Johann Freyr Björgvinsson is one of the founding choreographers of the Reykjavík Dance Festival. Started four years ago, the festival of modern dance now draws a large, diverse international group, and a larger and larger audience, with 900 people attending in 2004. This year, Björgvinsson’s work, Confessions of an Amnesiac, will be performed on Thursday, September 1st at Borgarleikhusid, the city theatre.
Grapevine popped in the theatre to watch the rehearsal and to talk to Johann. There are four dancers on stage, no music. One man, three women. Johann claps his hands to give a beat, the dancers move while clutched to the walls. Each person in his or her own world. Powerful movements.
Afterwards, Björgvinsson fills me in: “The 30-minute piece came together last winter. It was first performed in the basement of Klink og Bank, a huge place. Music was made especially from those surroundings, with nails, sand and things like that. The performance at the festival will be an experiment because of the smaller space. We’ll put a big canvas up on the walls with bags of paint, and when the dancers touch them the bags explode. We did the same with smaller pieces of canvas at Klink og Bank. Also, we’ll be using the music that was made then.”
At rehearsal, the work seems very unusual, even though there are no bags of paint present. So how would Björgvinsson describe his work? “I try to fight the natural, go for the uncomfortable movements. Go against the stream, but make it flow nevertheless. Concept wise I like heavy, dramatic work, there is beauty in drama. I want to touch people’s souls, want them to experience something different. New, strange, but unexpectable. The biggest influence on my work comes from Jiri Kylian. When I saw his work for the first time, I thought: this is it! He rocked my world, it made so much sense. Better than anything.”
For those of you who haven’t heard of Kylian, his works caused a revolution in the dance scene and have inspired many. But how can an Icelandic choreographer get that inspiration while living on this island?
“It’s hard, because there is basically nothing outside the Icelandic Dance Company. I’ve done five projects so far this year, which has been amazing and hectic, but I feel so empty now. I try to go abroad as much as possible, I need new influences. Maybe I’ll move to London for a year, there is so much happening there. Also, if you want to be a full time choreographer like I am, then you need to go to other countries. I started my own production company and I just finished working in New York. But I cannot deny the fact that I’m Icelandic, I cannot forget my heritage. I think that’s what makes me different.”
Olöf Ingolfsdottir agrees with Johann about the difficulty to stay inspired in Iceland. She is one of the other founding choreographers and has worked abroad a great deal in the past.
“It is not healthy to stay in Iceland forever,” she tells me. “In fact, it is necessary for every Icelander to go away sometimes. I have been abroad regularly, not only to see dance, but to be in another environment. For a choreographer it is safe to stay in Iceland, but you can’t compare yourself to others.”
Oddly enough, her piece for the festival is called heima er best, (home is best—also translated as “home sweet home”). Her work will be performed by herself and two other female dancers on Sunday afternoon, September 4th. It seems a bit strange not to perform in the evening, but there’s a reason for that. Ingolfsdóttir’s piece is especially for kids. She describes the style as dancetheatre. “This work was made especially for the festival. There are not many pieces for children. I wanted to see if it was very different to make something for children, a totally different audience, but I found out it wasn’t. It is fun, a light-hearted work, meant to make you feel good. It shows that grown ups can play too.”
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