Theatre for young people that’s ahead of the game

Founded by Teatret Gruppe 38 in 2008, the fourth :DANISH+ will take place from 3-6 May. The festival showcases the best in Danish theatre for children and young audiences, targeting international arts promoters. IAM speaks to producer Niels Andersen.

How has :DANISH+ expanded with each edition and what are your plans for the future?

So far, our track record is good: Danish companies such as Teater Refleksion and Teatret Gruppe 38 were selected to perform showcases in 2008, 2010 and 2012. Since then, these companies have built a steady following abroad and currently stage around 75 to 100 performances each year in countries such as Canada, Germany, Spain, France, Australia, the US and UK.

This year, we look forward to welcoming professionals to Aarhus, the forthcoming European Capital of Culture 2017. We are doing most of the showcases in Aarhus’ new venue, Godsbanen, and the other venues we use are all just a five-minute walk from the main venue, which allows us to have a really efficient and smooth timetable for the event.

How do you go about selecting work for the programme? What do companies need to demonstrate in order for them to be selected?

For 2014 we received proposals for around 100 new productions. We’re staying clear of trends – our focus is primarily to encourage and pick performances that are exciting and take a new direction. This year’s selection is of a very high quality and covers different genres from storytelling to contemporary dance, magic realism, poetry, music and humour. Visual – almost cinematic – elements in productions are just some of the hallmarks this year.

‘Danish theatres never talk down to their audiences and they work on a level that satisfies children and adults alike’

On the 2014 programme are 15 brand new productions and a couple of classics, including Teatret Gruppe 38’s multi-award winning The Ballad of Marjan and Rob and Teater2Tusind’s adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s Hans Clodhopper, as well as Uppercut Danseteater’s ONE, and Cantabile 2’s Life Live!, a heartbreaking performance that divides the audience into four separate groups.

The richness and quality of the productions showcased here will highlight how Denmark is creating work for children and young people that’s highly valued around the world.

The Ballad of Marjan and Rob © Morten Fauerby
The Ballad of Marjan and Rob © Morten Fauerby

The festival claims that Danish shows create an ‘intense and intimate dialogue on several levels for stage and audience’. How?

Hans Rønne did this in 2012 with his production Stone Dead. The show’s theatrical language demonstrated the power of the form as a universal form of communication, uniting an audience regardless of age, background or nationality. It was a huge hit and was later invited to Russia, Portugal, Turkey and Germany after showcasing at :DANISH+.

Danish performing arts are widely acclaimed for creating and conceptualising theatre for young people. Productions often take place quite close to the audience and so the children get to see and be seen by the performers. Imagery takes on a big meaning: shows have the individual at their heart and very rarely take an educational angle; performances engage children at eye level, rather than pedagogically.

The challenging stories are often complex and need processing from a philosophical perspective. Danish theatres never talk down to their audiences and they work on a level that satisfies children and adults alike.

But it is not just in Denmark that theatre for younger audiences is making its mark: over the last few years we have seen interesting developments in work coming from Holland, Belgium and France – these are countries to watch out for as they are taking a fresh approach that’s very exciting.

ONE by Uppercut Dance Theatre © Henrik Sørensen
ONE by Uppercut Danseteater © Henrik Sørensen

Are Danish productions well supported by funding bodies?

Support for Danish arts has been really strong for a number of years. This has led to mixed-genre formats and influenced the development of a unique theatrical language that defines each company, as well as its high-quality work. Compared to other countries, we have a rather long production period that permits in-depth research and longer development times per piece.

In Denmark, theatre for younger audiences is a rapidly growing cultural export: the latest survey carried out by the international children’s theatre organisation ASSITEJ (International Association of Theatres for Children and Young People) shows that every day, all year round, two Danish productions play abroad.

Main image:  ZeBU’s The Journey to God © Søren Meisner