Korall koral -a baby opera
is a performance specifically created for children below the age of three and their adult companions.
Korall koral – a baby opera is a cooperation between Dieserud/ Lindgren, The Norwegian Opera & Ballet and The Norwegian Touring Theatre. It had Opening Night 4. June 2009 at the Opera House in Oslo and has been staged there for six seasons. The production has been on tour for five seasons in Norway, visited Sweden, the Faroe Islands, the Netherlands, England, Northern Ireland, France, Germany, Denmark and Bosnia Herzegovnia. It is now played more than 462 times, for more than 19.000 persons.
The audience are coaxed by noise into a shell-shaped tent in the Opera’s foyer, where two performers with specially designed instruments create music and song. The instruments resemble sea creatures; there are weird creatures such as the sea horse harp, bagpipe creature, glass chime jellyfish and double creature flute. Perhaps we are somewhere below the surface in the Arctic Ocean? There are creatures here we know very little about. There is no linear plot to be followed but rather a series of events with excitement or triggers of excitement, humour or tranquility. The music is composed by Maja Ratkje, who is renowned for her exploration of the voice. We shape sounds to language and song in a musical game.
In this opera babies and adults have equal qualifications. There is nothing to be explained or understood.
Duration: After the 20 minutes performance, children and adults are invited to explore the room and instruments by themselves.
The tent as setting, the scenography a foreign place. A tent provides a feeling of being in a temporary room. This shuts out the outside world and creates an intimacy which gives both children and adults a focus. The tent we bring is easily mounted in the foyers of the operahouses/ theatres we visit. It is constructed to stand without any form of anchoragepoints in the room. It takes one and a half hour to set up or take down and it seat totally 45 persons.
And then remained still the final day performances of her (the festival composer, Maja Ratkje) baby-opera “Korall koral.” An imaginative game with sounds and movements for 20 minutes in a small tent for children aged 0 to 3 years who has been performed in four countries and seen by over ten thousand children. An opera that creep forward and crawl around in its very own underwater world until it rises from the bottom – like a starfish with a sudden desire for heaven. A horrifying but wonderful wagner moment for the little ones – that alone is reason for an early call also from Stockholm.
Martin Nyström in swedish news Dagens Nyheter review of Båstad Chamber Music Festival 2012
Rewiew by Elin Høyland in Norwegian Shakespeare- and theater magazine 2/2011
Intelligent life on the seabed
Performing arts for children? Yes, or as demonstrated in Korall koral – a baby opera:
Theatre for the very smallest understood as deep and free intelligence.
Under a white canvas stretched over arched steel pipes shaped like a shell, are a cluster of children and adults. Most of the children are somewhere between 1 and 2 years old, I would guess. And, yes, rightly enough, adults are also invited, although the age group for the performance is an unusual category of theatre-goers to be found in foyers: children between 0 and 3.
On the floor in front of us, which is covered with a bright green sea grass-like carpet, two figures come creeping in from each side. The two female performers look like sea anemones, or rather fable-like figures from the ocean, where names and words are not important; the figures just are there, not unlike the small people, with their special form of intuitive intelligence and their inherent total presence.
Korall koral – a baby opera premiered in 2009 in cooperation between Hanne Dieserud and Christina Lindgren (concept, production and direction), the Norwegian Opera and Ballet and The Norwegian Touring Theatre. This was after the trio gained success with Høyt opp i fjellet. Korall koral has by now been seen by over 8000 people. Central to the concept is the composer Maja Ratkje’s soundscape that was developed in close cooperation with Lindgren, best known for her many years as scenographer. Here she has created objects that function as both instrumental and theatrical figures in the room – such as a conch shell who ‘sings’ out Ratkje’s composition of Russian and Polynesian words, a playful language which it is possible to imagine that children may recognise.
Oceanic Room of Resonance
The trio Dieserud/Lindgren/Ratkje represents an artistic complexity that weaves together to form a sea of sound and intriguing scenic figures, where the ocean is the outspoken underlying theme. The quality of the performance is palpable; composition, scenography, song and dance, come together in sense stimulating games.
The fascination for it all was evident among the audience. Large eyes, laughter, the beginning of tears, and not the least direct applause from a small theatergoer were all present during the performance: – ‘Yes!’ he suddenly shouted and clapped his hands, when the ‘sea anemonies’ rolled over on the seabed or the seahorse harp was played on. The latter was a beautiful stringed instrument with iron body which resembled a sea horse. It was designed by Lindgren and produced by composer and instrument creator Jon Halvor Bjørnseth and blacksmith Merete Nilsen Bua. The two actors (performed in rotation by Hanne Dieserud, Silje Johnsen Aker, Hanna Gjermundrød or Camilla Vislie) inhabit a languorous movement language, where they constantly change shape and tone, with the use of voice and the ‘sea creature’ instruments. The dramaturgy shifts between meditative and slow-moving to the more expressionistic, where the potentially humorous does not slip into clowning. Here there is no simple dichotomy between silly and serious, and with this, respect for the children and their own form of existence comes clearly into focus; walking around with big eyes and saying ‘ka ka ka’ needn’t be a laughing matter. It can be very serious. Or simply a nice thing to do.
Both Dieserud and Lindgren (among much else) have worked with the director/ actor Lars Øyno’s Artaud-inspired Grusomhetens Teater. Combining this background with Ratkje’s sound art, characterized by ‘found sounds’ and a voice work which develops the overall expression into an instrumental and tonal Wunder-kammer, we get a trio with a nuanced and developed sense of non-linear storytelling. In Korall koral, the aesthetic elements enter an almost timeless space of polyphony, and what can be called an avant-garde concept of quality here goes hand in hand with children’s natural sense of form and audio-visual sensitivity, and yes, intelligence. The obvious fascination for the figures and sound room became all the greater joy when the two sea-figures hand out ocean creatures and plants that all can shake or play on. The children can touch and feel, and not at least explore, how the sounds are made.
Performing arts for children aged 0-3 years can be called a new emerging niche that is developing in line with our increasing knowledge of children’s abilities and developmental stages. In Norway this investment was made visible through the 3-year Norwegian-initiated EU cooperation Glitter Bird (formerly Klangfugl) which had the explicit aim of creating art for this target group. The general focus on art for children and young people, both before and afterwards, has triggered questions about the aesthetic and/or the educational benefits, and creates both conflict and a general cry for development. This is a theme recently picked up by Kunstløftet an initiative of the Norwegian Council of Culture established in 2008, with the goal of giving art for children and young people a ‘qualitative boost’ with the underlying question: What can and should be artistic quality for children and young people in our time? Central to this question is the complex matter about how theater and the performing arts can act on, be part of and challenge the media culture with its ability to seduce and with its interactive possibilities. But perhaps, especially for the very youngest, follows another important question; how do we manage the time we have together with our children? In the book The genius of natural childhood (2011 Hawthorn Press), by British Sally Blythe, she emphasizes song as a form of ‘wonder-cure’ for the development of small children’s intelligence, and at the same time points out how the focus on reading and writing in early childhood prevents the optimal progress of children’s abilities of learning and development. Logically the body must be included, because it is always present.
With Korall koral, we have not only gained opera for babies, which in itself is unique in a global context, but an example of how the idea of quality, in art for children and young people, need not be about what we can teach them, but what we can integrate into art if we allow ourselves to re-evaluate existence on the premises of the form of intelligence very small children embody and employ. The performance reminds us that in this space can one find rare and energy-giving coral reefs to rest on, in an existential sea which we adults sometimes try too hard to force into a system of paper, scissors and stone.
Radioreport from performances at Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival and interwiew with Maja Ratkje:
Deutsche Welle by Tanja Tricario (5 minutes, in english). Published Dec 9th 2012.
Interwiew with Hanne Dieserud and Christina Lindgren on Norwegian Television:
Aesthetic and mysterious.
A review of ”Korall koral –a baby opera” in Harstad Tidende 24.06.2010 by Rikke Gürgens Gjørum.
We are floating into an oceanic universe and we don’t want to leave even after the show has ended.
The title of the show “Korall koral -a baby opera” asks the audience to use a certain figment of their imagination. The title is to be toyed with. It tells us that both song and ocean sounds will flow across the stage. We just have to sit back and enjoy.
All expectations are without a doubt met. The show has to be viewed with regards to the EU’s “Glitterbird” program, also known as “theatre for children under three.” This is a difficult art form where music, dance and theatre works in a synthesis. The art form is a communicative balancing act on a knife’s edge.
The scenographic set-up with a play tent for the youngest children is functional, aesthetic and mysterious. The peep holes on the sides of the coral shaped tent work as an escape route for the little ones who may suddenly be frightened by strange sounds and colours.
The actors in frail, soft and friendly costumes practically dance lying down or sitting in choreographed patterns. They resemble sea horses, jellyfish and small strange animals we are yet to know the names of. The instruments being used are fictitious– we hear a sea horse harp, a bagpipe-animal, a jellyfish-chime, and a double-animal flute. They are imaginative and associative in their manner.
Maja Ratkje’s contemporary music glues the whole performance together. Sounds and motions magically appear on stage by actors with a great presence. The switch between song, instruments, speech, and background noise flows easily. This flow draws the audience in. We are floating in an oceanic universe and we don’t want to leave even after the show has ended.
Rewiew in Øslandets Blad 04.11.2011 by Christine Margrete Arnesen
A baby looks at the performers and take note of the sounds. I can not help but smile. My expectations are thrown away. This was strange, I think. Different, but wonderful.
Rewiew in Varden 21.09.2009 by Olav Graasvold.
But can small babies, one and two year, follow through on a musical adventure trip that lasts for twenty whole minutes? Sure, they manage it! Tones, sounds, colors and movements kept the young audience in suspense throughout the performance. And indeed so it seemed it kept their mothers too.
Korall koral -a baby opera is the performance called, and is an exciting concept carried through in a beautiful and captivating way.
Rewiew in Østlendingen 29.09.2009 by Knut Fjeld.
Korall koral -a baby opera is most about sound, about the contrasts in the sounds. And in color. And in the movement. The sum is a aestetic experience of total integrated elements that quickly grabbed the attention of the audience.
Rewiew of the performance and interwiew with the composer in The Guardian 15th November 2012:
Interwiew in swedish radio 12.04.2011: Sveriges Radio (in swedish):
Rewiew in Øslandets Blad 04.11.2011 by Christine Margrete Arnesen (in norwegian):
Rewiew in Varden 21.09.2009 by Olav Graasvold (in norwegian):
Rewiew in Øslendingen 29.09.2009 by Knut Fjeld (in norwegian):
Rewiew in Kringvarp (faroe island television) 30.01.2012 (in faroe island language):
Feedback from the audience after performances on Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival november 2012:
- Beautiful, peaceful, melodic, graceful. The children and we were mesmerised. Thank you.
- Beautiful. Just the right size.
- Lovely, interesting and innovative. We had a fantastic time.
- A girl, aged 2 1/2: ‘Very slidey ladies!’.
- Brilliant, beautiful and so relaxing. A fantastic piece of work, thank you.
- We absolutely loved it, it was beautiful. Easily the most creative thing we’ve taken our son to, very inspiring.
- My daughter who is 10 months really enjoyed the performance. It was amazing to watch with all the tactile materials and sounds.
- I brought my 2 ½ year old and she was transfixed. A really beautiful performance – we both had such a wonderful time – thank you so much. Xx
- We brought our 7 month year old son and 2 ½ year old daughter. A great experience which had them both captivated.
- The babies loved it! I think it was the combination of sounds, plus the lights reflecting from the tent ceiling that they found fascinating (age 8 months and 2 ½ years)
- Brilliant! My daughter (2 years) danced and loved it.
- Great to have an event for babies!
- Wonderful show. Our 22 month old really enjoyed it and found it very funny!
- It was a great and fun opera for baby and parents.
- It was great! My little boy finds it very hard to sit still but he really focussed on it and loved the music. Thanks!
- Interesting seeing my baby’s reactions. Great to see how attentive he was, greatly due to how well captivating it was. It’s not often that babies are exposed to operatic singing! Great. My son cried at first and then overcame his shock! Even better. Thanks!
- We are enjoying this morning. Our babies are so happy and excited. It’s wonderful. Thanks very much.
- Fantastic – children really intrigued and engaged – wonderful to see in Huddersfield also.
- A captivating, engaging performance – such a unique opportunity for young children (and their parents) to hear new and interesting ideas and such beautiful sound qualities so close.
- Very good. Didn’t know what to expect, but our daughter was transfixed by it all – smiling and wondering what was going to happen next. She says she’d like to see it again. Wonderful.
Excerpts from the guest book during the tour with The Norwegian Touring Theatre, Autumn 2009
Thank you so much for the sensory and intimate performance. It is huge that someone takes the children seriously and on their terms.
Filip, John and Kristine, Lillehammer.
Just so incredibly sensory, a really great experience for all (adults and children)!!
Tredal Barnehage, Åndalsnes
Wonderful performance. It is great that there is an opera for 1-2 years old, too. Have received only positive feedback from everyone here in Sunndal kommune. Continued good luck!
Siv Grete Bøe, Villabyen Barnehage and Barnehagetjenesten, Sunndalsøra
Thank you for a great and catchy performance. We had a blast!
Vieåsen Barnehage, Førde
What a great show. Helle 18 months, sang along! Awesome toys with exciting sounds. A real highlight. Mum enjoyed herself as well.
Regards Heidi and Helle, Florø
Fantastic performance. The children had a blast.
Grindløkka Barnehage, Nøtterøy
Thank you for taking the trip to all parts of Norway so that we can experience this little gem for children.
Elisabeth and Mathias (22 months), Skien
What a calm and pleasant show. Everyone were captivated and soaked in the ambience. Some even joined in and did the movements. Incredibly great how on target you were for the youngest children. More thanks!!
Fladebyseter Barnehage, Skien
Explosive, funny, strong look – a splendid performance. Number one in my sons eyes – now the interest for theatre is sparked!
Thea and Jeppe, Skien.
Awesome! We have seen Korall Koral for the third time, each performance 2 months apart. Oda has had a great experience each time, in different ways, just as fascinated each time.
Oda Sofie 16 months and grandma Anne Kari, Drammen
Inspiring and engaging show – for the very youngest as well as for the adults.
Students and teachers from Høyskolen in Telemark
Thank you for a great performance – moving and beautiful.
Holmejordet Barnehage, Lillehammer
What a great performance – on the children’s terms! Thanks for the exciting sounds, colours and movements!
Jenny, Bendik and Anton, Otta
It is exciting with something new and different. Got plenty of ideas for the Sensory room we are going to make
Britt Ein Korstad, Husebymarka Barnehage, Stjørdal.
A great sensory experience!
Kleppen Barnehage, Namsos
Awesome performance, and finally something for the smallest people.
Bærtua Barnehage, Lakselv.
A performance with its own charm and style.
We admire you, there is no doubt about that.
Good luck on your trip home.
This ought to be shown to the whole world!
Lomarka Barnehage, Vadsø.