From Iceland – Reach Out And Move: The Reykjavík Dance Festival

Dance should be the most accessible, comfortable and familiar art form known to mankind. Everyone has a body, and most people can move their own, even part of it, making the ability to dance an almost universally shared experience.

And yet dance as a performance is often seen as culturally confined; intended for aficionados who “get it”, but not so much for the common people.

The Reykjavík Dance Festival, which wrapped up performances in its 19th year last month, has none of this nonsense. Directors Brogan Davison and Pétur Ármannsson, the Anglo-Icelandic couple who only took the reins at the beginning of this year, are determined to democratize dance.

“It’s something we really think about, and one of the issues we face with this festival,” Brogan recalls after the event. “And one of our intentions this year was to make it more accessible.”

Petur and Brogan, with baby raver Írena – photo by John Pearson

People’s dance

One of the ways the festival promotes this accessibility is to balance the virtuosity of the festival’s professional performances with the dancing of ordinary people. As Pétur observes: “How does my grandmother dance in the kitchen with my grandfather? How does our little girl dance on CoComelon on Netflix? It is our responsibility to tap into this folk side of the dance.

Normally, folk manage to dance on the various evenings that form the fabric of the festival around their performances – in “the spaces between”, as Brogan calls them. A rapid COVID-19 testing regime for the public saved the performance scheduled this year. Unfortunately, the same approach wasn’t possible for these freer interactive elements, and much of the action in the spaces in between was just not possible.

However, Brogan and Pétur managed to save the festival’s Baby Rave (literally a rave for babies – surely the ultimate in youth outreach), following the format of recent times and broadcasting the event ever since. their living room. Its success is one they hope to bring to next year’s program, with more symposia, workshops and artist talks to optimize access for the public.

Rave, baby, rave! Photo by Owen Fiene.

Open and reflective

Accessibility is a theme clearly rooted in the DNA of the Reykjavík Dance Festival. One of the most significant performances this year was “Stefnumót”, (Icelandic for “Rendez-vous”), three pieces created by bringing together a performer with a disability and one without. Each resulting show was accompanied by a candid conversation between performers and audiences about the creative process, its challenges, and the ideas revealed.

“I think he really embodied the festival,” Pétur remembers. “It was diverse, it was subversive, it was surprising, it was funny. And it was accessible to everyone. We are therefore very proud of this event.

“He really embodied the festival. It was diverse, it was subversive, it was surprising, it was funny.

In addition to being accessible, dance must naturally reflect the social and political issues that affect those who create and experience it. As Pétur observes: “Good art is of this world. I think to connect with people you have to be in the same space as them somehow. Such connections have been made this year through performances such as “Dance if you want to enter my country”, in which Michikazu Matsune reflects on racism and the nature of identity. And “When the Bleeding Stops,” a play by Lovísa Ósk Gunnarsdóttir that focuses on the silence and the sense of taboo surrounding menopause – was a hot post, clearly linked to a community touched by this theme.

When the bleeding stops. Photo by Owen Fiene.

Make connections

Awareness is a big part of the festival’s goal. It is active in the community year round and is probably best viewed as an arts foundation that hosts semi-annual events. Thanks to a long-term supportive commitment from the city of Reykjavík, the festival is able to run programs involving underserved social groups. One of these initiatives is the Litla Systir project, an evening ‘school’ that encourages creative activity and critical thinking in adolescents and offers participants an active role in organizing events.

Thus, the mission of the festival could be described as bringing dancing to the people. However Brogan understands that those new to dancing may fear not understanding the culture. “If people come in and maybe see dance for the first time, they might be worried that they don’t understand the ‘rules’ of the space,” she observes. But with an interactive, innovative and experiential approach, Brogan and Pétur hope that these barriers can be dismantled. It’s about making people dance and making people dance.

Photo by Owen Fiene.


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