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Iceland Dance Company

'Til', 'The Swan', 'Grobstadtsafari'

by Carmel Morgan

February 27, 2013 -- Terrace Theater, JFKCenter for the Performing Arts, Washington DC

I hadn’t really pondered what contemporary dance from Iceland would look like until the Kennedy Center’s “Nordic Cool” program was announced. Only then, when I saw the Iceland Dance Company on the performance schedule, did I wonder what sort of dance you’d see during an evening out in Reykjavik. Having seen the Iceland Dance Company, I can now tell you that Iceland’s contemporary dance doesn’t differ a great deal from you’d see elsewhere in Europe or the United States. If there were any elements of Icelandic folk dance represented, for example, I missed it.

So what made the Iceland Dance Company unique? Design made the biggest impression on me. Not one of the pieces performed lacked white clouds of dry ice, or something like it, wafting in and around, for example. In fact, the works’ strong visual components – scenery, costumes, lighting – pretty much overpowered the dancing. “Til” featured a rope of button down shirts, sleeves knotted together. “The Swan” featured disco balls and a retro clear egg chair suspended by a gold chain. “Groβstadtsafari” showed off punk rocker-like black leather, spandex, glitter, and ripped tights galore.

Although I had no particular expectations, the dancing didn’t wow me, nor did the choreography. The final piece on the program, “Groβstadtsafari,” choreographed by Jo Stromgren, with what appeared to be eight of the nine-person ensemble dancing, and struck me as the most accomplished work of the three that made their U.S. premiere. The choreography was complex and lively. Heads titled, shoulders and hips did, too. There were striking sequences of fast-paced unison. Like a game of hot potato or crowd surfing, a female dancer was lifted and exchanged. I admired some low-to-the-ground spins, with knees almost brushing the floor. I can’t say I understood the piece, but it delivered some spark.

The other two works were more sedate, and even harder to grasp. In “Til,” choreographed by Frank Fannar Pedersen, a man and a woman used a lot of quick hand gestures. The dancers, and the choreography, too, seemed a bit juvenile and unassured. The piece felt more like theater than dance. “The Swan,” which was choreographed by the Iceland Dance Company’s artistic director, Lara Stefansdottir, also came down heavy on the side of theater versus dance. Another male/female duet, “The Swan” displayed a nearly naked male (he wore only white underwear) and a woman in Swan Lake-like tulle and false eyelashes. Perhaps the male, emerging from the egg chair, hatched? Both he and his paramour, the swan lady, moved in a bird-like fashion, sometimes thrashing, and seemingly angry. The male performed muscular gyrations in a strange courtship ritual.

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