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American-Norwegian duo combines music and dance in immersive performance

Marit Sandsmark performing in “o’death” Credit: Courtesy of Maria Baranova

A duo hailing from Norway, the second-happiest country in the world, have produced a dark vision of the future.  

Findlay//Sandsmark, an American-Norwegian performance ensemble that focuses on combining sound, movement and visualization, will be bringing its production “o’death” to the Mershon Auditorium stage this weekend.

The show’s title references Reverend J. M. Gates’ sermon and gospel song “Oh! Death, Where Is Thy Sting?”and combines the creative talents of Iver Findlay and choreography created and performed by Marit Sandsmark.

The performance is set in a dream-like post-apocalyptic setting and has props onstage, but features no storyline or dialogue.  Findlay, the co-artistic leader of Findlay//Sandsmark and the director and designer of “o’death,” said he and Marit Sandsmark began working together to create a “meeting place” between live music and dance disciplines.

“We really wanted to develop a hybrid approach between those sort of things,” Findlay said. “Basically, a choreographic tool set, or a choreographic sort of idea sort of framing the piece, but also it works with a live music quotient.”

While the company often commissions other performers for their performances, Findlay said he enjoys the simplicity that comes from having just he and Sandsmark write and perform “o’death.” The production fits the ensemble’s goal of creating a confluence of artistic disciplines such as movement, sight and sound, he added.

“I think it’s a really great piece. It was nice that we were able to go back and sort of simplify, you know, at that meeting place where we wanted to make something that felt like it could be a concert,” Findlay said. “It has a really heavy, moving sound score that also has a really serious choreographic approach, and how that choreographic approach can be framed inside of a visual reference field, and also a textual reference field.”

Findlay said it is important, especially to him, to perform in the U.S. because although he lives in Norway, he’s from America.

“It’s been very important, very interesting for me to have our work performed in America because it resonates with me (because) I’m the American artist,” Findlay said. “Whenever we have a European audience, it’s this different thing, and I’m starting to understand it more and more and negotiate that. There’s something very interesting and warming to me to share our work with an American audience, because it feels more complete somehow.”

Chuck Helm, performing-arts curator at the Wex, said he wanted to bring another immersive performing arts piece to campus because it appeals to a younger audience and allows them to immerse themselves in the performance.

“I just think that it’s an important new trend in the performing arts,” Helm said. “I think a lot of young audiences in particular are looking for not only the arts, but all kinds of participatory kinds of experiences and immersive experiences.”

Helm said that this performance differs from others in the sense that the set creates a whole other world for audience members to enter. Although the set has the ability to take audience members to an otherworldly dreamscape, Helm said the set pieces are made out of simple items, such as foam towers. Instead of sitting on risers or chairs, the audience sits on milk crates close surrounding the performance space.

“Unlike just sort of a simple set, it’s sort of an all-encompassing environment that you enter,” he said. “It’s very striking in terms of the visual world.”

Findlay said he hopes audiences will be moved in some way by the performances.

“I want them to feel something,” Findlay said. “I want them to share in the alchemy that we try to create between the disciplines and circulation between things and the visual landscape and to have it touch them and have them think and be moved and provoked and have an experience.”

“o’death” will be performed Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. at Mershon Auditorium. Tickets are $10 for students, $19 for members and $22 for the general public.

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