Iceland: Iceland Dance Company

This season Reykjavík’s Iceland Dance Company premiered a new Icelandic take on The Rite of Spring. Choreographed by artistic director Lára Stefánsdóttir, alongside up and coming dancemaker Melkorka Sigrídur Magnúsdóttir, the work was a major collaboration with Reykjavík Art Festival, Harpa and the Iceland Symphony Orchestra.

‘This was a historical moment for us, performing for the first time at Eldborg, Harpa’s main stage, accompanied by the symphony,’ says Stefánsdóttir, a dancer and choreographer who has overseen the company’s artistic direction since 2012. ‘It was a huge success.’

Staging new work from rising stars is a key priority for Stefánsdóttir. The 2012-13 season has seen the world premiere of French choreographer Jérôme Delbey’s Hel haldi sínu (Let Hel hold what she has), inspired by Nordic mythology; and the Icelandic premiere of Walking Mad, Swedish dancemaker Johan Inger’s frenetic, humorous piece set to Ravel’s Bolero.

‘In the autumn we will stage a brand new work by Brian Gerke, followed by a Nordic trilogy in early 2014,’ adds Stefánsdóttir. As Iceland’s national dance troupe, IDC is increasingly attracting the attention of international choreographers; collaborators in recent years have included Rui Horta, Jo Strömgren, Richard Wherlock, Ina Christel Johannessen, and Alexander Ekman.

IDC also aims to develop partnerships with other cultural institutions. ‘The company has just returned from Malmö, Sweden where we had several days of sharing and learning with four other repertoire companies,’ says Stefánsdóttir. ‘The IDC, Norway’s Carte Blanche, Skånes Dansteater from Sweden, Germany’s Tanzcompagnie Oldenburg, and the Scottish Dance Theatre – collectively called RepNet – meet to discuss our different perspectives, to Iceland Dance Company share and learn from each other.’

The Malmö RepNet gathering, which took place from 12-16 June, was the biggest so far, placing a strong emphasis on the dancers sharing their own ideas. Workshops allowed the performers to develop their own choreography, which was then showcased in a performance.

Stefánsdóttir cultivates her dancers’ choreographic talent year-round, encouraging them to teach classes and hone their skills. ‘I think this is very important for the future of Icelandic choreography,’ she says. This season’s Ótta was created by dancers Ásgeir Helgi Magnússon, Hjördís Lilja Örnólfsdóttir and Unnur Elísabet Gunnarsdóttir.

The company’s collaborative attitude extends to its educational strand. ‘Every year, IDC takes one or two apprentices from the dance department at the Iceland Academy of Arts,’ explains Stefánsdóttir. ‘Last year, we had two wonderful students who took part in two productions that autumn. This gives the apprentices a useful experience by working with professional dancers.’

Stefánsdóttir’s constructive, collaborative approach has allowed the company to flourish, showcasing Iceland’s creative flair. But IDC hasn’t come out of the economic crisis unscathed. ‘The recent global financial difficulties have indeed affected the company,’ says Stefánsdóttir. ‘International festivals have difficulties paying travel costs, which obviously means less touring for a company located out in the Atlantic. Instead we’re focussing more on our local future, increasing our national audience. The financial situation also means we can’t take on very large or expensive productions, but that does serve to draw attention to emerging Icelandic choreographers – we see that as a positive.’

By Lucia Cox