I have little doubt that Lunch Beat is the best dance party in Reykjavík. For me, that’s when the Reykjavík Dance Festival truly began. I was struck by the beauty of those attending the lunchtime dance party at Reykjavík’s Hafnarhúsið on day two of the festival. It wasn’t by their physical appearance, but their energy, and nobody was embarrassingly drunk, which was a nice change in this city.
That night, I woke up from a nap just as the Culture Night fireworks were going off. I put on my shoes and walked down the street towards them. It is how I most enjoy them—not standing there giving them my undivided attention, but treating them as though they were something that just happened, like a rainbow or the Northern Lights. It is by putting them in the background that they flirt with the magical.
A Rocky Start
From the first show I saw at the festival, it was clear that they were not going to do things conventionally. For Margrét Sara Gu›jónsdóttir’s Soft Target Installed, the audience was positioned in the middle of the space while the four dancers stood in each corner of the room.
This setup built anticipation, as it was impossible for us to see all around the room, that the show would give us a sense of excess. Unfortunately, all dancers would perform the same movement in synchronicity, so that this feeling got negated. In this case, it would have been more effective to be indeed more conventional about it and perform it on a standard stage with a single performer. Since then, I have learned that this is how the first version of the show was performed.
Soft Target Installed was however clearer in its undertakings than Erna Ómarsdóttir and Valdimar Jóhannsson’s To the Bone. It opened with a ritual involving gross wigs as a tool of worship, the dancers demonstrating a primitive obsession with hair. Then it moved into a talk show format where the performers discussed their work. Italian choreographer Caterine Sagna had done something similar with Relation Publique, in which she took the piss out of artists being expected to translate affect into intellect for audiences. Here it came across as an inside joke.
Like a lot of dance shows that use humorous spoken word, To the Bone seemed insecure, too concerned with being understood and likeable. This is especially unfortunate since its most powerful moments reached Lynchean proportions of eeriness as performers stood in the background motionless, unexplained.
Heine Avdal and Yukiko Shinozaki’s Borrowed Landscape, most notable for taking place in Bónus, also suffered from a lack of concision, though each segment felt legitimate on its own. The most compelling section during my shopping experience was an audio interview with one of the cashiers, which humanised the often-overlooked service workers.
Then Everything Turned
As soon as I walked into the room for Sissel M Bjørkli’s Codename: Sailor V, I knew something was different. The space was tiny, barely big enough to seat fifteen. It was filled with smoke and bathing in the bluest light, blurring the edges between everything. It was already its own little world.
When Bjørkli would look into the audience, the lights would turn red, creating her alter ego. Her movement was childlike in its awkwardness. Submitting to imaginative play, she was able to turn an office chair into a spaceship, making us believe that she was an anime character exploring some distant planet. And she was able to do so because she fully committed to her premise.
The team behind Borrowed Landscape showed more unity with their theatrical production, Nothing’s for Something. It opened with a ballet reminiscent of Disney’s Fantasia, but with curtains instead of brooms. Six side curtains were each suspended in the air by six huge helium-filled balloons. They would slide and twirl across the floor to the sound of classical music.
The synthetic fabric would rub against itself, creating humorous sounds, like a high-pitched wind through a small opening. Dancers’ colourful costumes would sometimes make an appearance from behind the curtains, but then would get swallowed back up by these mystical creatures. In the second section, dancers appeared in a series of static tableaux. Their outlines were then projected onto the back curtain, which magically animated them through its own movement. For its finale, eight balloons were left to float around the space. As they emitted breathing and sniffling sounds, they appeared to be alien entities, conscious, yet disembodied.
Expectations ran low at free events at the Reykjavík Dance Atelier. However, during the Performance Marathon, two Swiss women came out of nowhere to charm the audience. Léa Moro and Désirée Meul performed About You, a duet that began with a name-based memory game as Moro braided Meul’s hair. Soon, it was their bodies that became intertwined, leading to a series of comically awkward movements.
In the most hilarious section, they ascribed given names to movements. The relationship between the two might have been arbitrary but, depending on the movement, it came across as though they liked some people a lot more than others. It proved that, no matter what some might believe, dance communicates just as much as words.
Dance Me To The End Of The Festival
It turns out that the reason Meul and Moro were in town was because their teachers, Deufert & Plischke, were closing the festival with ANARCHIV #2: second hand. First, audience members were asked to write down the answer to five personal questions on the white clothes of the dancers. Then the performers launched into a dance that appeared democratic in its simplicity and refusal of a dramatic structure.
For the last half-hour, the audience was asked to replicate the movements based on instruction cards. In the simplicity of the gesture of the non-initiated, the dance found its meaning. Similarly, the festival found its footing in its second half, though the international artists might have shone a bit brighter than the locals.
You might also check out the Reykjavík Dance Festival Tumblr.
Book your day tours in Iceland right here!