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Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States

I am a dancer with Minneapolis based James Sewell Ballet, a small, contemporary ballet company. I also choreograph independently.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Texture

If I had to sum up Iceland in a word, the title of this essay would be the one. From gravel to water, rock to steel, silk to wool…topography, fashion, architecture…texture rules and is celebrated in the most understated of ways. It just is, as integral as motion to a dancer.

James Sewell Ballet just returned from a week in Iceland and as I negotiate my jet lag I let my thoughts wander, congealing that country’s singularity with our performing there and my own dancing in general.

I am still culture shocked. I never thought I’d fall in love with a place that wasn’t cobblestoned and cute. Reykjavik is an urban village. Situated on the sea, the multicolored houses attempt to bring cheer to the stark, mostly corrugated steel building exteriors. The bright colors are like red lipstick on a pale blonde, accentuating the paleness and ice blue eyes even more.

Our venue, Austurbae, was on the edge of the city center, one block off the main drag. The raked stage was a surprise and so ridiculous that we simply made the adjustment. The marley floor was brand new, purchased just for us. The theater was no frills at its finest and quickly became home for three days. We performed to three sold out audiences who expressed their appreciation with unison clapping. It was truly a thrill to bow to the folks of a nation so notoriously remote and cold yet who were so clearly enjoying themselves.

We performed the ballets we took to NY, a smart choice as they were such a part of us we could spare some brainpower and physical energy on negotiating our surroundings, foreign in every way. It is quite something to get “in body” in another country. No matter where we are, we always take our instruments with us and can theoretically access them at will. A plie will always be a plie and there is great comfort in that, especially when faced with nothing else familiar.

On Sunday we traveled into the interior with our host, Jon, the epitome of Viking stoic. In the country I’ve never seen or experienced such barren ripeness, such strange beauty. To be out in it, amid the elements, was primal and glorious. I wanted to live the motto on my T-shirt: Lost in Iceland. Words to describe the day: water, coins, feather, spongy grass, rugged rock, wild horses, mom-and-pop spa, extreme temperature changes, windswept hair, glowing skin, naps in the van, vitality, camaraderie, rainbow, exhaustion.

On Monday Brittany, Sally and I took class with the Iceland Dance Theater as arranged by go-getter Brit. It was a treat and the ultimate way to engage in a culture: to do such a work-a-day activity. We were warmly received and felt right at home when we were told to do our own plies, JSB’s standard initiation into class. The rest of the day was spent fitting in all that we hadn’t done yet. Too much to achieve in too little time but here are my highlights: exploring the Reykjavik Art Museum Hafnarhus (a warehouse renovation reminiscent of the Tate Modern in London), seeing the swans on lake Tjornin, being alone with the light in the bell tower at the top of Hallgrimskirkja church, (the structure that literally took my breath away when I turned a corner and saw it in the rain five days prior), being recognized on the street, playing Icelandic Scrabble with James and Sally over a bottle of wine and french fries.

The day we left we went to the Blue Lagoon, a man made swimming hole/paradise. Here is where I felt that I was on Mars. It is so reassuring to know that there are such surprises in the world. I was in store for one more…

As we flew home I had a window seat again. We flew over Greenland and my heart swelled at its extreme, remote and almost-lifeless majesty. Then mile upon mile of floating ice: flat, white and stark against the steel blue water, I got an idea for my next dance. I pulled out my journal and turned my mind to coming home.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Ramona J. said...

Penny
Thank you for sharing your experiences, thoughts and insights. When I'm looking for a little "soul food" I check in, and usually find that you have just left me a satisfying morsel.
Ramona

1:51 AM  
Blogger Beedow said...

just have to comment... i saw JSB in Thomasville, GA this past February when I was also in town doing ROMEO AND JULIET at the Cultural Center. I never had the opportunity to say how impressed, thrilled and excited I was by the entire evening. It was brilliant -- and GUY NOIR still makes me smile when I think about it (which is often).

Glad to see you were able to spend some time in Iceland. Much success on all your future endeavors.

CJH

11:10 PM  

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