Sacrifice sounds an ambitious piece about art and religion – tell us all about it and will it upset anybody!?
There has been an interesting link between art and religion from the beginning and it’s difficult to know what came first. They got separated at some point. We were wondering why such a strong force like the creative spirit could not be the reason itself for a belief system and it came from a moment when Valdimar Jóhannsson and I started talking about getting married but didn’t find ourselves in any ritualistic ceremony that previously existed. We decided to create our own and we asked our artists friends to help us. Matthew Barrney was immediately excited about the idea and so he wrote a new ceremony for us.
Rituals have always been something we have both been fascinated by and interested in the appearance and meaning – if they still have a meaning today or how they have changed and developed. The theatricality in rituals is often so strong and interesting so already the line is blurred there. We also noticed that creating art, for example a performance with a group of great people, is one of the most inspiring things and it’s what drives us and is sometimes the reason why we can get out of bed in the mornings. It’s the motor of our lives to create stuff so why not worship the creative spirit that we all have somewhere inside of us.
You never know what upsets people (people can get upset by a cucumber!) but religion and art can be such a big passion for a lot of people. I hope people will get inspired, I hope they will feel the creative spirit in the air and maybe they also get inspired to dance, sing and scream with us – there will be a Black Yoga Screaming cabinet and Hate Yoga, alongside other things in the breaks for the audience to take part in if they would like and if they feel the need to experience though their own body. I also hope they will get the chance to reflect a little, see the beauty, the pain, the humour…
What’s so distinctive about the Iceland Dance Company? Also where do your dancers come from, are they trained locally and how are you funded?
It’s difficult for me to say, it’s like talking about your children, you think they are the best and the smartest and the cutest. They are really strong, creative and are able to do many things. They have this primal energy that I often look for in dancers but they can also be very technical and have amazing physical abilities. They also sing like angels, scream like demons… dance like spirits, and now they play the guitar as they had to learn for No tomorrow in Sacrifice.The dancers are mainly from Iceland but there are also a few with other nationalities. They got their training from local dance schools, the Icelandic contemporary dance academy and the ballet school, some of them also studied abroad in Scandinavia, in Holland, and two of them were in the London Contemporary Dance School. In Sacrifice there are also actors and a singer involved. The company is a government institution and gets its support from the state. It’s a small company in many senses, with few dancers and few office people, but everyone does their best to make every project possible. It’s the only dance company in Iceland that is funded.
How do you balance being both company director and choreographer? – they seem such different jobs.
It definitely has its good and bad sides, it’s a big challenge, it’s not so easy to combine those two jobs but I’m slowly finding a way. I have a very good team with me so for those reasons it’s possible. It can indeed be a bit challenging as you need to be very differently focused for each.
How do you create your dance pieces – do you go into the studio with a firm idea of the movement you want? Or does it all just happen on the spot?
It’s a mixture of everything, I work a lot in the studio alone to get a taste of what I want and ideas and sometimes I come with fixed choreography but often I work with the dancers to create the material from improvisation or by giving them certain tasks. Sometimes I use material from my own solo work or duet work I’ve been doing with my choreographic partners as a starting point for group work. Often, I work from themes and sometimes it’s not about creating dance steps but more about creating certain atmosphere or elements. Also it often starts with a lot of discussions between me and my partner Valdi, or others and then bringing it to the dancers…
You’ve worked all around the world as a choreographer. What’s next for you as a creative and what’s next for the company?
I will choreograph for the company in new a collaboration with the Icelandic band Sigur Ros for their festival in the big concert hall Harpan in Reykjavik between Christmas and the New Year. Then I’m doing a project in collaboration with Pierre Couilbeuf, a French film director in Paris next spring and then a concert with Lazyblood, my band with Valdimar and so on…
Bonus Question: Tell us a joke!
I can never remember jokes but I asked my other half, my partner in life and in Sacrifice, and the father of my children, Valdimar Jóhannsson and his alter ego Putrid Saphire (whom you will see making ceramics, scatting and telling good and bad jokes about his past as sailor and dockworker and how he started dancing, in the foyer during breaks in Sacrifice) The joke: 21.368 tons of halibut where walking down the street and ran into 1.823 tons of depressed farm grown salmon, the halibuts asked, why so gloomy? the salmon answered, “nobody wants me” then flapped his gills and kept on walking.