Ice Hot, at the Joyce Theater, Features Nordic Dance Troupes

March 5th, 2013

The Nordic nations’ cultural scene hasn’t wanted for attention lately. Stieg Larsson’s crime novels and “Nordic noir” television series like “The Killing” have inspired almost cultlike followings, to say nothing of all that oh-so-sleek, oh-so-expensive furniture.

Now the region’s growing field of contemporary dance hopes to join the tide of popularity. American audiences — most for the first time — will have the chance to see the most prominent exports from these countries in a festival that will present three major companies at the Joyce Theater in New York, starting on Wednesday: Danish Dance Theater, Carte Blanche from Norway and the choreographer Tero Saarinen’s troupe from Finland.

The companies appear under the auspices of Ice Hot, a platform as well as an organizing force created to allow the modern-dance groups in these countries to work and collaborate, both at home and on tour. After the Joyce, the dancers will head to Nordic Cool 2013 — a broader celebration of the arts from northern countries, also coordinated with Ice Hot — at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, where modern-dance troupes from Iceland and Sweden will also appear.

National ballet companies have enjoyed support in the region for centuries, but the contemporary-dance scene, relative to that of the rest of Europe, is young.

“I worked without any funding for nine years,” Mr. Saarinen, who founded his company in 1996, said in a phone conversation. The government funding he eventually received required lobbying not only for himself, but also for his art form as a whole.

“You had to talk about all the ingredients of contemporary dance,” Mr. Saarinen recalled. “How there was already political support from the ’60s and ’70s for it in France and in Britain — that we’d started late making noise for this art form. That was the only way we could change something.”

With Ice Hot, Mr. Saarinen and others, including Virve Sutinen, artistic director of the Dansens Hus performance space in Stockholm, are hoping to make contemporary dance from their region better known abroad. “We are such small countries, so remote, we felt it would be much more worthwhile to show through a platform together,” Ms. Sutinen said by phone.

She and her colleagues throughout the region founded Ice Hot hoping to learn, she added, “How do other people look at what we do? It’s a way to develop our dance and increase the visibility of Nordic dance, globally.” Martin Wexler, the director of programming at the Joyce, attended one of the group’s events, the first Ice Hot biennial, in Stockholm in December of 2010. He called the gamut of performances there “illuminating.” He was familiar with contemporary dance in the region, “but seeing it all at once, I was impressed by the diversity, range and creativity of these companies,” he said. “Basically, their strategy worked. I got very excited by what I was seeing.”

Ms. Sutinen calls the three companies Mr. Wexler chose for the Joyce the effective “flagships of our countries.” Danish Dance Theater and Carte Blanche are the official contemporary companies of Denmark and Norway, while Mr. Saarinen, who operates independently, “is one of a kind — he has his company but he’s also choreographing for others, and there’s not that many people who have that privilege,” she said.

Both choreographers and other artistic figures in the region tend to agree on a few connecting aesthetic threads in Nordic contemporary dance. The Swedish choreographer Alexander Ekman, whose work has been performed in New York City by Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, pointed to “this kind of dry, weird Scandinavian humor” and, alternately, a sense of melancholy beneath the surface. Subtlety tends to win over daring feats of physicality onstage.

The programs run from Wednesday through March 17 at the Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue, at 19th Street, Chelsea; (212) 242-0800, joyce.org.

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