Sweating with Peer Gynt. Performative exchange as a way of accessing scenographic action


  • Astrid von Rosen Department of Cultural Sciences (KUV), University of Gothenburg




The present article addresses the rather complex notion of scenography in relation to historical research. Two performances of Henrik Ibsens’s Peer Gynt are presented as case studies with the aim of stimulating scenographic analyses of historical material. This approach does not dismiss the importance of the dramatic text, or the actors, or the various contexts in which the performances take place. On the contrary, I strongly believe that one always has to account for the multifarious complexity of a theatrical event. However, my research is guided by an interest in exploring ways of accessing long-past practices, forms and events, rather than relying on the assumption that one recovers something stable and fixed.

What I claim is very simple: much more reliable knowledge can be produced by exploring, and working with traces from past events and theatrical processes. This approach can be associated with a current trend in theatre studies, in which “historical research has once more come to the fore” (Tessing Schneider & Skjoldager-Nielsen, 2011, 5) as well as an ethic of “being-with” the objects of investigation found in artistic research (e.g. Hannula 2008). On a general level, my approach can be associated with the affective turn in the humanities. Acknowledging corporeality, materiality and sensuousness, this turn also notices the importance of social aspects, transformation and critical development (Diprose, 2002; Meskimmon, 2011).  

This study is mainly concerned with the question of how we can theorize, and play with the challenging difference between a performance that one has actually experienced, intellectually as well as physically, and a performance that is accessible only through traces and fragments. I raise this question both as an art history scholar and as a former professional classical and contemporary dancer. This means that I make use of my own experiences from the theatre – an approach that does not detract from the requirements of critical thinking and accuracy in scholarly research. 

Author Biography

Astrid von Rosen, Department of Cultural Sciences (KUV), University of Gothenburg

Astrid von Rosen is senior lecturer of Art History and Visual Studies, at the Department of Cultural Sciences (KUV), University of Gothenburg. She is also a research coordinator for the Staging the Archives cluster, within Critical Heritage Studies (CHS), Gothenburg University. For more information on CHS please follow this link:http://criticalheritagestudies.gu.se/.

A former classical and contemporary dancer, von Rosen is interested in the intersections of artistic and academic research, particularly in the fields of dance and scenography. Her doctoral thesis (2010) explores the work of Sweden’s first professional scenographer, Knut Ström, through a “web of translations” oscillating between body, image and language. von Rosen’s current research centres on critically informed ways of investigating past theatrical events through corporeal theory and archival choreography. Among other texts on the subject, her articles “Accessing experiential knowledge through dance-writing” (2013), and “Sweating with Peer Gynt: performative exchange as a way of accessing scenographic action” can be mentioned.

As part of a trans-disciplinary research group she works on “Turning points and continuity: the changing roles of performance in society 1880-1925”, which is a three-year long project, financed by the Swedish Research Council (VR). During 2013–2014 von Rosen leads the trans-diciplinary project “Dream-Playing: accessing the non-texts of Strindberg’s A Dream Play in Düsseldorf 1915–18”. She is also developing a project on the non-institutional, or “free”, dance of Gothenburg during the 1980s. 




How to Cite

Rosen, Astrid von. 2015. “Sweating with Peer Gynt. Performative exchange as a way of accessing scenographic action”. Nordlit, no. 34 (February):343–352. https://doi.org/10.7557/13.3379.