The Göteborg Ballet: All-Nordic Program

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Earlier in the day –before The Göteborg Ballet’s All-Nordic Program– my academic director told me I looked like a Russian sailor. Making great use of office flattery, he added, “It’s a good spring look.”

That was nice of him.

Honestly, I had thought about my sweater a lot that day. I often buy sweaters at H&M so I can pull off my day job rendition of a hip-but-together English teacher. I’ve always hoped the sweater I wore that day -for both work and The Göteborg Ballet- would come off as edgy. Solid white from the neckline to mid-chest with stark blue horizontal stripes all the way down to the bottom seam = bold + cool.

After seven hour’s teaching, I was checking my look in the library’s bathroom mirror, thinking about the Russian sailor comment, thinking of my desperate hope for this sweater’s versatility, thinking of the conference room where H&M designers sat around strategizing over my sweater.

Those smug bastards, sitting in a room tailoring this sweater to appeal to me. Looking at pictures of Russian sailors and debating the question: “How can we make a sweater that sells an aura of the ruggedly romantic seaman to a guy bathed in non-offensive house pop at Pioneer Place Mall?”

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Let’s decode the appellation of The Göteborg Ballet a bit. The term “ballet” is used in a sense more common to European dance production, where state-funded “operas” are venues for various concert arts. Sweden’s GöteborgsOperan presents works in following categories: Opera, Dance, Musical, Concert. Although it’s at first a bit of a paradox in our use of the terms, it’s understandable that The Göteborg Ballet describes itself as a contemporary dance company.

A SWEDISH FRIEND SAYS:

The three choreographers Kenneth Kvartström, Örjan Andersson and Johan Inger are all very big names in Sweden, but only in Sweden. Sweden is still very conservative, and there is not much infrastructure between independent makers. The Göteborg ballet is a big conventional venue, an opera. My mother goes there. They seem to renew well, and they have a large audience, but all in conventional frames of its hipness let’s say. I would say that the Göteborg ballet is much more interesting than the Stockholm one. These are conventional establishments that get very much funding from the government. I don’t spend so much time there! I go to the Göteborg ballet with my mother, and once I was there with my high school class.

THE OPERA’S WEBSITE SAYS:

That’s nice of them.

One of the pieces in the All-Nordic Program registered with me. The other two did not. Friends I saw the show with had an almost completely opposite experience and preferences than my own.

For your critic, two pieces were anemic, and if they aspire to “show future generations what values we used to have, what conflicts we used to deal with, and what we dreamed of,” their portrayals might each be reduced to: this is what market forces squeeze out of choreographers and producers; look how the market moves tirelessly trained dancer bodies season after season.

In all three pieces, I saw the same generic kneel-and-pivot. At times, all that I saw was marketable Euro-dance product. Over the course of one piece, I greatly admired one choreographer’s deeply nuanced voice as conveyed in the performance of bodies rich of character and spirit.

No matter which piece I liked or didn’t, I hope Portland audiences find their own posture toward each work’s integrity or lack thereof. White Bird presents the program through Saturday at the Newmark Theatre – here for info.

A NORWEGIAN FRIEND SAYS:

I think dance and theatre institutions here in Scandinavia have kind of the same role, since the national thinking of art-using-department-money-systems in Norway and Sweden are very similar, both in dance and theatre and stage art in general. Oh, I have so many thoughts about this, that go into political issues about how we spend the money here in Scandinavia, in a hierarchical system that isn’t always for the best of the art being produced. I think that the Göteborg Opera, like many other big institutions (as far as I know they are supported by the state of Sweden and the community of Göteborg in mainpart?) are being swallowed by a system that eats too much/a lots of money in the name of leading/administration/holding the system itself alive, rather than using money on what art is actually made or which artists want to make. Maybe the system makes the possibilities smaller. BUT – i don´t know the system of Göteborg Opera very well, so I am also possibly completely wrong.

At the same time, Göteborg has this festival, Göteborgs Dans & Teater Festival, which I think is an important happening in Scandinavia, bringing international companies/performances to small Göteborg in Sweden. Which also maybe tells something of this city, which maybe generates something in it’s Ballet, or maybe the other way around. I haven’t heard so much about the Ballet, that is why I’m so general in how I speak, but I know dancers I respect have gone to auditions there, which I would say is a positive sign.montreal_sweater.jpg

My favorite sweater, by the way, is one I got from a little store in Montréal. It cost ten times as much as my H&M sweater, but it was worth it. It’s one-of-its kind, woven together from parts of half-a-dozen vintage sweaters. You will never own this sweater. And I will never wash it.

-Robert Tyree | April 2012

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