Events News Press
21 November, 2023 • Oulu

The number one attraction of the Lumo Festival takes the audience on a strange journey to the Culture Bank

Nighttown, directed by Pirjo Yli-Maunula, contains black humour and moods inspired by David Lynch.
Eeva Kauppinen

16.11.2023 18:00 LUMO FESTIVAL


Circus artists Ben Collis and Elisabeth Künkele discovered Japanese binding by learning and exploring movements for their performances that would be impossible without binding.

A black and white dog barks sharply and fiercely in a video as the visitor enters the performance Nighttown. Art House Kulttuuripankki’s stopped revolving door opens a route to halls and vaults that have been transformed into a James Joyce universe.

Directed by Pirjo Yli-Maunula, the immersive performance is inspired by chapter 15 of Joyce’s novel Ulysses.

An international team of 15 artists transforms the author’s stream of consciousness into muscle through dance, circus, music, photographs and refracted light.

Joyce’s main work has been translated into Finnish twice, but a select few have read the work in its entirety. The work was first translated into Finnish by Pentti Saarikoski in 1964 and then by Leevi Lehto in 2012. Lehto’s Finnish translation has 832 pages with explanations, and the book weighs over one and a half kilograms.

“We’re caught up in hallucinations and stream-of-consciousness.”

Pirjo Yli-Maunula says she has waded through chapter 15 twice. The events take place in the night, which is why the work is called Nighttown.

‘The challenge with the chapter is that it is particularly hallucinating’, Yli-Maunula says. ‘A trip through the streets of Dublin and a brothel is like an amusement park ride through hallucinations.’

Nighttown is commissioned for the Lumo Light Festival. The performance is part of the Ulysses – European Odyssey project, which involves an event, exhibition or performance of one chapter of the book in 18 European cities. In Athens, Chapter 1 (Democracy) is explored, in Copenhagen Chapter 9 (Hamlet) and in Dublin Chapter 17 (Home).

‘”‘Chapter 15 is the longest in the novel. Depending on the edition, it covers about 150 pages’, Yli-Maunula says. ‘Although the chapter is written in play form, we do not seek to create a play that depicts events. We are caught up in hallucinations and streams of consciousness.’


The flexible structure of Nighttown inspired Ukrainian dance artist Nina Bulgakova. “We have a lot of freedom to create and room for improvisation, which is my favourite thing,” she says.

In the Ulysses – European Odyssey project, part of a Creative Europe project, Oulu’s theme is mental well-being in Europe today.

The Ulysses Project began in 2022, the centenary of the first edition of Joyce’s main work.

The great novel is a variant of Homer’s Odyssey. The theme, style, and characters of each chapter are based on a corresponding passage in the Odyssey. The book depicts Jewish advertising shopper Leopold Bloom’s wandering around Dublin’s bars, streets and brothels. The other main character is Stephen Dedalus, Joyce’s alter ego.

Chapter 15 begins with a detailed description of the scene: “The entrance to Mabbot Street in the night town, in front of which there is an unpaved tram change loop with skeleton rails, red and green snare lights and danger signs.”

The structures of the Culture Bank’s revolving door can be imagined as skeleton rails, and lighting designer Jukka Huitila’s neon light tubes as green, red and yellow light lights.

The Gilbert schema tells us that the location for chapter number 15 is the brothel, the time of day is midnight, the body bone and muscle machinery, the discipline of magic, and the symbol the whore.

Although nothing this concrete needs to be known to the guest coming to the presentation.

It’s okay to wander around inside an immersive work, even if you’ve never opened Joyce’s novel.


Pirjo Yli-Maunula turns out to be a great admirer of film director David Lynch. ‘The surrealism, extreme and horror of Lynch’s world have also been present in my earlier works’, Yli-Maunula says.

A grand novel is a giant challenge for the reader. According to Pirjo Yli-Maunula, there is a thematic justification for why Oulu received the number 15. The reason has to do with two schemas compiled by author James Joyce: the Gilbert schema and the Linati schema. Both schemas are attached to Leevi Lehto’s Finnish translation.

Joyce created the Gilbert schema for her friend Stuart Gilbert in 1921. The schema will help to better understand the structure of the work.

‘The schemas show which colours, which fields of art or science, themes and chapters of Homer’s Odyssey each chapter of Ulysses corresponds to’, Yli-Maunula says. ‘Joyce himself named dance as the art form in Chapter 15. In that respect, it was nice to grasp it.’

“Sexual themes are strongly present in our work. Of course, because Joyce has a brothel as the location.”


What else do the schemas suggest about Chapter 15?

According to the Gilbert schema, the number 15 corresponds to the song of Homer’s Odyssey X, which reaches the island of Kirke, the goddess of seduction. There, Kirke turns Odysseus’ men, who invade his castle, into pigs.

The Gilbert schema also tells us that the place of the number 15 is brothel, the time of day is midnight, the body bone and muscle machinery, the discipline magic, and the symbol, the whore.

In the Linati schema, the body of the figure is the skeleton, the technique of explosive vision, and the level of meaning of a misanthropic eater.

‘This number is very body focused for Joyce’, Yli-Maunula points out.


Circus artists Ben Collis (UK) and Elisabeth Künkele (Germany) bring acrobatics and Japanese shibari to Nighttown. The palate of the picture belongs to Janne-Pekka Manninen’s photographic work.

The six-hour-long work Nighttown, which a single viewer watches for half an hour, does not even attempt to present Joyce’s text as such.

‘We take fragments, fragments, nuances and references from the chapter, perhaps even some characters. In a way, you can also recognise Leopold Bloom there’, the director says.

‘The number 15 is also the number of transformations. The characters change from male to female, from human to animal. We want to depict metamorphoses, a human-animal hybrid.’

In one of the rooms of the Culture Bank, you may encounter two figures with human bodies and dogheads, acrobatically engaged in intimate interaction. From the opposite wall, the space is guarded by Janne-Pekka Manninen’s magnificent animal portrait of the blind dog Raija, who looks forwards but cannot see.

‘Sexual themes are strongly present in our work. Of course, because Joyce has a brothel as a location. The chapter deals with sexuality, sexual frustrations and feelings of guilt and their relationship to religion.’

“Nighttown is going to be an exciting world.
I think it will appeal to the younger age group as well.”

Through Flow Productions, Pirjo Yli-Maunula has created immersive works every other year: Varjakka 2014, Torni 2016, The Secret Garden 2018, Hylky 2020 and Varikko 2022.

In a way, the Ulysses project is an external work from the series, as it is commissioned by the Lumo Festival.

Compared to previous works, this is a short experience for the viewers, as each viewer walks in this world for only half an hour.

The team aims to offer viewers a hallucinatory journey through Joyce’s work.

‘I feel connected to my own way of doing things. I create works that do not have narrative logic’, says Pirjo Yli-Maunula. ‘Especially immersive works are quite dreamlike and implement the logic of sleep. That’s exactly the experience I’d like to give Nighttown viewers.’


Two bathtubs have been brought into the halls of the Art House Kulttuuripankki, one ordinary and the other with paws. Bath scenes are performed by both dance artist Nina Bulgakova (pictured) and circus artist Elisabeth Künkele.

Nighttown, which takes place during the darkest autumn season, is not just gloomy. According to Yli-Maunula, it is said of Joyce’s book that it is also very humorous.

‘I’m a big fan of film director David Lynch. The surrealism, extreme, and horror of Lynch’s world have also been present in my earlier works.’

Lynch co-created the cult television series Twin Peaks with Mark Frost.

However, Nighttown is not only about haunting atmospheres, but according to director and concept creator Yli-Maunula, the aim is also to bring out light tones through black humour.

‘Nighttown is going to be an exciting world. I believe it will appeal to the younger age group as well. Although we have put the age limit here at 15+ due to the intensity and sexual content of the work. Unlike the rest of the Lumo Festival programme, which is a family programme.

There are 1,440 free tickets for Nighttown. 40 spectators are allowed in every half hour.

Nighttown performances on November 17-19 from 16pm to 22pm are fully booked. Cancellations can be tracked at https://www.ouka.fi/lumo. Recommended age 15+.

Beautiful shibari binding and scenes in the bathtub

Eeva Kauppinen

Nighttown features 15 artists from different fields. Pirjo Yli-Maunula says that she builds the whole using jigsaw puzzle technique. The suggestions of the performers and the choreographic tasks given by her as a director are refined into scenes that are put together within a given framework.

For example, dance artist Milla Virtanen from Oulu has one room at her disposal at the Culture Bank, where she dances in cooking oil.

‘When an artist makes a proposal, I look for a match in James Joyce’s book’, Yli-Maunula says. ‘For Milla, I suggested if she could be Stephen Dedalus, the hallucination of the other protagonist, who sees his dead mother wearing a flower wreath and veil.’

In the novel, Dedalus is horrified by the sight and slams a crystal chandelier into pieces.


Oulu-based dance artist Milla Virtanen dances covered in cooking oil – the hallucination of the second protagonist of James Joyce’s novel, in which Stephen Dedalus sees his dead mother wearing a flower wreath and veil.

Circus artists Ben Collis (UK) and Elisabeth Künkele (Germany), who graduated from Stockholm University of the Arts a few years ago, introduce shibari, or binding techniques.

‘This is the first time we are using shibari in a major artistic production’, Collis says.

‘It’s a luxury to have plenty of time to present our work. After all, it takes a surprisingly long time to tie 12 strings around us.

The Japanese word shibari means beautiful binding. Shibari has previously been seen in Oulu in tightrope dancer Hanna Moisala’s solo work WireDo 2021.

‘Originally, we thought that ropes and cords could somehow help us in acrobatics, increase opportunities and provide support. It turned out that this is not the case at all’, Collis says. ‘But we found a lot of new moves that would be impossible without tying.’

Circus artist Elisabeth Künkele and dance artist Nina Bulgakova (Ukraine) will also perform in the bathtub.

‘When I found a bathtub in my garden in Stockholm, I decided to build an acrobatic scene in it’, Künkele says. ‘The rusty and dirty tub seemed forgotten, upside down in the garden.’

So Elisabeth Künkele packed the tub into her rehearsal room. Circus tricks with the tub gave rise to a strange and funny movement language.

Choreographer and dancer Nina Bulgakova fled the war to Finland from Kharkiv, Ukraine, where she had her own dance company. Bulgakova first went to the Czech Republic, from where she moved to Helsinki with her fellow dancers Anastasiia Mostova and Katerina Zhuravlova. Together they form a dance company called Ethno Contemporary Ballet.

In Nighttown, Bulgakova’s partner is a big bathtub.

‘The structure of the work is flexible, which is really inspiring. We have a lot of freedom to create and room for improvisation, which is my favourite thing’, Bulgakova says. ‘We have an amazing team. Very professional, supportive and friendly.’

In October, the Jenny and Antti Wihuri Foundation granted Nina Bulgakova and her Helsinki-based team €11,500 for the performance Women and the Sea.


Lumo-valofestivaalin tilausteos Nighttown

Inspiration: From chapter 15 of James Joyce’s novel Ulysses. The work is part of the Creative Europe project Ulysses – European Odyssey.

Location: Art House Kulttuuripankki, Kajaaninkatu 8 Oulu.

Direction: Pirjo Yli-Maunula.

Lighting design and videos: Jukka Huitila.

Sound design: Anssi Laiho.

Costume Design: Sylvi Siltavirta.

Set: Heidi Kesti

Photos: Janne-Pekka Manninen.

Dance artists: Nina Bulgakova (Ukraine/ Finland), Milla Virtanen, Henna-Maria Hanhineva.

Circus artists: Kata and Jared van Earle, Ben Collis (UK), Elisabeth Künkele (Germany), Emma Langmoen (Norway)

Performer: Nikke Launonen.

Co-Produceers: Flow Productions, Lumo Light Festival, Ulysses – European Odyssey project.

Ulysses – European Odyssey 2022–2024: A joint project of eighteen European cities, inspired by James Joyce’s novel Ulysses.

Lumo-festivaalin ykkösnähtävyys vie yleisön oudolle matkalle Kulttuuripankkiin – Lapsilta kielletyn esityksen ilmaiset liput varattiin loppuun aikoja sitten | Kaleva