Shadowland/Graffiti choreographed by Tim Rushton. Presented by the New Danish Dance Theatre and Harbourfront Centre as part of SUPERDANISH at the Premiere Dance Theatre (207 Queens Quay West). Opens Tuesday (October 12) and runs to October 16 at 8 pm. $21-$38, stu/srs discounts. 416-973-4000. Rating: NNNNN
Copenhagen - The American beat writers, with their sexual and spiritual explorations, might seem out of place in the picturesque, placid and - let's face it - conservative city of Copenhagen.
But Shadowland/Graffiti, an intriguing double bill by the New Danish Dance Theatre, takes its inspiration from writers like Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs. And for NDDT artistic director Tim Rushton, that all feels pretty appropriate.
Just as the Beats were raging against the conformity of 1950s America, so, too, Rushton and the NDDT are trying to shake up their company.
"I wanted it to be very whack whack whack, let's go out there with this new energy, let's be hard and rough and cool," says Rushton about Shadowland, the first piece on the program that hits the Premiere Dance Theatre Tuesday as part of the city-wide SUPERDANISH festival.
"The opening scene of Graffiti, meanwhile, is a little girl painting over the body of this big man. There's so much sensuality in it. The two pieces together will be lots of fun."
They better be. A lot is riding on the international success of the double bill, which just played at the prestigious Jacob's Pillow Festival in Massachusetts.
When Rushton took the reins of the 20-year-old company in 2001, it was barely breathing. It had six part-time dancers, a manager who was trying to fix artistic problems, a meagre repertoire and no international profile.
Rushton's mandate? To bring modern dance to the provinces. To amass a new repertoire, some of it for families. To begin touring internationally. The catch? He had to do it all in three years.
"It's been incredibly difficult on my dancers and me," admits Rushton, sitting in the lofty lounge area of Copenhagen's Royal Theatre. He's slightly nervous, his eyes appearing larger through his strong glasses.
The company now consists of 10 full-time dancers,whose backgrounds vary from Danish to French and South African. And though he's created 90 per cent of the company's work, Rushton's gradually drawing in other choreographers, particularly from the other Scandinavian countries.
His main struggle, though, has been trying to nurture a domestic audience - much of it in the provinces, people who wouldn't know a tutu from a toenail - while amassing a repertoire that can stand on its own internationally.
"Those two things are extremely hard to unite," he says. "And then there's the sophisticated modern dance audience in, say, Copenhagen. How do I create work that they won't turn their nose up at?"
His strategy, he says, has been to be very clear in his movement vocabulary. It's also helped that he's created a few successful family-themed pieces, such as the clown-inspired Blowup, which keeps packing the Danes in the theatre. Blowup is not, he insists, a piece he wants to tour with.
"I'm a choreographer," he says. "I'm a body worker. There's no point to me in working on my dancers' bodies and their movement vocabulary and then trying to make them do funny sketches."
He's confident the double bill will play well throughout the world, if not in the little hamlets of Denmark. When developing Graffiti, he tried out bits of the piece in the provinces.
"They had no idea who or what the Beat generation was," he says. "They came to me afterwards asking what all the text was about and why wasn't it in Danish?"
On the subject of language, how did a kid from the provinces of England end up running a big state-subsidized dance company in Denmark?
In his 20s, he got a job as a dancer with the renowned Royal Danish Ballet, and then stopped to see if he could choreograph. He's lived here for 15 years now, and is pretty much considered an honorary Dane.
"The press no longer refer to me as Danish-English," he laughs. "I'm just Danish. No hyphen."