Mythological creatures in the waters of the Blue Lagoon, a soccer match enacted in dance, the philosophy of open source digital software translated into performance - the Icelandic dance scene embodies energy, innovation and creativity, and the dancers, companies and choreographers have been receiving lavish acclaim on the international stage for many years.

With allusions to the traditional ´vikivaki´ dances found as far back as the medieval sagas, dance has been a crucial part of Icelandic society since its earliest times. Classical ballet, though,  is a relatively late arrival, pioneered by a group of young women, trained abroad in Europe and the USA, who formed the Icelandic Association of Professional Dancers FÍLD in 1947.

It was not until 1952 that the first state supported school in Iceland was established and a further 21 years passed before the National Theatre of Iceland founded the country's first – and what would remain only – fully professional company, the Iceland Dance Company (ID). ID has been an independent public institution since 1992.

Despite its late start, ballet in Iceland progressed rapidly and has given to the art-form one of its greats in the figure of Helgi Tómasson (b. 1942), principal dancer for the New York Ballet Company for 15 years, choreographer and artistic director of the San Francisco ballet company, and recognised as one of the greatest male dancers of his era.

In 1996, under the leadership of current artistic director Katrin Hall, the Iceland Dance Company took a brave new direction, focusing entirely upon contemporary dance. For the sole national company of a country this was an extraordinary statement.

 With residency at the Reykjavik City Theatre and a busy international touring schedule, the modern incarnation of ID has staged works from a wide range of local and visiting choreographers, often in fertile collaboration with the rich talents of Iceland's other artistic arenas and European dance companies.

The success of the national company's change in direction has earned the company a growing international reputation. It has also acted as catalyst for development in the dance scene as a whole.

In 2002 the first Reykjavik Dance festival  was held, providing a public platform for independent companies to make their mark. The annual Reykjavik Art Festival also includes dance in its programme, and theatres across Iceland regularly support smaller productions from the flourishing scene of independent dance groups.

Whilst the traditional vikivaki, with their heady mixture of costume, theatre and celebration, were banned and all but lost under Danish rule, their essence—the wild, energetic and quintessentially Icelandic individualism—lives on, brought back through the electrifying creativity of Iceland's modern dancers and choreographers.

Three local talents to watch:

Recognised as one of the brightest talents in European dance, Erna Ómarsdóttir's recent projects include ‘Transaquania', a collaboration with Belgian Damien Jalet , visual artist Gabriela Friðriksdóttir and ID performed in the Blue Lagoon, and the duet ‘The Talking Tree'. Her work is startlingly powerful and personal, melding voice, movement and energy with dark insight.

In only a short period, the independent company Panic Productions, founded in 2004 by Sveinbjörg Þórhallsdóttir and Margrét Sara Guðjónsdóttir, has produced a number of pieces for Icelandic and foreign theatres. In 2010 they will premiere ‘Biege on Blond,' a collaboration with photographer Tom Akinleminu to be performed and documented in photograph, stage, dvd and book.

Dancer Helena Jónsdottir is also a choreographer and filmmaker with a strong reputation in Scandinavia, the UK and the USA for her work on stage, video and television. She created the piece ‘Open Source' in 2003, conceived to adapt and reflect the language and culture of the countries in which it is performed. In 2005 she began her work with ID, expanding ‘Open Source' into a full-length production.

By Sari Peltonen