• © Óscar Gonzalez

  • © Óscar Gonzalez

  • © Óscar Gonzalez

  • © Óscar Gonzalez

  • © Óscar Gonzalez

KARELIA. A Queer Forest Fantasy in Two Parts


»KARELIA«, by performance collective ONCE WE WERE ISLANDS, imagines Queer lives beyond the city by exploring how love can thrive in quiet places. In a live stage-work, Gylee and Aslan explore desire, a new life close to the land, and the possibility of staying Queer alone among the trees. Deep in the forest they journey through time to three different worlds. Setting out from their house in the woods in the present day, the performers travel back to the time of the witch trials, and finally fly into a sci-fi future beyond the stars.

»Can Queer lives flourish outside the city?«

In Karelia, a region of forests straddling the border between Finland and Russia, the artists found a perfect place of inspiration within this territory of romantic legends — as well as the lonely reality of the forest itself. They asked: What are we fleeing from? What are we running to?

The live performance, woven from words, begins at a table set for a feast in front of a handmade green-and-blue tapestry. The online film, meanwhile, streamed from the Ballhaus Ost website, compliments the onstage triptych with images of the Karelian forest, the dark rustling of leaves, and the cracking of branches underfoot. The two interwoven parts of KARELIA transform the forest into a third protagonist.

»Does the forest render us vulnerable?«

ONCE WE WERE ISLANDS work in the fertile ground between disciplines, combining visual art, performance, choreographic methodologies, and research. The two performers, originally from Manchester and London, employ (auto)biographical narrative as well as meticulous research on the realities of Queer lives in their poetic works.


  • Oct 07, 2021
Past Dates
  • Oct 07, 2021
  • Oct 08, 2021
  • Oct 09, 2021
  • Oct 10, 2021

Direction, Text, Performance, Design

Aslan, Chris Gylee

Light Design

Elliott Cennetoglu

Composition for the Film

Elie Gregory

Sound Design for the Performance

Mars Dietz


Óscar González

Production Management

ehrliche arbeit – freies Kulturbüro

Graphic Design

Kruse & Müller


A ONCE WE WERE ISLANDS production in cooperation with Ballhaus Ost, supported by Fonds Darstellende Künste with funds from the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and Media as part of NEUSTART KULTUR. Kindly supported by the Finnish Institute in Germany; the Old Mine Residency, Outokumpu, Finland; and by the residency programme of schloss bröllin e.V., funded by the Ministry of Education, Science, and Culture of the State of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and the County of Vorpommern-Greifswald.