“I had a daughter nearly three years ago,” Valgerður Rúnarsdóttir, choreographer of ‘Dear Human Being,’ a new contemporary dance show premiering at Tjarnarbíó in September, tells me. “After that, I started to think about not only myself, but the next generation, and about how I have lived my life.” Valgerður pauses—as she oft does—picking her words carefully and deliberately. “It was that newfound thought, that awareness, which sparked ‘Dear Human Being’.”
Dissonance and devastation
The project is based on the idea of circulation, specifically that between humans and nature. “Humans are polluting so much and withdrawing so much from the Earth. Because of this, we must ask, is this circulation going to continue or are we interrupting it too much?”
While this idea could no doubt spark thoughts about ideology, Valgerður assures me that the piece has no intention of being deliberately indoctrinating. “We are not trying to preach anything, but rather just explore it. Dance is an abstract art form and people can read the piece in different ways.”
This dissonance—between everyday actions and the devastating effect one knows they have on the Earth—is difficult to reconcile for anyone living in modern society. Valgerður discusses this extensively. She drives a car and travels by airplane, which obviously contributes to environmental instability. “We are really the privileged people of the Earth. We have air and fresh water, but we usually take that for granted.”
Breathe in, breathe out
The show deals heavily with the idea of air—one portion centering completely around breath. Rolling on the floor, grasping each other, even at one point forming a totem pool, a trio of dancers moves around with their faces stuck concretely in an opened mouth pose—as if they were gasping for breath, after almost drowning. It’s an unnerving sight, almost grotesque.
“Breathing is circulation. You cannot live without oxygen, even though it seems like a normal thing that we don’t really think about. You just do it,” she tells me. “For me, that links into pollution. The air is becoming more and more polluted and causing a lot of damage in countries that have problems like dryness and war. Even in Iceland, it’s becoming more polluted.” The dancers tackle this idea head on, using their bodies as powerful physical manifestations of it. Arching their backs as they take deliberate gasping inhales, you cannot help but become aware of your own lungs. Breathe in. Breathe out.
Using an explosive environment
The environmental effects of industrialisation are not just ethereal ideas to Valgerður and her team though. Their practise space for ‘Dear Human Being’ was in the now-lost Dance Atelier, located directly next to a construction zone. “There were these explosions outside all the time that were very annoying and distracting. We had to almost work around them.” The coincidence feels almost poetic—a dance about humans affecting their environment being affected by other humans affecting their environment.
The team took the distractions and ran with them. Áskell Harðarson, who produced the music for the piece, recorded the explosions and integrated them into the soundtrack for the show. “You have to use the environment you’re given,” Valgerður says, smiling. Of course—as is evident in the piece—she means you have to use it thoughtfully and sustainably.
The show will run on September 1st, 3rd, 7th, and 16th at 20:30 at Tjarnarbíó. Tickets are 3.500 ISK. You can buy them here.