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Iceland Mag

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Reykjavík Dance Festival: Bring out the neighbours

By Sara McMahon

  • Ásrún Magnúsdóttir is the author of this year’s opening piece. Her work features some of her next-door neighbours. Photo/Jerel Lai

Dancer and choreographer Ásrún Magnúsdóttir is the author of the Reykjavík Dance Festival’s opening act. The piece, entitled Church of Dance, features Ásrún’s neighbours, who welcome the audience into their homes during the performance. 

When did you first begin to dance?
“I’ve been dancing since the age of ten—so, for fifteen years now. When I was younger, I did jazz dance, gymnastics, and ballet, but later I moved into contemporary dance. This is my life’s passion.”

Have you taken part in the Reykjavík Dance Festival before?
“I have. I think it was in 2011.”

Your opening piece is quite unusual. Where did the idea come from?
“The idea actually sprouted from another piece of mine. Last year I planned to compose a new traditional dance for the people of Reykjavík. I met with a group of locals and, after a lengthy discussion with them about dance and its impact on society, I designed a new dance and taught them the movements and steps.
“I wanted to carry on developing this idea—the communal impact of dance. So, I got in contact with my neighbours and asked whether they would like to participate. Fifteen apartments on my block agreed to it, that is, the inhabitants of fifteen flats. I love how diverse the group is, both in age and background,” Ásrún explains enthusiastically.

Ásrún composed part of the thirty-minute dance routine, but a large part of the performance is improvised. The audience will assemble in Ásrún’s own apartment in Njálsgata, where the performance begins. A map will guide guests to other apartments that are dotted around in the streets nearby.
“I wouldn’t have been able to teach untrained dancers a thirty-minute-long dance routine in such a short time. I also wanted the dancers to feel secure during the performance and to  express their personalities through their movements. That is why part of the routine is improvised on the spot.”

Ásrún’s second dance piece for the Reykjavík Dance Festival is called Fronted and features musicians Katrín Mogensen, of the band Mammút, and Gunnar Rúnarsson, of the band Grísalappalísa. Fronted focuses on how vocalists move while on stage, a sub-obsession of Ásrún’s. 

“I’m captivated by their instinctive, unchoreographed movements, which also play a huge part in their performance. I found myself drawn especially to Katrín and Gunnar and their on-stage movements, so I asked them to take part in my second piece.
“The performance is set up like a concert, except we’ve removed the music and the band, and are only left with the two performers, completely exposed, on stage. This will either result in them bettering their live performances, or completely ruin their confidence,” Ásrún wraps up with a little chuckle.

 

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