NEA Arts Magazine

From the Top of the World

New Art New Mexico's Global DanceFest 2009

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Woman dancer in denim jacket mid-movement, one arm stretched upwards, the other downward.

Kristiina Viiala in Gunilla Heilborn's Potatislandet, one of the featured performances of New Art New Mexico's Global DanceFest 2009. Photo by Richard Malcolm

For nearly ten years, New Art New Mexico (NANM) -- in partnership with VSA arts of New Mexico -- has been bringing international dance companies to Albuquerque as part of the annual Global DanceFest. In the past two years, however, they have refined the festival even more, focusing on one region. In 2008, the festival centered on the African tradition of dance, bringing companies from countries such as Zimbabwe and Tunisia as well as U.S. companies that present African styles of dance.

In 2009, the festival went north. Latitudes North, as the festival was known, focused on the dance culture of Scandinavia. "Our goal with the last two festivals," said Marjorie Neset, artistic director of New Art New Mexico, "was to really explore the regions selected a little more deeply, to put the dance ‘in context.'" To achieve this, NANM provides maps, related gallery exhibits, and post-performance discussions so that audiences understand better the environments in which the artists create their works.

The artists chosen for the 2009 festival reflect not just Scandinavia, but the multicultural world in which we live. The choreographer/dancer Hooman Sharifi, for example, is a Norwegian who was born in Iran. Berg & Graf are from Israel, but have worked in Denmark for the past few years, even receiving support from the Danish government. Jo Strømgren, based in Bergen, Norway, uses a multimedia approach to examine Greenlandic culture, using Greenlandic dancers and a language only spoken by Inuits in Greenland in the performance. Rounding out the festival are the relatively new Norwegian choreographer Alan Lucien Øyen and his company Winter Guests, Swedish choreographer Gunilla Heilborn's blend of dance and performance art, and Denmark's Granhøj Dans, performing the works of artistic director and choreographer Palle Granhøj.

The month-long festival brings international acts that Albuquerque audiences probably would not be able to see otherwise, and the NEA's support is crucial to its success. "The money is, of course, incredibly important -- New Art New Mexico is so small that the $10,000 which we receive is actually quite a large part of the budget," added Neset. "And I know you hear this all of the time, but there's the stamp of approval that Endowment funding implies."

The NEA always emphasizes partnerships in the projects it supports, and NANM's partnership with VSA arts of New Mexico is vital. VSA arts provides the venue for the festival, North Fourth Art Center, at no charge and covers much of the artists' lodging costs. VSA arts also helps the festival reach the underserved communities in the city through the many services the organization already provides. Approximately 1,200 people attended the performances, exhibits, and other activities.