For several years now, Iceland has been building an international reputation for producing a rich and diverse range of independent dance makers. The depth of this relatively new community is growing at a fascinating rate, and taking huge strides towards building an environment upon which the art form can be sustained.
The trend up until now has been that equal numbers of Icelandic dance artists have chosen to work abroad as much as they do at home—largely because the conditions for making and sharing dance in Reykjavík have a long way to go before this city can offer the sort of fertile soil that some of its European neighbours can offer (think Berlin, or Brussels). Of course Reykjavík will never become the New Berlin, nor should it aim to be, but in its own way, the city is demonstrating great ambition and has the potential to offer a wholly different type of breeding ground for dance making in Iceland.
Much of the appeal attached to continental cities such as Berlin is the geographical location, which permits artists quick access to other hotspots, enormously improving touring possibilities and providing natural meeting points for the roaming international community. The qualities of Reykjavík are in many ways the stark opposite. Reykjavík, rather than large and central, is small and isolated, but these qualities are not to be sneered at, and by no means to be misconstrued as negative. On the contrary, Reykjavík’s qualities are an opportunity, as well as a challenge. The city’s isolation can be an advantage, allowing the dance community to nurture a unique environment that is left to develop undisturbed, and the size of the city makes the arts community incredibly localised (every artist working in walking distance of every other), which makes the possibilities for collaboration and creative encounters unavoidable.
This being said, the risk with isolation is that a scene becomes out of touch and two dimensional—remaining continually unchallenged by developments taking place elsewhere. Plus, local tight-knit, everyone-knows-everyone communities can lack the critical space that is required to be able to openly access the successes and failures of individual artists and their work, leaving the scene vulnerable to stagnation and thirsty for criticism.
Currently Reykjavík is not characterised by either of these extremes, and plenty of groundwork has been done already to push the scene in the right direction; many exciting groups and dance makers have been coming out of the woodwork, including Hnoð, Hreyfiþróunarsamsteypan, Leifur Þór Þorvaldsson, and Margrét Sara Guðjónsdottir (to name just a few); the last seven years have seen a strong festival legacy develop: artFart and The Reykjavík Dance Festival; and courses such as the Contemporary Dance BA and Theatre – Theory and Practice BA, established by Iceland’s University of the Arts, have all helped tackle the challenges that Reykjavík faces. Yet there is plenty more to be done and the dance community and its wider supporters are waking up to this. Cue the autumn and winter of 2010.
The final quarter of this year is now being heralded by many as an era of change, and an opportunity to shift the way in which dance is made and shared in Iceland. Signý Palsdóttir, Office Manager of Iceland’s Department of Culture, declared at a public forum hosted by the Reykjavík Dance Festival that “Now is the time for dance!”—a statement that is hard to refute when considering the array of events and developments taking hold in the coming months.
Firstly, although now past, it seems important to flag up The Reykjavík Dance Festival, which took place over the first weekend in September. At its best, the festival serves as a vital platform bringing together a national and international dance community to share and explore the best that Iceland’s dance scene has to offer. The festival, crucially, provides a pretty comprehensive overview of the dance activity that has been taking place in Iceland over the year and provides a space for reflection on the current state of the Icelandic dance scene. The most exciting element of the festival is that much of the work presented is being shown for the first time, making it much less predictable what the overall quality of the work will be.
The second event in the coming months is the fascinating development that is taking place at the National Theatre this winter which, for the first time in the playhouse’s history, is presenting four new independent dance works as part of one season—a move that is described by Karen María Jónsdóttir, President of the National Dance Association, as “an unprecedented shift”.
Thirdly, and possibly the most groundbreaking news, is the City of Reykjavik’s move to provide initial funds for the first ever National Dance House to be created. Opening at the beginning of October, the new dance space will be installed in an old biscuit factory on Skúlagata and will immediately serve as a vital resource for the independent dance scene. Ásgerður Gunnarsdóttir of Hreyfiþróunarsamsteypan—one of the four groups presenting a new dance work at the National Theatre— explains that “this development is enormous. Before this news was announced, Hreyfiþróunarsamsteypan were struggling to find a space to start working on their new piece. Now we will be the first of many to make use of this new opportunity.”
Finally, the fourth big event taking place this autumn and winter is Keðja—running from 8th–11th October. Ása Richardsdóttir, who managed the event, described it “first and foremost, as an opportunity for all involved in the performing arts to explore, question and celebrate the art of dance”. With sixteen artistic events of various shapes and sizes, plus various seminars and talks, this international encounter is an opportunity for dance professionals to mingle with their counter-parts from across the oceans; an invitation to the curious beginners to check out some of the most exciting contemporary performance work taking place in Iceland at the moment. And according to Ása Richardsdóttir, it is also about something a lot bigger. She explains “I think this is an opportunity for all Icelanders to begin to rethink, reshape and recharge their future; to treat society in the coming year as an open, critical, and constructive laboratory—bearing in mind that our success will, to a large extent, depend on our ability to unleash the true creative forces we have.”
The question of whether or not Keðja will be able to reach those heights will not be answered of course until after the event, but from looking at the programme of events—with highlights including Saga and Friðgeir, Leifur Þór Þorvaldsson, Erna Ómarsdóttir, Kviss Búm Bang and many more—it seems safe to say that this event is going to provide some thrilling encounters, and should be marked on the calendar as a “DO NOT MISS!”
Overall the final quarter of 2010 looks unavoidably like a period of fervent activity and exciting possibilities. It is clear that there is a lot of work to do, but it is easy to feel hopeful when you look at the track record.
For more information on Keðja go to www.Keðja.id.is.
For all dance information go to www.dance.is.