Dancers from Jo Strømgren Kompani are good sports.
A DANCE TRIBUTE TO THE ART OF FOOTBALL choreographed by Jo Strømgren Kompani, presented by World Stage at the Fleck Theatre (207 Queens Quay West). Opens Wednesday (April 10) and runs to April 13, Wednesday-Saturday 8 pm. $15-$35. 416-973-4000, harbourfrontcentre.com.
Norway's Jo Strømgren Kompani are victims of their own success.
Their hugely popular A Dance Tribute To The Art Of Football has toured the world for a mind-boggling 15 years and touches down in Toronto next week as part of World Stage. An antic dance show that uses the physicality of soccer culture (including locker room nudity and big kicks) to make points about society, it has proved a mixed blessing for the troupe. And that's because it's funny.
"Once you're using humour, you're treated as if your work is superficial and slapstick," founder and choreographer Jo Strømgren says from Oslo.
Created as a bit of a lark in 1997 by the then soccer-crazy Strømgren and colleagues from the Bergen-based Carte Blanche contemporary dance company, the show immediately struck a chord with European audiences.
"It is slapstick, but it's also more," says Strømgren, a classically trained dancer who was recently appointed house choreographer for the Norwegian National Ballet. "It's a show with a lot of ingredients - quite a rich hour of different styles and viewpoints and choreographic elements."
He believes its variety has contributed as much to the work's success with both dance and non-dance audiences as the laughs factor.
"We aren't a humour company necessarily. And it is a never-ending quest of ours to see how many things you can put into a show."
The company - which produces both theatre and dance pieces with alarming frequency - was founded with the understanding that "to be global you have to be local."
Yet Strømgren, the son of a marine biologist who annually took his family on extended research trips to the tropics, makes the kind of multi-faceted work that plays differently depending on where it lands.
He's well known for his use of what critics call "nonsensical language" (there's small amount of it in The Art Of Football), but Strømgren suggests that layers of meaning are usually embedded in that nonsense.
"We are constantly thinking about good art communicating across all borders," he says. "But we've learned not to expect everyone to see everything."
In the football show, he says, "people who are just looking for humour will get humour. But there are some scenes of violence and hooliganism, for example, that can be read as a commentary on global politics or domestic abuse."
That's not funny, but Strømgren and company are committed to bucking trends, swayed neither by a desire to be popular nor by Eurocentric artistic fads.
"We come from a tiny place," he says. "When you come from an outskirts country, you can just focus on the advantages of being an outsider and do what you want."