Monday, April 7, 2008

Contemporary History of Modern Dance In Iceland

The ideas of the pioneers of modern dance concerning movement flourished off and on in Iceland, though they did not take a firm hold. Iceland was, until the beginning of the 20th century, a peaceful peasant and fishing society with the population evenly dispersed on the coasts of the island. Only in the late 19th century did a major population center appear in the capital Reykjavik, due to industrial development in both the fishing industry and farm management. Service and commerce increased quickly. In 1900 the population of the Reykjavik was 6,000 inhabitants (three percent of the whole population) but only 10 years later it had reached 12,000 or 14 percent of the whole population.

Since 1900 the capital has been the major cultural center of the country and today over 150,000 people live in Reykjavik. People who were educated abroad came back to Iceland more aware of the cultural changes in the surrounding world. This caused them to strain toward a higher level of education and arts in Reykjavik and be comparable to neighbouring countries. Theatres, galleries, and educational institutions grew quickly and so did the education of dance. Although the tradition of classical ballet theatre did not reach Iceland until the 1920s, the tradition of modern dance did rather quickly after it emerged.

In 1974 modern dance was incorporated in the gymnastic classes at the Icelandic College of Physical Education and Sport. The initiative came from Sigriour Valgeirsdottir, a young Iceland woman who had recently returned to Iceland after a long period of dance studies with some of the founders of modern dance, in Berkeley, California. Enthusiastic to spread her knowledge, Valgeirsdottir tried to establish a school and company in Reykjavik. Since the Icelanders had only recently become familiar with classical ballet training, for the first class most of the girls showed up thinking they were to dance in tutus and point shoes. After an honest attempt to spread modern dance around the country, Valgeirsdottir began to train a group of dancer-gymnastics at the Icelandic College of Physical Education and Sport. It was a modern gymnastic troupe that traveled in Iceland and its neighboring countries, using Valgeirsdottir 's choreography and music by various Icelandic composers. Although the troupe's style was based in modern dance, they attended festivals with other gymnastic groups in Scandinavia, modern dance wasn't known there either at that time.

In 1952 the National Theatre of Iceland opened a ballet school, the first and possibly only school with public support. Although the school has always been strictly classical it has from time to time included modern training, depending on the range of guest teachers. Other dance schools, such as, Jassballettskoli Baru, Dansstudio Soleyjar, and Kramhusio have also taught modern technique on occasion since the 1960s. The techniques of Graham, Cunningham, Limon and Horton have all been taught for a few years at a time, coming and going with different teachers. A few times modern jazz companies have been established, but none have so far persisted for more than two or three years at a time.

In 1973 the Icelandic Ballet was established, it was the country's first dance company to receive government support. In the late 1990s the company lead was taken by Katrin Hall who decided to change the company to a modern one, quite an attestation to the modern tradition, finally receiving attention and governmental support. Modern dance has been taught for many; years in various places but had never gotten a firm hold in Icelandic culture. Now, with the Icelandic Ballet recognising the tradition, one imagines modern dance has found a permanent home in Iceland, where it has been coming and going for more than 70 years.

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