blowing horn from hand to hand, a long cow horn in the key of D. Grandmothers and children, parents and supporters held the horn and whispered into the bell, prayers for safety and brilliance for these young performers. When the horn was full of good wishes, I blew them into the nine worlds with three blasts! Then we took our seats. My mother and son (who had taken a summer class at Circus Juventas in his youth) with his girlfriend were on one side of me and my fellow Nordic staff carrier Aneesa was on the other side with her daughter who had been part of this organization from the age of eight. Together we took in the spectacle that is Nordrsaga!
The first lines of the Eddaic poem Voluspa (the staff carriers prophesy) in Old Norse sets the context for the performance. In the beginning was only Ice and Fire and Ginungagap, the gaping void. It is my voice, but not mine – the old poem is chanted through the mist of time while young, glowing acrobats whirl up and down on silks that stream from the heavens. We were moved to tears by that first act. It was graceful, powerful, and connected to a deep Nordic root.
You can hear my voice again as the Norns, the three ancient fate women who give direction and advice, guiding the hero through the nine worlds. The story line connects a new character, Leif, to the god Thor and the hammer Mjolnir which he has once again lost. The hero must confront Frost Giants, Fire Giants, a host of Viking warriors, and prove his worth by rescuing the hammer. Protected by Freyja and Odin both, the hero learns more about his worth that he ever could have guessed.
The strength and stamina of these youths was simply amazing. For three hours, they twirled and tumbled, hung from the rafters and stilted across Midgard, holding one another up with feet, ribbons, sheer muscle, and an abundance of trust. If you have any knowledge of Norse myth you will easily recognize Freyja and her Valkyries, the Dwarves, Loki, Hela, the ice and fire giants. There is a nod to Tolkien as well when we are transported to Lothlórien the land of elves and an accompanying Finnish tune. The costuming and set design were brilliant and the whole thing was a whirling, magical, mind blower.
We all agreed that we should see the performance again. There is so much going on, so much to see, so much to experience, that it is impossible take it in all at once. Bring a stadium seat with you for comfort and a few extra dollars to spend on Ingebretsen’s kransekake bars being sold especially for this production and to support this amazing organization.
Circus Juventas was honored at the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival in Washington, D.C. this past summer and seeing this production, you can surely understand why. As a mother who entrusted her child to this organization, as a participant in a new creation, and as a member of the community, I couldn’t be more proud of Circus Juventas. Best Summer Project Ever!
Nordrsaga runs every weekend through August 13 (2017). Tickets are available at: https://circusjuventas.ticketworks.com/
Ingebretsen’s is presenting Kari, who will be teaching her seasonally inspired Nordic root workshops at Norway House again this year. Her rune book and recordings are available at Ingebretsen’s.