Mats Ek and Ana Laguna in 'Memory'. Photo © Stephanie Berger

Mats Ek and Ana Laguna in ‘Memory’.
Photo © Stephanie Berger

Maggie Foyer looks ahead to the forthcoming Northern Light season at Sadler’s Wells that promises a feast of Nordic dance.

For me, the addiction with Scandi-noir started with “Jar City”, a quirky Icelandic film from 2006. It had all the classic ingredients: a gruesome murder and a plot that tested every grey cell investigated by a borderline dysfunctional cop that you couldn’t take your eyes off. Then came the Swedish film “Let the Right One In”, about a rather appealing vampire who befriends a tormented boy. This was followed by “The Bridge” and “The Killing” featuring enigmatic female detectives who had opportunely missed the intrusive pampering of the wardrobe and make up departments. They’d probably be hell to live with, but they had viewers glued to the TV. The bleak cold vistas, the monochrome settings, the slow pace and the intense human details produced an alchemy irresistible to British audiences.

However Scandinavia is not all grey. Scandi-design is instantly recognisable: minimal, uncluttered and fiercely bright, which brings us to Scandi-dance. Those who brave the frozen north know that Nordic dance is both distinctive and very active. Denmark and Sweden have, respectively, the third and fourth oldest ballet companies and new dance has never been far behind. Design, particularly in the lighting, has high priority – not surprising with those long, dark winters, while Nordic choreography is characterised by its diversity and creativity.

Birgit Cullberg and her son, Mats Ek, are probably the best known names. Cullberg studied with Kurt Jooss and Sigurd Leeder and Ek, whose father was one of Sweden’s finest actors, started his professional life as an assistant to Ingmar Bergmann. Dance, theatre, expressionism and innovation were the cornerstones of Cullberg Ballet, founded by Birgit Cullberg and directed by Ek from 1976-1993.

Yen Han as Julia and Anton Valdbauer as Romeo in Mats Ek's Julia & Romeo. Photo © Gert Weigelt

Yen Han as Julia and Anton Valdbauer as Romeo in Mats Ek’s ‘Juliet & Romeo’.
Photo © Gert Weigelt

Mats Ek’s “Juliet and Romeo” written for the Royal Swedish Ballet has its London debut on September 24th. It is his first full length ballet since “Sleeping Beauty” for Hamburg Ballet in 1996. His uncompromising interpretation of the story is complemented by music drawn predominantly from Tchaikovsky’s symphonies and true to form he plunges to the heart of the matter in powerful expressionist choreography. In a prequel to the Northern Light season, Ek and his wife and muse, Ana Laguna, will be themselves performing his duet, “Memory”, in the KnowBody programme.

Cullberg Ballet make their debut at Sadler’s Wells in “Plateau Effect” choreographed by Jefta van Dinther. Swedish born, van Dinther now works in Stockholm, Amsterdam and Berlin and in this piece he creates a total environment of sound, light and movement, the dancers at times literally working within the fabric of the set.

There is a veritable tsunami of new choreographic talent bursting out in Northern climes. Last spring, Dresden SemperOper presented an evening of Swedish choreography with works from Johan Inger, Pontus Lidberg and Alexander Ekman (whose “Cacti” was nominated for Best Modern Choreography at the National UK Dance Awards 2012). In 2013 the Ice Hot Nordic Dance Platform toured the USA presenting companies from Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, Norway and Finland and introducing the works of Tim Rushton, Lára Stefánsdóttir, Örjan Andersson, Kenneth Kvarnström, Jo Strömgren and Tero Saarinen amongst others.

Now a season of Nordic Dance comes to Sadler’s Wells for Londoners to get their fix. Danish choreographer, Mette Ingvartsen, is first off the block with “The Artificial Nature Project”. She has a radically different perspective on what constitutes choreography. It is apposite that the performances are taking place in the new Platform Theatre at Central St Martins as Ingvartsen expands her choreographic boundaries to find a relationship to visual art.

She workshopped the project back in 2009 experimenting with evaporating materials; bubbles, foam and smoke. Dispensing with her former, very physical, approach she now takes choreography beyond the human body, sanctioning inanimate materials to become the active agents.

'...it's only a rehearsal' by Zero Visibility Corp. Photo © Eric Berg

‘…it’s only a rehearsal’ by Zero Visibility Corp.
Photo © Eric Berg

“… it’s only a rehearsal” by Zero Visibility Corp is possibly the work most closely related to true Scandi-noir. It is based on the gory fate of Acteon transformed into a stag by the vengeful Artemis after he inadvertently sees her bathing naked. Tragically he is hunted down and torn apart by his dogs who no longer recognise their master. It is a gruelling hour long duet of hands-on physicality where no gesture is superfluous. Unadorned, minimal and running very deep, it translates the ancient myth into modern psychological warfare.

The company was founded in Oslo in 1996 by choreographer Ina Christell Johannessen together with lighting and set designer, Jens Sethzman, a dominant figure on the dance scene. He has worked with most of the major Nordic choreographers bringing his genius for lighting design to works from major opera house productions to black box theatres.

Iceland is a country of contrasts: one of the oldest in terms of literacy and democracy while geographically it is still experiencing birth pangs – remember the volcano ash cloud of 2010? Margrét Sara Guðjónsdóttir makes her Lilian Baylis debut with “Variations on Closer” a work to challenge audiences and shift them from their expectations and their comfort zone. I haven’t seen this work nor that of Maija Hirvanen from Finland but YouTube evidence shows them to be choreographers who will appeal to those who like their dance new and experimental. Hirvanen makes her debut with “For those who have time”.

As the days draw in, the Northern Light Season offers something to brighten the days and to appeal to a range of dance aficionados.

Northern Light is at Sadler’s Wells and the Platform Theatre at Central Saint Martins, 18 September-14 November.

For more details and booking see www.sadlerswells.com