Atomic City

directed by Jens Backvall and Jon Morris


Living surrounded by secrets is a weird existence. Ask any resident of Oak Ridge, TN, the city established in 1942 as a base for the Manhattan Project: Over 70,000 workers, scientists and their families moved there, most unaware of their actual goal. The town grew in a culture of secrecy that was nurtured by the fear of the time and the urgency of the war effort. After Hiroshima, and all through the Cold War, millions of people were reminded daily of what could happen when the fascination of technology is mixed with anxiety and aggression. This city's history and its culture of secrecy inspired "Atomic City”, an international interdisciplinary theatre collaboration, initiated by Jon Morris (Fuerzabruta, Cirque du Soleil) and the Danish physical theatre company Terra Nova, featuring award winning actors, dancers and musicians from Denmark, Germany, Guatemala, Sweden and the USA. The project that emerged from their collaboration is a physical theater work that fantasizes the lives of two families within a secret city where trivial issues grotesquely exaggerate to monumental conflicts. It is about the dynamic of alienation from ones neighbors – and how a culture of fear facilitates this. The story is told with original live music, euro crash dance, magical realism text, acrobatics and a living wall, employing simple poetic scenarios mixed with total-theater experiences and beautiful choreographies. The play does not explicitly speak of Oak Ridge or the atomic bomb. "It asks questions, doesn't answer them," says Jon Morris, "Epic issues are difficult to talk about on a macro level. That is why the situation is simply framed as an interaction between two households. That is also, why we chose to use movement and music. The audience is asked how they feel about their neighbors and what the walls that separate nations and peoples are." The artists define their stage-language as Interactive Choreographic Theatre, where different art forms do not stand alone but fuse to create the world of the play. Dance, theater, text, and acrobatics all intertwine to tell the story. The piece was conceived by Jens Bäckvall (DK) and Jon Morris (USA), who met in 1999 as students of Nata Raja, a Balinese dance studio. At the time, Morris was in Cirque de Soleil, touring Copenhagen. Bäckvall and his girlfriend, Mette Guldborg, were heads of Terra Nova, a Danish company specializing in interactive and physical theater. The germ of the idea was planted then and was nurtured via the Internet thereafter. In the past year, the piece has been workshopped at La MaMa and at Robert Wilson's Watermill Center. Original music is composed and performed by Tobias Sondén (Cello, Guitar, Percussion) and Nis Bäckvall (Baritone & Soprano Saxophone/Percussion). The script is written by the performance ensemble. Dramaturges are Mette Guldborg Hansen (Denmark), Anson Mount (USA), and Christoph Schletz (Germany). Light & Graphics Design by Felix Grimm (Germany). Costume Designer is Lejka Sievert (USA/Denmark). Christian Wassman (Switzerland) has advised the set-design. The performers are Jens Bäckvall (Denmark), Nis Bäckvall (Sweden), Runa Kaiser (Denmark), Jon Morris (USA), Tobias Sondén (Sweden), Karl Sørensen (Denmark) and Sayda Trujillo (Guatemala). Jon Morris, concept/performer, currently stars in the Off-Broadway hit "Fuerzabruta" at the Daryl Roth Theatre. He has created and performed with Cirque du Soleil, Theatre de la Jeune Lune, Diavolo, Orphean Circus, Spymonkey, Guthrie Theatre, La MaMa and Philippe Gaulier. In 1999 he was a Thomas J. Watson Fellow (England, France, Bali, India) and in 2002, a Tennessee Williams Fellow. He is a six-time All-American Springboard Diver and earned his B.A. from the University of the South/Michael Howard Studios. His last La MaMa appearance was as Hanuman, the white monkey, in "Ramayana 2K3," which was nominated for five Drama Desk awards. ( Jens Bäckvall, concept/performer, is trained at Den Ny Dramaskole in Copenhagen, Nata Raja Dance school in Bali and Terra Nova's youth-group UTN. Since 2002, he has written, directed and acted professionally in theatre, interactive theatre and dance in Denmark and Europe. He has had personal tutoring by the dancers Kitt Johnson and Kasper Ravnhøj and has taught interactive theatre and dance-theatre to students at Kulturelt Samvirke in Randers and at K.U.B.A. den rytmiske daghøjskole in Copenhagen. He is an artistic director of Terra Nova and cofounder of the modern dance company DAMP. Bäckvall won the YOUTH in Action Award for the best cultural youth-project amongst 10,000 participating projects for his work in The CITY Project, a European performance cycle by UTN.


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Theatre/Venue La MaMa Experimental Theatre 

74A East 4th St  New York

Phone Number for Reservations 212-475-7710 
Website for reservations  
Running time 1hr. 30min. 


Producing Organization: LaMaMa Experimental Theater Club  
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