From Iceland — A Gathering of Dances

A Gathering of Dances

Published October 5, 2011

Reykjavík movement artists' own private visions

A Gathering of Dances
Photo by
Reykjavík Dance Festival

Reykjavík movement artists' own private visions

In Iceland, seeing the arts requires going to festivals. It’s a mode I’m still getting used to, and I’ll admit to a lingering attachment to being able to imbibe slowly, one performance a week. This means I sometimes forget the festival format’s chief merit: beyond convenience for travellers, it offers the chance for individual works to coalesce into a greater whole, each piece a tiny jewel on a grand, shiny necklace. At the Reykjavík Dance Festival 2011, a multiplicity of short pieces based on diverse, personal visions brought this phenomenon to the fore.

Nowhere was it clearer than on Saturday afternoon, when two downtown museums hosted three performances. At the National Gallery, Katla Þórarinsdóttir and Laura Murphy showed ‘Lost Ballerina,’ which took off from Davide Bozzalla’s photographs of the tutu-clad Katla in the Icelandic highlands. In the museum environment, as in nature, a ballerina is out of her element, and our plucky heroine (Katla) got caught upside-down in a corner, waded through the museum’s moat and screamed, and spun plaintively on a miniature chair. Searching for the dancer flitting unpredictably around the museum gave viewers a taste of that same lost feeling, making for an utterly charming, if non-ground-breaking, experience.

Hafnarhús, two works of similar singularity were shown in a room by the building’s entrance. For ‘> a flock of us >’, the audience stood in the outer rings of concentric circles plotted on the floor, while, in the centre, Guðrún Óskarsdóttir and Keren Rosenberg became birds.  Every detail was lovingly attended to—there was a chirp-filled soundscape (by Lydía Grétarsdóttir), shiny unitards with contrasting thumb colours, silvered hair and ear tips, and atmospheric wall projections (by Uri Rosenberg). But what really enthralled was how the dancers managed, with movement, but without a single arm flap or other literal imitation, to get birdy-ness exactly right.

Afterwards, the room was swiftly transformed for visual artist Bjargey Ólafsdóttir’s ‘Now Now,’ an alternate world found below a circus tent, in which the piano can be played from underneath, with one’s head, and gymnasts descend on a rope to circle the stage on their hands.

More conventional theatre spaces also hosted innovative performances. At the dance atelier in the Kex Hostel, Margrét Sara Guðjónsdóttir’s research showing, ’Dedication,’ had Laura Siegmund carrying out deliberate, weighty actions such as uhmming in the dark, methodically surveying the audience with her eyes or rippling her arms above her head. Often, Laura appeared to be at a crossroads: facing the audience, she turned her back and walked upstage, only to pivot and return towards us, repeatedly. Or she found herself beached on her back, doing a kind of elegant sit-up. Perhaps because it was a research showing rather than a finished piece, ‘Dedication’ was pleasingly pared-down, without the surface ruffles of last year’s ‘Soft Target.’

At Tjarnarbíó, Samsuðan & co’s ‘What a Feeling!’ featured three dancers (Berglind Pétursdóttir, Cameron Corbett and Saga Sigurðardóttir) each giving a short verbal introduction and then performing a solo, choreographed by the group based on the individual’s innermost desires. Saga showed a dance about mortality, by a pregnant woman in a black bodysuit, to music from the second act of Gisele. Berglind told us about Chlamydia, and Germany, and performed an equally discombobulated dance. Cameron’s piece involved the pursuit of love, and sex, and illustrated this clearly. The dances were fresh, and the trio’s deadpan wackiness stayed on the right side of cute—though just barely.

Also at Tjarnarbíó, Sveinbjörg Þórhallsdóttir and Steinunn Ketilsdóttir showed ‘Belinda and Goddess,’ an ode to female friendship, duality, godliness, or all three. The work began with the pair, backs to us, shifting from leg to leg so that their butts swayed rhythmically left to right, and ended with them lying on their stomachs singing tragedy into ground microphones. It was terrific. Jóní Jónsdóttir’s costumes, which featured sleek Lycra in back, and demure dresses in front, are also worth mentioning.

Other pieces were less surprising. Lára Stefánsdóttir’s ‘Braindust’ was supposed to be about our crazy thought processes, but appeared to be the usual Euro agitation, expertly performed.  A take on Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring,’ by Helena Jónsdóttir and Pálína Jónsdóttir, mostly went for stage images, but those pictures weren’t particularly arresting. The music also sounded awful, a frequent occurrence in the revamped Tjarnarbíó.

‘Court 0.9144m,’ by the dance collective Raven, was performed in the courtyard next door to Tjarnarbíó. It attempted to push ordinary activities—knocking on a door, say, or reading a book—into the sublime. If it didn’t get there, well, it was a lovely fall night out-of-doors, and there was live music by Atos, an experimental jazz group, played from a rooftop.

John the Houseband’s ‘Trippin’ North’ featured the five members of the ensemble prancing about the stage, playing various instruments, making silly jokes, and singing without skill. Although it added to the variety of the festival, the piece was the opposite of the best presentations, in which the creators looked inside and came up with something new. Here, the makers attempted to use their incredibly cool presence to transform banal material. And it was true: with their fashionable clothes and facial hair, innocent enthusiasm for the plastic bag as an instrument, and amazing ability to take on even black street dance, the group was extremely cute, if also more than a little bit repulsive.

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