September 12 -14 2019

Maggie Foyer

Dans i Nord, based in Piteå, is the oldest dance consultancy in the north of Sweden. Serving a large, thinly populated area requires dedication and imagination and the small team headed by Marie Larsson Sturdy and Olof Westering have this in spades. Their annual Dance Festival guarantees performances to suit a variety of tastes covering the avant-garde to the popular.

The festival is based at Acusticum. Situated in an idyllic forest setting just outside the town it boasts a state-of-the-art studio with exceptionally good acoustics, plus Concert Hall and Black Box theatre. The architecture is full of innovation with plenty of spaces for audiences to mingle and share with performers.

My longest companion
Anthony Lomuljo
Photo: Petra Älvstrand

Anthony Lomuljo, presenting his first choreography in My Longest Companion, was a highlight. Born in California, Lomuljo has danced with GöteborgsOperans Danskompani and the Royal Swedish Ballet. He created the role of Romeo in Mats Ek’s Julia och Romeo and has also appeared as a guest with the Pina Bausch Company. With this remarkable dance pedigree in his body and wide experience of choreographic process in his intellect he now turns to writing his own physical autobiography. The solo, My Longest Companion, is a young man’s journey to finding identity and purpose while acknowledging the central part that dance plays in his life. It is a skilfully structured work incorporating theatre, voice and full-on dance, refreshingly frank but avoiding navel-gazing. Lomuljo’s choreography has found its own distinctive voice, making good use of his exceptional technical and expressive talents. I hope this is just the start and look forward to further work.

Blocking Light-VRdancefilm
Jerome Marchand and Anthony Lomuljo
Photo :Robert Connor

The audience were also treated to a viewing of VR filmed dance. Blocking Light, choreographed and danced by Anthony Lomuljo and Jérôme Marchand, and shown in VR, was an amazing experience. The dancers moved from being just a hairsbreadth away to dancing in what seemed a space metres below and the ‘almost’ intimacy was thrilling. Viewed through a headset, the computer technology creates an interactive virtual experience. Unlike the usual flat screen presentation, the viewer is immersed in this simulated world where the viewer can change focus and look around within the space of the headset. The medium has huge creative potential and hopefully there may soon be ways to tap into its commercial viability.

Minna Krook and Kerstin Abrahamsson entertained an audience of mainly pre-school children in a delightful lunchtime children’s show. They mimed, chatted and danced their way through a playground of props and stories that obviously had child appeal as the audience of tiny people sat entranced for around 45 minutes, while we oldies sitting behind, enjoyed it too.

The Sámi people are indigenous to the Artic regions. Cultural activist, Ola Stinnerbom, spoke up for his minority people and the problems of maintaining Sámi arts. In his dance show Stinnerbom keeps traditions alive embellishing the knee work and upending handstands of Sámi dance with elements of hip hop and street dance. He proved a lively engaging performer bringing an ancient culture into the twenty-first century. The next morning, he conducted a joiking workshop where we learned to find notes deep inside our throats and the barking head notes that characterise the Sámi joiks. While this, I believe, is the way to bond with your reindeers, I have found that cats don’t appreciate it.

Dragos Mihalcea Katariina Edling
Photo: Mini Gemoll

The item that drew the biggest audiences was V/S Versus where the dance floor was shared between ballet and ballroom. Stars of the Swedish TV hit show, Let’s Dance, Helena Fransson and Tobias Wallin, met former Royal Swedish Ballet stars, Katariina Edling and Dragos Mihalcea in a display of virtuosity. It had a slender plot but plenty of entertainment as the couples switched both partners and territory in imaginative choreography performed by four very different and very engaging personalities.

Joining Anthony Lomuljo in the Beyond Worlds programme was the Young Company, an apprentice programme about to launch on a tour of north Sweden. These were young dancers stepping into the profession, taking their place in society in a troubled and changing work. The mood was sombre, intense and questioning. Each had a story and an opinion, but they were able to seamlessly find unity in rhythm and purpose. Relationships formed and dissolved and there was evidence of skilled partnering and contemporary technique. The programme gives these dancers valuable stage experience in a well-choreographed work supported by top mentors.

The north of Sweden, blessed with a landscape of natural wonder, is not the easiest place to build a professional dance environment. However, the inspiration is there, the talent is there and these days of dance show what can be achieved.