Banff Centre offers up both theatre and dance with the world premiere of The Hamlet Complex

Banff Centre Centre for Arts and Creativity has a lot going on this summer, to say the least. Between concerts and opera, they are also presenting The Hamlet Complex, a world premiere dance theatre work by acclaimed Norwegian choreographer and director, Alan Lucien Øyen. The production promises to be unique, using the story of Hamlet as a thematic starting point and evolving under the masterful direction of Øyen, a creator who Emily Molnar, the sessional artistic director of Dance, believes is an important voice, one the Banff Centre is fortunate to be able to work with.

“We were really lucky,” she explains. “Alan is very much an important voice right now in international dance and theatre, and no one in North America has really been able to work with him or have his work being presented, so this is a very unique opportunity.”

As for the performance itself, it is not your usual telling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet – Øyen has taken a fresh look at the story and deconstructed it, presenting it in the form of theatre, dance and spoken word. “Alan’s been proposing, ‘How do you kind of shatter open the idea of Hamlet?’,” says Molnar, “so he’s not interested in redoing an adaptation or a revival of Hamlet.”

Øyen’s interest lies more in the subplot of the story and thematics, and relating them to current events, explains Molnar. “(For example) how do we take parts of Hamlet, the Hamlet psychology or  thematics that are inside of Hamlet, and how do we build extensions of other storylines that might relate to the performers on stage, and to our world today?”

Øyen’s approach to the production involves references to modern times and recent events, with specific references made to actors who had previously played Hamlet, Mel Gibson and Richard Burton. Drawing from Gibson’s notoriety for having left abusive voicemail messages for his ex-girlfriend, Øyen incorporated and developed this exchange for this production, reflecting the abuse that Hamlet throws at Ophelia. And, with regards to Burton, “There is one scene where (Øyen) is using Richard Burton, who was one of the first actors to really open up the performance of Hamlet in a more kind of ‘eccentric’ or a more dramatic way, and so (Øyen) is using that text actually inside the work … they built a whole scene off of Richard Burton’s voice playing one of the soliloquies.”

Definitely a different look at the presentation of Hamlet himself, but one that is both reflective and relevant.

It is clear in speaking with Molnar that Øyen brings unique and captivating artistry to the stage in his production, which is obvious in his combining both theatre and dance together. “He stays so true to each form that he melds them so beautifully,” says Molnar, “you forget you’re listening to an actor, and you forget you’re watching a dancer … they weave on you in a way where they transform and you don’t realize what’s happening. That I find fascinating, and I think it’s a new perspective that’s really important.”

When asked what aspects of this performance she is excited about, Molnar becomes thoughtful and once again gives a nod to Øyen. “The openness, the depth of conversation, the fact that we are introducing Canada to someone who I think is really sharing a really important perspective on our art form right now … He’s developing a new story based on a legacy of a work, and that I think is a very special thing for us to be able to have that trust in history, and to see it differently.”

And for those die-hard Shakespeare fans, Molnar is confident that they, too, will enjoy this production. “Shakespeare twisted us up so much and turned the mirror at us, so I think they’ll applaud anybody that’s being playful with such depth – it’s in the style of Shakespeare, it’s an homage to his multi-facetedness.”

The Hamlet Complex will be performed through to July 28 at the Eric Harvie Theatre, Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.

Kari Watson is a writer and former Listings Editor of FFWD Weekly, and has continued to bring event listings to Calgary through theYYSCENE and her event listings page, The Culture Cycle. Contact her at