Category Archives: Sweden

Nordic Sense of Humour

Sweden’s deputy prime minister and climate minister Isabella Lövin signing a climate bill surrounded by her closest female colleagues, apparently mocking you know who.
Photograph: Isabella Lövin

Sweden, a pioneer in women’s rights, is known for its high level of women in the workplace, including in parliament and government.

Nordic Prime Ministers: (L-R) Stefan Lofven of Sweden, Lars Lokke Rasmussen of Denmark, Erna Solberg of Norway, Juha Sipila of Finland and Bjarni Benediktsson of Iceland, in Bergen, Norway, apparently mocking you know who.

Norway holds the Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2017, and Prime Minister Erna Solberg has hosted a meeting of her Nordic colleagues in Bergen on 29 and 30 May. The agenda items included: further development of the Nordic region to ensure that it remains the most integrated region in the world, the fight against extremism and the Nordic region in the world. The ball the PMs are holding in the photo has sustainability targets written on it. They hope they will be a roadmap for the future.

The Nordic Countries look like a very interesting place to visit!

The Princess Cake Story

Princess Cake Story

Did you know that the Prinsesstårta (Princess Cake) has a story?, says Puffles who knows all the stories worth knowing 🙂

Princess Cake Story

The Princess Cake is practically the national cake of Sweden. That would explain why Miss Maud, a Swedish Pastry House, makes it. And they make a really delicious cake! And it’s very impressive how they managed to fit all that writing on the cake 🙂

Princess Cake Story

Apparently, and according to Swedish Food, Jenny Åkerström is the originator of the recipe. Jenny Åkerström was a Swedish home economics guru at the beginning of the 20th century and was an instructor to the three Swedish princesses, Margaretha, Märtha and Astrid, daughters of Prince Carl (brother of King Gustaf V).

Princess Cake Story

She published a four volume series of cookbooks called Prinsessornas Kokbok: Husmanskost och Helgdagsmat (Princesses Cookbook: Home Cooking and Holiday Food). The first edition came out in 1929 with the princess’ portraits gracing the cover. With it’s great success, helped by the cover, came 18 reprints with revisions up to 1952.

Princess Astrid
Princess Astrid

The princesses were seen as role models. Their education included child care and cooking which was innovative at the time. Not so much now! You certainly won’t find Isabelle cooking! She’ll just wave Mummy’s credit card at Miss Maud and get a pink cake, inscribed with her name no less 🙂

Princess Cake Story

The original edition Prinsessornas Kokbok did not have a recipe for a cake anything like the prinsesstårta that is so popular today. Ha! The recipe did not appear in the 1937, 1945 or 1952 editions, but there IS a recipe for grön tårta (green cake) in the 1948 edition, which is similar to the recipe for prinsesstårta that’s in use today. For some reason the recipe was dropped from the 1952 edition, but the name grön tårta explains why the cake is normally green. Miss Maud now makes a pink and a blue version as well.

Princess Cake Story

The name change to prinsesstårta was a good marketing move as it is certainly more appealing than “green cake”. The change is believed to have been made because the princesses loved the cake so much. The princesses weren’t alone: the cake rapidly became very popular in Sweden, with around 500,000 sold every year.

The fourth week in September is officially Prinsesstårtans Vecka (Princess Cake Week) in Sweden. For every prinsesstårta purchased during the week 10 SEK (about £1, $1.50) is donated to Crown Princess Victoria’s Fund that benefits chronically ill and disabled children and adolescents in Sweden. Every prinsesstårta sold during the week is topped with a gold crown to show it is part of the fund-raising effort. During prinsesstårtans vecka sales are usually double any other week.

The Princess Cake is one of the bears’ favourite cakes 🙂 Låt oss äta!

Princess Cake Story

Swedish Dance Royalty

The royal bears are at the Segerstrom Center For The Arts to watch the Royal Swedish Ballet in a production of Juliet and Romeo choreographed by Mats Ek, who is Swedish dance royalty.

Segerstrom Center For The Arts
Segerstrom Center For The Arts

Mats Ek is the son of choreographer Birgit Cullberg, who founded the Cullberg Ballet in 1967, and actor Anders Ek, who appeared in a number of films by Ingmar Bergman. He is married to the dancer Ana Laguna who is a key interpreter of his works, along with the ballerina Sylvie Guillem. Dance has his whole life, and at 71 years old his sensibility remains entirely modern.

In January, Mr Ek shocked the dance world when he announced that he would be retiring his repertoire of works from the world stage at the end of this year. After 50 years of creation, Mats Ek is taking a break. For the next two years, he will get off the road, off the spinning wheel, to experience what it is not to have things waiting ahead. He will stop all performance and production and selling his works. In two years he might come back, or he might not.

Swedish Dance Royalty

So it was a special experience for Puffles and Honey to see Mats Ek’s choreography in motion with Juliet and Romeo.

Juliet and Romeo
Juliet and Romeo

Yes, the ballet is titled Juliet and Romeo. “It’s time to turn the tables,” Mats Ek says. “One of Shakespeare’s early drafts was actually called Juliet and Romeo, so you could say that we’re going back to the source.” Mr Ek believes that his dramatization of Juliet’s conflict with her father, Lord Capulet, over her refusal to marry Paris is more along the lines of what Shakespeare had in mind when he first penned the play. “If you read the text you will see that he threatens her life,” Mats Ek says. “He says, ‘I wish you were never born. And if you don’t obey, don’t ever show yourself here. I will consider you not my daughter.’ So that is a death sentence already.”

The source, of course, is the tragedy of the two lovers and Mr Ek’s choreography captures their story. He created lively dances for Romeo (Anton Valdbauer for this performance) and, even more energetic choreography for friends Tybalt, a fun-loving Dawid Kupinski, and the sacrificial Mercutio, played by the Clyde Emmanuel Archer in a tutu. Oscar Salomonsson played the unsettling Paris.

Mats Ek created Juliet and Romeo for the Royal Swedish Ballet in 2013 and presented it as part of the Sadler’s Wells Northern Light season. Mr Ek unwraps Shakespeare’s tale, seeking to unearth the psychological truths beneath the story’s surface, showing how the young couple’s tragedy is born of, and inseparable from, the strife-riven society in which their lives unfold.

Swedish Dance Royalty

Danced to a composite score of Tchaikovsky works, rather than the typical Prokofiev music, the production takes on a 21st century vibe with a stark, urban setting of smoky lighting, shifting mazelike walls, ominous trap doors created by set designer Magdalena Aberg, who is also credited with the costumes – motorized Segway scooters and costumes that mix Renaissance chic with jeans, hoodies, and metallic suits.

Told from the perspective of a wide-eyed and defiant Juliet, who falls for sentimental dreamer Romeo, the rest of Mats Ek’s reimagined world is strewn with brutal conflict among Juliet’s brooding family and Romeo’s street-smart comrades.

Juliet and Romeo
Juliet and Romeo

Mr Ek’s stage is a place of mist and darkness, more Elsinore than Verona. The mobile set suggests armoured ramparts and no-go areas. Hostile waves of dancers, each imbued with their own agenda, meet in swirling, skirmishing crosscurrents that leave the stage strewn with the dead and dying. The Prince (Pascal Jansson) is an impotent, marginalised figure, locked into bizarre and repetitive private rituals. The Capulet parents (Andrey Leonovitch, Daria Ivanova) are cold, inflexible tyrants whom their daughter (Ema Yuasa) is expected to obey without question. The only sympathetic adult in the household is Marie Lindqvist’s splendid, tempestuous Nurse.

It’s in the person of Juliet that Mats Ek’s choreography at its most subtle and tender. His incredible choreography portrays the awkwardness and grotesqueries of adolescence. Juliet pulls daft faces and throws weird shapes; at times she’s all twitching, puppyish impatience. But beneath these attitudes, in the choreography’s lyrical underpinnings and fluid musicality, we see the fully realised woman that she might have been. The extended duet for the leads is a marvel, proceeding from hesitant, disbelieving mutual exploration to rushing cascades of joy. At a climactic moment, Romeo (Anton Valdbauer) swings Juliet upside down on his back, so that he is crowned by the inverted V of her legs.

Dutch Renaissance painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder has inspired the end of Juliet and Romeo. In the right-hand corner of the painting, Icarus, just fallen from the sky, kicks up his legs out of the sea. Doomed to drown in the ocean’s depths, he frantically fights to survive. Meanwhile, the world goes on spinning, as a peasant plows a field, a fisherman angles for his daily catch and a ship sails on.

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, c.1555 by Bruegel, Pieter the Elder
Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, c.1555 by Bruegel, Pieter the Elder

From the artwork’s illustration of a young life cut short, Mats Ek created the ballet’s final scenes. “I’m using this image at the end of Juliet and Romeo, as a picture of death, but something maybe still can come out of it,” Mats Ek says. “Life goes on. And the Earth still exists. It’s a wonderful irony and something beautiful, hopeful about it.”

It served well for the ending where the trap door opened for Juliet and Romeo to live eternally. There’s a lasting image of mourners raising their legs upward to mimic the lovers in their deaths.

Juliet and Romeo
Juliet and Romeo

Ema Yuasa and Anton Valdbauer
Ema Yuasa and Anton Valdbauer
Carl St. Clair, Music Director and Raymond Kobler, Concertmaster
Carl St. Clair, Music Director and Raymond Kobler, Concertmaster, Pacific Symphony
Mats Ek
Mats Ek