Inner glow and poetic sharpness

To make visible the marginalized and invisible throughout history while at the same time exploring unwritten queer stories is something Hagar Malin Hellkvist Sellén has done with, for instance, The missionary (2016) which was awarded the Swedish Theatre Critics Association’s Dance Prize and the Swedish Directors Association’s IRIS Prize in 2016.

In The missionary, Hellkvist Sellén focused on Christian, lesbian missionaries in Västerbotten. This aroused debate and strong feelings about fiction versus fact.

In Log driver love, work which no longer exists today is portrayed. Few from younger generations know that log-driving was a way to transport timber from the inland forests to the sawmill industries on the coast. In the Ume River, log-driving ceased completely in 1982 and other forms of transportation took over.

To take care of this worker’s legacy, through physical movement Hagar Malin Hellkvist Sellén, who also grew up in Umeå, has used The Popular Movement Archive in Västerbotten as a source. In the archive, Cuno Bernhardsson, whose own family were log-drivers for generations, has contributed photographs, films, and interviews.

When we take our seats in Norrlandsoperan’s Black Box we form a square around the stage floor which suggests that we are next to the roaring river. Dressed in jeans, work shirts and thigh-high wader boots the three dancers balance on the timber in the water. All we hear is the squeaking of their rubber boots and their breath which intensifies as the work gets harder.

The hard, risky work of log-driving took many lives but also meant great freedom in the decision-making processes at work, this is laid bare faithfully with rich and forceful body language.

When the dancers jump on the timber, wield their pike poles and fight with dangerous timber rafts, the friendships are also made clear, how they help each other to get the work flowing. And when fatigue hits, questions of intimacy arise and are explored, delicately.

We also get to, through a voice-over, take part in the log driver’s stories about their work which gives the performance a living and interesting knowledge dimension.

Hagar Malin Hellkvist Sellén’s Log driver love takes the shape of an important and moving memorial over the work of log-driving. Through intense, heartfelt fervor and poetic sharpness, history is resurrected.

Yvonne Rittvall / Folkbladet
Nov 12, 2019