Bring on the festivals! Lókal Theatre Festival and Reykjavík Dance Festival both held in September!

25. Jul 2011

From A Provocation, Pure and Simple, by Anat Eisenberg and Saga Sigurðardóttir. Performed at Reykjavík Dance Festival 2010. In the beginning of September, a performance tsunami will hit Reykjavik. Lókal Theatre Festival will take place 1st until 4th of September and from the 5th. – 11th of September, Reykjavík Dance Festival will take take place. The festivals have been held at the same time for the last two years, but this year, they are held separately. thought that this would be a perfect timing to get to know the festivals and made a date with Ragnheiður Skúladóttir from Lókal og Steinunn Ketilsdóttir from Reykjavík Dance Festival to get to know the festivals, their role in Icelandic performance scene, their beginning and last but not the least, their future.  

What are the goals of Lókal and Reykjavík Dance Festival? Ragnheiður: Lókal is a theatre festival in Reykjavík and the only festival that serves local and international professional theatre in Iceland. It has had two goals from the beginning. Number one to introduce Icelandic theatre scene to foreign audiences and festivals and number two to introduce international theatre to Icelandic audiences.

Steinunn: Reykjavík Dance Festival is first and foremost a platform for independent Icelandic dance makers and dancers to show their work. Its future goal is also to import more of international pieces and introduce them to Icelandic dance audiences. We want our audiences to see what is happening here in Iceland, as well as in Europe. It is important that Icelandic choreography is viewed in an international context and it is necessary and healthy for the performing society and the audiences to have an international criteria.

Lókal is much younger than Reykjavík Dance Festival – when and how was Lókal founded?
Ragnheiður: We were three individuals that founded the festival in 2008. Me, Bjarni Jónsson and Guðrún Guðmundsdóttir. The idea came because we wanted to bring the director Richard Maxwell and his group, New York City Players, to Iceland. We started thinking, since we are starting the process of importing them, why not import more performances and create a festival? 

Reykjavík Dance Festival was on the other hand founded in 2002. Do you think that the festival has changed in these nine years?
Steinunn: The festival has grown a lot. It began when six choreographers decided to get together and create a platform where independent choreographers could show their pieces. More dance artists joined the group and it has been different every year. This year, there are nine artists in the preparation team. The festival is very flexible, has taken many forms and each year it has to adapt to its financial budget that year. For example one year the budget was very small, so the choreographers decided to create a solo festival. Another year, it had the capacity to create a blackbox space in a deserted warehouse. We tailor it each year according to the budget and we try also to be in a good dialogue with the participating artists.

Does Lókal have a decided theme every year?
Ragnheiður: There are no conscious yearly themes. We try to get pieces that we think are exciting and from the pieces, a theme usually appears. We were well received by the state and the city of Reykjavík financially and from private sponsors as well. But for the festival in 2009 the private funding evaporated, because of the crash. That year we focused on Icelandic theatre shows and emphasized on inviting artistic directors from abroad, which had not been emphasized the year before. It was a huge success and the artistic directors were very grateful to be invited to come to Iceland and be able to see Icelandic theatre.

Last year there was a sort of a Scandinavian theme. I think that we Icelanders have the tendency to always want to look further, to New York, Berlin, París or Brussel. We hardly ever look out for theatre shows in Stockholm or Oslo. So we were surprised to find out how good and innovative theatre in Scandinavia is and how well it was received in Iceland. We have continued with the Scandinavian dimension and this year we have two Scandinavian shows in the program. We are also co - producing two pieces, but that is something that we want to do more of in the future. One of the pieces is collaboration with the Núna (Now) Festival in Winnipeg and is called The Island. The second one is a Scandinavian project called School of Transformation and is collaboration between the groups Room 408 from Iceland and Mobile Homes from Norway.

From No Dice, by The Nature Theatre of Oklahoma, performed at Lókal 2008. Photograph: Peter Nigrini. What is your criteria, when you select pieces for the festivals, or to produce?
Ragnheiður: We always look out for an interesting and a remarkable contribution to theatre, both regarding the Icelandic and the international pieces, We have also focused on artists as well as groups that have been working together for a while and have stood by their artistic search. That goes for Icelandic groups such as Kviss búmm bang, 16 Lovers and Me and my friends, which have all performed at the festival with huge success.

But at Reykjavík Dance Festival? How are the artists selected?
Steinunn: Reykjavik Dance Festival is run by the artists that have built it up and our goals are to serve the independet dance scene as good as we can. Behind the festival lies the ideal that we are working for the whole, show a range of dance artists and show audiences the diversity that one can find within the art form. Besides being a festival for the choreographers that work mostly locally we also want to create a platform for the interesting dance makers that have mostly been working internationally. One could mention for example Margrét Sara Guðjónsdóttir, which has been successful in Europe, as well as Erna Ómarsdóttir. We also want the festival to be a platform for dance makers that are just starting out.

From Soft Target, by Margrét Sara Guðjónsdóttir, premiered at Reykjavík Dance Festival 2010. Photographer: Anna Van Kooij But what do you think the influences of Lókal and Reykjavik Dance Festival are on the Icelandic performance scene?
Ragnheiður: Our audience numbers has been constantly growing and we have had a 70% increase since 2008 and every year a piece has been invited to show abroad. For example the show Húmanimal went to Núna/Now in Kanada last year and Kviss Búmm Bang recently got back from Vienna but they performed at Wiener Festwochen. So it is clear that Lókal has had an effect on the performance scene. I also believe that it is necessary for young groups like Kviss Búmm Bang to get the chance to perform abroad. There is a risk that the provocation for young artists is not enough in Iceland, which is natural, since the playground is very small. Therefore it is necessary to create a platform for groups so they can have the chance to show their work abroad, so they can see the possibilities. For example, Kviss Búmm Bang is going to four festivals this year. That must be an encouragement for young performance artists that are about to graduate or are recently graduated to see young performance artists do well internationally.

Steinunn: In 2007 we decided to invite artistic directors from Europe, because we wanted to create connections the dance scene in Central Europe. That year three artistic directors came and we managed to get attention internationally. The festival has now managed to place itself in a European context and persons within the art field know about us. Artists have also been invited to festivals and every year someone has gotten an opportunity to perform abroad. Samsudan & co, Magga & Saga, Steinunn & Brian, and Margrét Sara have all been invited to show at festivals and the the most recent one is that Provocation, Pure and Simple which was performed last year, was invited to Núna/Now this spring. So it is safe to say that there are now more possibilities and the festival has created networks with individuals within the scene in Europe and in Scandinavia. We have over the last three years invited artistic directors from Sweden, Germany, England, Belgium, Ireland and Denmark. So it is safe to say that the festival has a good network now, which is very important to us.

From the show The Great Group of Eight by Kviss Búmm Bang, premiered at Lókal in 2010 But how does it work to get foreigners to visit Iceland? Are people interested in the performing arts in Iceland?
Ragnheiður: Yes, everyone is very interested and Iceland is still a charming place to visit. But it means that we have to offer them a good festival, so the guests want to return. That is probably the most important point. And it costs money. It is expensive to see performances, import pieces, pay for flights, hotel and performance fee. At the moment, we are doing it for the half of the amount of money that we should be doing it for. The festival also needs a someone working full time. Up until now, we have been three working at it in our spare time, all of us working 100% job elsewhere. The festival has been well supported by the state and the city, but that is all on a early basis. The wish is to get a financial support for 3- 5 years at a time to create a certain security and to built the festival up for the future.

From the showi Crazy in Love with MR.PERFECT by Steinunn & Brian, premiered at Reykjavík Dance Festival in 2007. But how is it to be a professional dancer and choreographer in Iceland, trying to establish yourself in Europe?
Steinunn: It is very clear that it is very hard for us to be on a little island in the North of the Atlantic and it is clearly very isolated. It is hard to go and show and be seen. If someone wants to show an Icelandic dance piece which is done by artists that are based in Iceland, then he or she pays more for the performance than if it would be for example from Brussels. Therefore it is quite a commitment for dance makers to make the decision to be based here in Iceland 

Are there many foreign artists performing at Reykjavík Dance Festival this year?
Steinunn: Collaborations are prominent. This year John The Houseband will perform a new piece, Tripping North, which is a combination of a concert and a dance performance. That is a collaboration of dance artists from Iceland, Sweden, Germany and Belgium. Margrét Sara Guðjónsdóttir will perform a new piece in collaboration with the German dancer Laura Siegmund. Then the Swedish dance maker Alma Söderberg will perform her piece, Cosas, but that got selected into the Aerowaves group this year, and has been travelling all over the world.

When you imagine the future, where do you see the festivals?
Ragnheiður: I do not see Lókal necessarily being any bigger. I see on the other hand more collaboration with Reykjavík Dance Festival, because having the festivals at the same time has been very prosperous for the past years in relation to international audiences. It is a small world and the festivals are very close to each other artistically, but a lack of a suitable space has prevented more of collaboration. We would also like to premiere more Icelandic pieces and not bring to Iceland international pieces that are more than one year old. We would also like to see the festival co-produce more pieces and even with other festivals. It is not just important for us that the artists are in a dialogue with other artists, but also that we are in a dialogue with other festivals and our colleagues abroad. And finally, I want on our ten years birthday, that we stop calling ourselves the “small” festival. We are quite a big theatre festival! And when we turn ten, we will let go of that prefix once and for all!

Steinunn: I would like the festival to receive more funding and more stability. It is always such a lottery every year regarding how much funding the festival receives each year. It is my wish that the festival would make a long term contract with the state and the city, so the festival could function on a daily basic and be active all year around. It would also be nice to be able to invite more foreign groups. It is such an inspiration to see pieces from others than Icelanders. On the other hand I would not want that the form of the festival to change a lot. It is run by artists for the artists and they take all the important artistic decisions. The festival is also very personal and I would like to hold on to that feeling. If we find a balance between a personal mood, but with a certain stability and a full time employer so it can blossom throughout the year, then I think that the future of Icelandic dance is really bright!

From the show Húmanimal, by Me and my friends , premiered at Lókal in 2009 For more information on the festivals:

Interview: Ásgerður G. Gunnarsdóttir for

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