September 15 –16

Ultima 2018: William Kentridge – Ursonate



Ursonate, by the exiled German Dada artist Kurt Schwitters (1887–1948), has been called the greatest sound poem of the 20th century. Structured in four parts like a classical symphony and completed in 1932, it consists of vocal noises and strange, alien language. In recent years Ursonate has been acclaimed as a masterpiece.

Now South African artist William Kentridge brings his Performa 2017 production of Ursonate to a European premiere at Ultima. His version is an hour long highly physical rendition of the work, complete with violent body gestures, and a series of projected images complementing and commenting on the text. The visual display ranges from collaged newspaper pages and floating words to abstract shapes and images that recall the apartheid regime in his own country.

‘Listening to the sonata is better than reading it,’ Schwitters wrote. After fleeing Germany at the outbreak of the second world war, Schwitters lived in exile for several years on the west coast of Norway, developing his notorious Merz collage concept before moving to England.

Often referencing the history of apartheid in South Africa, William Kentridge’s obliquely political work has been exhibited around the world. For the European premiere of Ursonate at Ultima, the American soprano Ariadne Greif and the two Norwegian musicians, bassist Håkon Thelin and saxophonist Rolf-Erik Nystrøm, will provide a suitably anarchic audio accompaniment.

Kentridge brings a highly personal element to his interpretation, dragging it kicking and screaming into the 21st century where its apparent insanity and incomprehensibility remain vital and relevant. As Kentridge says: ‘Aberration, the absurd, paradox and contradiction are not disturbances at the edge of the rational, but, in fact, are the centre of how the world operates.’

William Kentridge – Director, Libretto based on Kurt Schwitters. Sabine Theunissen – Set Designer. Janous Fouche – Video Editor. Performers: William Kentridge – Artist/Performer. Ariadne Greif – Soprano. Håkon Thelin – Double Bass. Rolf-Erik Nystrøm – Saxophone.

In collaboration with DNO&B and Henie Onstad Kunstsenter.
Supported by Sparebankstiftelsen DNB.

William Kentridge’s Ursonate was commissioned by the Performa Biennial and premiered at the Harlem Parish in New York City as part of the Performa 17 Festival. Produced by: THE OFFICE performing arts + film. European Partner: QUATERNAIRE.



  • Scene
    Second House
  • Price
    50 - 350 NOK
  • /
    No intermission

September 2018