Fresh from three shows of Kinnhesturinn, a rough, tough take on Iceland’s powerful historic women, we manage to sequester Sigga Soffía and Trausti, her boyfriend, for a little interview and a look around her cozy west side apartment. The occasion? On Friday, she along with five other artists will be performing in the Icelandic National Theater. It´s the first of two showing of We Saw Monsters by Erna Ómarsdóttir and the performance is a part of the yearly Reykjavík Arts Festival. What´s special about this dance based interpretation of slasher movies, urban legends and the horrors of medical experiments, we will soon find out. Both progressive and challenging, it will keep you on the edge of your seat from start to explosive finish. But first, what is Sigga Soffía all about?
How long have you worked as a dancer?
I was in the first batch to graduate from the new contemporary dance course within the Department of Theatre and Dance. This was the first time dance was being taught at an university level here in Iceland. And since then I have been plying my trade.
When was this?
This was…, well I graduated from college, Menntaskólinn in Reykjavík, in 2005 and that should make it summer of 2009. During my BA studies I did an exchange in Brussels, that’s where I started working with Erna Ómars. At first I was just there as an exchange student but in the end I wound up being taken into the performance. That in turn allowed me to write my BA dissertation in France, at the time we were premiering. So essentially I started working before I had technically finished my studies.
So a year abroad is necessary?
The first semester on the third year of the BA program has to be abroad. Which is great, we are very isolated on this small island, so going abroad is quite necessary for a dancer, in my opinion, to understand better the national context and the pros and cons of living in Iceland.? After that period I got an exemption to write my dissertation in France so I could premiere the piece with the company. It was a bit heavy though, performing in the daytime and then from ten at night to one in the morning writing non stop, a bit crazy really.
Was the written dissertation on the performance?
No, as we were the first graduation year, they pushed us to write primary source material about Icelandic dance, which nearly nothing had been written about. So my work was on a dance group, Ekka, that had been around for a couple of years before. That was pretty good as Erna Ómars and Karen María had both been part of it. In that sense I was quite lucky to be able to interview them personally. As is often with these things, no written material was available so I had to construct it all out of the interviews I took. Quite different to most academic dissertations one should think.
Since you were the first graduation group, were you at all involved in the way the course was moulded?
Yes, we were lucky to be a part of the pilot program. After our first year we had a meeting with the head of the University, discussed what was good and what could be done better. To their credit, they took most of what we had to say into account and so the class after us got the program with the tweaks. It was great to be able to affect the teaching program.
Collaboration with other fields?
Yes, I have done a fair bit of that lately, there are a few groups I’m currently working with, one of which is Bristol Ninja Cava Crew where I work with an artist Ingibjörg Sigurðardóttir. The last thing we worked together on was Sequences visual arts festival. With BNCC we are not making dance pieces, the aim there is to making a live sculpture. My work (as the sculpture) was a lot based on the costume as I had gloves made from M&M’s and the candy head piece was about two kilos and therefore put a rather severe restrictions on every movement, so that was what I worked with. The same applies to the performance Villa Reykjavík last summer, the focus being wholly different than in the dance performances I usually do.
I’ve also been making short films. I’m quite fond of that format and have been shooting and editing pretty much everything myself, well me and Trausti here. The first film I made “Uniform Sierra” won first prize at Danzine, at Actfestival in Spain. Most of the filming was underwater but the best bit in the making of that film was when he (she points at Trausti and grins) was wearing these 80′s overalls up in a ladder, filming me dancing in a geothermal hot spring. I was thinking If anyone was to see how this is being shot I would be laughed at but then it won first price in Bilbao! After the festival a lot of people were very interested, asking about camera effects and styles, “did you use this and that effect or the crane movement was just so good” This was done with no money and Trausti nearly froze to death up on that ladder due to wind cooling. Trausti interjects that Sigga nearly gave up herself (she was just wearing a dress but then she got in the hot spring and she warmed up as treat).
Most of the films on that festival were professionally produced with huge budgets. What was great to see with this film was that even with no money you can still make something good and we managed to get our message across.
You are no more likely to capture that unique moment with a giant budget?
True, but then you think back and wonder what you could have done with loads of money. Trausti: Are you completely sure of that? Well, it was made in 2008 and now I know much more about filmmaking, editing and lenses. When you know what is available you start thinking: I could have done this or added that but that´s that. The script I’m writing for this summer is for a short film but with a lot of text, still a dance film but in disguise.
It´s just that people are afraid to show up if its a dance film, but if it´s just a film, even if everyone is dancing, that is somehow fine.
There has been a sea change.
Nanna (ever intrusive photographer): Young people are proudly saying I went to the theatre! Exactly! Now we’re working on how to get people to dance-performances and that is a complex project.
Another aspect that I have been collaborating on is music for the performances and I have been working with many musicians, especially Jóhann Friðgeir Jóhannsson (70i). He composed both the music for my short film and for the last project White For Decay which was a collaboration with the Icelandic Dance Company.
It’s really great to be able to work the dance and the music in such unison – he’s great to work with. I might say ‘I feel there needs to be a specific sound here to express this movement’ and he’ll take that and work with it to find something that will fit to the scene and then insert it into the score.
When we then compile it all together it’s a bit like putting a score to a movie, the dance is rehearsed and it’s always the same and so it overlaps – there is a synergy there. He was for instance with us in the theatre the week before the show, working on the score while we worked on the final touches. He would record the performances in the end of the day and rearrange it with what he had recorded. That way I personally feel that you get the performance as a whole and not as music that is being danced to. You don’t know whether the music is due to the movement and that is a bit of the magic.
What you describe is a creative but regimented training schedule, but the popular perception of modern dance is being free flowing and in no way rehearsed. What is the norm?
That wholly depends on the piece but for the most part performances are rehearsed down to the smallest movement. That is more common. In Kinnhesturinn everything was determined and fixed in rehearsals and the same could be said for the piece White For Decay, except for 2 scenes. They are within a set of parameters and I wanted to have those scenes improvised to make them a bit more risky, the flip side of that being that it increases the likelihood of crashes! I personally like when some parts are not completely fixed, improvisation sets a another presence in the body. It´s just so much fun when there is “almost a crash” and it´s nice to have a certain amount of freedom.
In the improvisation there is always the chance to convey something different?
When you improvise you might do something different, or you need to react because your falling onto the next person, you through yourself and in the process do an amazing backflip, something that you would never dare to do but because the situation called for it and that might then be incorporated into the performance. Opening nights don’t have to be creative endpoints, if the piece is open then there is scope for evolution, one might for instance go deeper into character and become more expressive.
But the norm is to set most of the parts, in “We Saw Monsters” that premieres on Friday the 20th in the National Theatre everything is set. There I’m a twin so every part I do down to the smallest detail is set. My “twin-sister” and I are totally in unison and therefore have been training every detail even the position of fingers throughout the performance.
We Saw Monsters is a kind of a “horror-dance performance” anyone who likes horror films should definitely come to the show! If you have never seen a dance performance please try this one!
Final question. I’ve always had the notion that dancers were like handball players, continuously black and blue, occupational hazard?
Yes quite a lot of that, it depends on the choreography and usually it´s mostly burns from throwing yourself onto the floor. I´m lousy with them now but I just lather myself in AD cream which is fine until you start growing to you sheets. With monsters we are doing endless head banging so the chiropractor has had many visits from us. The top vertebra’s in my neck are very unhappy. The musicians from one of the shows I did were laughing at us after the opening night as we were preparing to go out and celebrate. We got dressed up and then took up the makeup and started to do up our knees, covering cuts and burns. They were just dumbfounded never having seen makeup being used so liberally. You can’t complain, you just patch up and go down town!
If, like me, you haven’t gone to a dance performance before, shed your perceptions of tedium and intellectual froth, In our opinion, this is an “In your face” (blow your face away even) performance, that delves into the darker sides of human nature and get´s you thinking about all the monsters around/and within us.
There is still time to get a ticket and get inspired.
Interview: Guðni Rúnar
Photographs: Nanna Dís