Dangerous freedom in a balancing act on rolling logs

The toil and sensualism of physical labor are celebrated in “Log driver love”. Hagar Malin Hellkvist Sellén takes a deep dive into history and makes it physical poetry.

Physical labor and beads of sweat, the furious intoxication of spring – freedom, danger, temptation. When choreographer Hagar Malin Hellkvist Sellén and her three completely focused and dedicated dancers Marianne Kjærsund, Marcus Baldemar and Pernille Holden stage a Northern Swedish workers’ legacy so that one almost feels the logs rolling under feet and how the body braces with the pike pole to maneuver the timber that relentlessly moves in the water’s swirls.

“Log driver love” is yet another chapter in Hellkvist Sellén’s consistent, slow processed research into our recent past, focusing on marginalized phenomenon. For a long time, she has moved away from urban, hip (elite) culture and has instead taken interest in dance bands, kitsch, and Christian bodies. In recent years she has researched specific, historic subjects – with her own queer twist. “The missionary” opened in 2016, an intense duett on women’s struggle, faith, and forbidden love, then came “Parveln” on the literature critic Klara Johanson.

The new work, which is touring with Dancenet Sweden, is a two-act performance that celebrates the toil, beauty, and sensualism of physical labor. The audience sits on simple wooden benches around the stage floor which is painted to look like water. There is something that reminds you of the wild west over the three androgynes dancers who heavily pace around in their high wader-boots, jeans, and button-up shirts. A voice-over tells vividly of the conditions of the log-drivers while the trio conducts a more tangible job: they balance on, haul and pull the logs. Breaths become rhythm. An exhausted companion needs support. Life is frail.

Breaking the process for intermission feels a bit unnecessary, but maybe the dancers need to rest before the second act’s intense climax. The wildness of nature has moved into their bodies, they stagger about without control. They are drawn to one another, a face is rubbed in another face, hip against back. With firm grips on the bootstraps the trio form one single organism. The hard work leaves an impression in their erotic ventures. Body and log are almost interchangeable.

The ending is incredibly beautiful – a glowing moment of pleasure and rest, harmonica and community. Yes, there are romantic and idealizing streaks in “Log driver love”, but it is nevertheless an intrinsic and poetic reminder that labor can be dance, and that today’s gym culture is rather poor.

Anna Ångström/Svenska Dagbladet

Nov 15, 2019