Nordic Cool 2013 season: Iceland Dance Company
Til, The Swan, Grobstadtsafari
Washington, Kennedy Center Terrace Theater
27 February 2013
About Nordic Cool 2013 festival
The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts looks particularly evocative at night this month. The center’s white marble walls are illuminated by deep blue and emerald green lights depicting the aurora borealis. The lights are courtesy of Danish lighting designer Jesper Kongshaug, who created the “Northern Lights” installation on the building exterior as part of Nordic Cool 2013, a month-long international festival that celebrates and explores the cultural diversity of the Nordic countries – Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden and the territories of Greenland, the Faroe and the Åland Islands. Featuring more than 700 artists, Nordic Cool 2013 is an impressive showcase of the music, theater, dance, literature, visual arts, fashion, design and cuisine of Northern Europe.
On February 27, at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater, The Iceland Dance Company opened the dance program of the festival, which also includes the performances of the troupes from Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden.
For its Kennedy Center debut, the Reykjavik-based group of nine dancers brought a program of three contemporary works created by Scandinavian choreographers.
The evening opened with Til (2012), an angst-filled duet choreographed by Frank Fannar Pedersen and set to a mélange of sounds by Sigur Rós, Philip Glass, Ólafur Arnalds and Hildur Guðnadóttir. Despite its name, the piece focuses on the vulnerable emotional state of a woman (the compelling Unnur Elísabet Gunnarsdóttir) who seemes to lose herself in the space between what is and what might have been. Haunted by memories of a shattered relationship with a man she deeply loved (Ásgeir Helgi Magnússon), she tries to break the wall between fantasy and reality. The piece ends on a quiet note, as she walks through the remnants of her past towards a new and deeper appreciation of herself and her inner life.
Gunnarsdóttir was wonderfully convincing, inhabiting a dim world of her character and deftly conveying a vivid sense of her emotional isolation and psycological trauma.
The Swan (2008), a duet created by the company’s artistic director Lára Stefánsdóttir, turned out to be the most intriguing and theatrically effective dance on the program. The stage decorations were minimal: a few golden mirror balls on the floor and a clear bubble chair suspended from the ceiling on a metal chain. In the beginning of the dance, this chair serves as a crib (or a day bed) for a man dressed in white underwear (Hannes Þór Egilsson). He curls up in it and tries to catch up on his sleep until being unceremoniously awoken by a woman (the superb Ellen Margrét Bæhrenz). Dressed in a short white fluffy dress, which somewhat evokes a tutu, she is the Swan, her hair messy and twisted and her eyes rimmed with heavy black eyeliner. Unlike Fokine’s sickly creature, this bird is a mighty fighter who, as the dance progresses, gets rougher and tougher. When the man attempts to capture her, she frantically slips away from his grasp, instantly dodging his advances with her sharp and aggressive movements. When finally he is about to give up, reconciling with his defeat and his solitude (this moment is aptly reflected in his brief yet very poignant solo), her aggression and hostility toward him gradually turn to affection. The snow starts falling, and the familiar Prokofiev music fills the theater. Then comes the inevitable pas de deux where the dancers, engulfed by their new-found romantic feelings, lose themselves in an amorous swirl of motion. It wasn’t quite Romeo and Juliet, but this dynamic twosome did have a spark and poignancy all their own.
The evening culminated with the vigorous ensemble piece, Groβstadtsafari (2011), choreographed by the Norwegian dance-maker, Jo Strömgren. According to the dance’s creator, Groβstadtsafari is a reflection on a hectic urban lifesytle with its imposing crowds and lack of private space. To illustrate this, a group of four men and four women, clad in fashionable black nighlife attire, briskly dashed onstage, forming and dissolving lines and patterns, their rapid movements repeated and then mirrored in the sequences that followed. The choreographic vocabulary hardly gripped the attention, but the dance capitalized on the impressive athleticism and energy of the dedicated cast.