Dance continues 250 years of cultural trade

Dancers of the Svalholm Dans Company in “Imago Poetry and Performing Arts.”

BEIRUT: As of 2011, it has been exactly 250 years since the then King of Denmark, Frederic V, authorized a scientific expedition to explore the “unknown Arabia.” The expedition – which began in 1761 – officially ended in 1767 with the return of sole survivor Carsten Niebuhr, the group’s cartographer.

Niebuhr’s return – and the knowledge he brought with him concerning the peoples, flora and fauna of the Middle East – captivated the Danish public.The anniversary of this first instance of modern contact and cultural exchange between the Danes and the people of the Middle East has been the inspiration behind a number of events sponsored by the Danish Foreign Ministry this year.

“Imago Poetry and Performing Arts,” a modern dance cum stage art show, is the latest project in this series.

It will be on at the Monnot Theater this Friday and Saturday, and is presented by Danish dance company Svalholm Dans, the Danish Institute of Damascus, the Danish Embassy in Beirut, and Lebanese events management company and artists’ liaison Tarte aux Poires.

Svalholm Dans, under the direction of artistic director and primary choreographer N?nne Mai Svalholm, is uniquely qualified to participate in the Danish Foreign Ministry’s year of cultural exchange in honor of Carsten Neibuhr. Based in Denmark’s eastern port city of Aarhaus, in their literature the company describes their projects at home and abroad as products of their goal of cultural exchange.

The company travels frequently, most often in the Middle East, to work with local artists. As projects usually take a year to develop, the interaction between the Svalholm Dans, the local artists, and the societies they represent, is extensive. So a type of intimacy and understanding is developed that goes beyond the usual “shop here, eat there” experience of visiting a foreign society.

In an interview with The Daily Star, Svalholm emphasized the special necessity for this type of cultural exchange between Danish and Arab artists and the societies they represent.

“Though cultural exchange between Denmark and the Arab world began in 1761, many people still think of Arabs as terrorists. We still don’t know much about each other.”

Svalholm’s solution to this disconnect is art.

“Within culture, art is a type of pit-stop, a place to meet despite socio-economic, cultural and political differences,” she said.

Svalholm emphasized how, in art, one is allowed to be different, and to be different is appreciated. “When inspiration happens between peoples of different experiences, it creates good chemistry – between them is now an intangible good.”

The inspiration for “Imago,” Svalholm Dans’ piece that will be featured this weekend, is Danish poet Inger Christiansen’s “Butterfly Valley: A Requiem,” a sonnet cycle where the fragility and beauty of butterflies is described in careful detail, and where memory is simultaneously and delicately revealed in a manner similar to the fluttering of butterfly wings.

Svalholm, who first read “Butterfly Valley” a year and a half ago and has been developing “Imago” with Svalholm Dans ever since, is looking with “Imago” to translate the poem from the mathematic and static nature of formal poetry into movement and sound.

As an introduction to the concept, excerpts of “Butterfly Valley: A Requiem” have also been translated into Arabic for the first time and will be available in the show’s program.

“Imago Poetry and Performance Art” is on at the Monnot Theater Friday and Saturday evening at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10. For more information, please call 03-045-007.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 14, 2011, on page 16.




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