From Iceland — Modernist Art Leads To Obvious Entertainment

Modernist Art Leads To Obvious Entertainment

Published October 5, 2012

Interview with Cameron Corbett about his new choreography

Modernist Art Leads To Obvious Entertainment
Rex Beckett

Interview with Cameron Corbett about his new choreography

As the month of October rolls around, the Iceland Dance Company prepares to kick off their annual season with two brand new performances. One is called ‘Let Hel Hold What She Has’ by French dancer and choreographer Jérôme Delbey, who was inspired by Norse mythology. The other is ‘It Is Not a Metaphor’ by Cameron Corbett, a native of Portland, Oregon who has been with the IDC on and off since 1997.

The latter piece was based around concepts that emerged from the modernist movement of the early 20th century and incorporates the music of John Cage and the ideas of Marcel Duchamp, favouring the functional and overt over the symbolism and flourish. We spoke to Cameron about the upcoming premiere.

So tell me, should your piece be taken as literally as the title asserts?
Yes, but the name is also kind of a joke. I find it problematic when people say that they don’t like dance because they don’t understand it, so that’s where the name comes from, but sometimes dance is like a pretty picture or painting, which can be taken literally. Before I was creating it I was investigating the concepts of what theatre is, what art is, but it turned out to be quite an entertaining piece in the end.

How long have you been working on this piece?
Oh, not long—I started working on it in the middle of August. We’re starting this season off with a new director [Lára Stefánsdóttir, former IDC dancer and one of Iceland’s most prolific choreographers] and some new dancers. There was some shuffle around and we had to get some pieces together for a small tour of Norway, so we had very little time. Of course, I also have a very bad concept of time unless I’m dancing.

Who all was involved in the production?
The three dancers performing the piece and the costume designer, Þyri Huld Árnadóttir, who is sometimes a dancer in the company. I wanted her involved because she’s got such fabulous style. Tinna Þorsteinsdóttir is the pianist playing Cage’s music. As far as I can gather she is the only person either able or available to play prepared music.

Which Cage pieces do you have in the show?
This is the fun part, because I always thought Cage was so klang-klong-klong. Then we studied music theory and I loved it, but I didn’t want to choreograph to it. Merce Cunningham had already done that. Then I heard this other stuff that was beautiful. One piece is “Music for Marcel Duchamp.” I’m also using “Bacchanale,” which is a famous piece Cage did for dance, and then a really short piece called “Prelude for Meditation.”

How are you feeling about opening the company’s season?
We have a new director with a whole new vision, so she’s the one under stress. It’s an opportunity, a big one. I’m not really so worried. I have respect (I hope) within the community, so if I put out a clunker at least people will remember that at one point I did nice work. At least I’m a funny guy! The dance community in Iceland is very supportive.

The other interesting thing is that everything I’m doing in my piece is the opposite of what Jérôme is doing in his piece, which is great for the audience because it’s two different pieces. Whereas nothing in mine is a metaphor, everything in his is a metaphor! 


What amount of your choreography do you do for yourself versus how much you do for the viewer?
I do not know. I start for myself. I try to entertain myself and hopefully the viewers have taste, and the ones who don’t have my taste can find something else they like. I try to be quite clear with what I’m doing, so I try not to have silly steps put together or beautiful steps. I try to be functional so the audience doesn’t think “Oh, I don’t understand that.” If you don’t understand what’s going on in my piece, you have other issues than dance, I think. It’s quite obvious and it turned out to be more entertaining than I was expecting. My little jazz and musical theatre background is going to come through in the Vaudeville and tap. I can’t help it!

How do you react to people who tell you they can’t on board with dance and feel there’s a cultural barrier?
Culturally, it’s a very narrative country, of course with the history and the Sagas and they love theatre; people really do crave a narrative in this space. That being said they also make music and they like painting. This might be a hot topic to get onto but I think it’s quite unfortunate that the art of dance in Iceland is often compared to theatre. Coming from America, it felt like if it had to be the younger sister of something I’d prefer it to be music. Here it’s the younger sister of theatre and I don’t think that’s a full enough understanding of what dance is and what it can be. We are on stage just as theatre is on stage but many things can be on stage. Graduations are on stage!

Another reaction I have to people saying “I don’t like dance because I don’t understand it” is, well, maybe you just saw a bad piece. There’s a lot, there’s a lot! There’s very little good dance. Just like theatre. Not everyone is talented.

Absolutely. And just like those other art forms you mentioned, the more you expose yourself to them the more you are able to discern what’s good and what’s total shit.
Exactly. Icelanders are getting more and more exposed. Dans Dans Dans was a huge hit last year, they love So You Think You Can Dance, which for me are both beginner examples of introducing yourself into it. I think dance is capable of much more than that, but that’s a nice starting point.

I have an issue with one of the judges on So You Think You Can Dance. He told one of the contestants “The best dance could ever be is entertaining and man, that was entertaining!” I was like, okay I can’t watch this anymore! I mean, this is your life and you say this? Granted with some of the things I say I would hate to be on national television! [Laughs] But still it felt like that’s where this show is headed and they’re going to define dance instead of open it up for people.

‘It Is Not a Metaphor’ and ‘Let Hel Hold What She Has’ show at Borgarleikhús on October 5, 11, 14 & 21 and November 18 & 25. For more information and to buy tickets visit

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