With an international children’s theater festival opening later this week across Copenhagen and Malmö, Danish theater is at the forefront of a new trend: Baby theater.
This Friday, the annual Assistej World Congress and Performing Arts Festival for Young Audiences opens for the 17th time. A kind of trade fair for children’s theater companies, the congress includes no less than 27 international performances, all of them open to the public—and with Copenhagen and Malmö sharing host duties, events are taking place in both Sweden and Denmark.
Children’s theater has a strong tradition in Denmark, but while shows used to be simply miniature versions of regular plays—often stage adaptations of popular children’s books—the most progressive companies now blend dance and visual art into a genre that can often be enjoyed by kids as young as six months.
They may not understand language or plots, but the minds of small babies are processing incredible amounts of information and are constantly being stimulated by color, touch and sound.
Without the complication of words, baby theater makes use of all stimuli. Director Catherine Poher, who worked from the concept up with company Åben Dans on the critically-acclaimed ‘Me You Us,’ has compared it to modern art, and says that rather than telling a story, writing theater for babies is about ‘giving them emotions, poetry and aesthetics, as well as a feeling of being together in close contact.’
Other shows aiming to woo babies are Uppercut Dance’s ‘Shall We Dance’, a kind of cross between contemporary dance and the Teletubbies, and Corona La Balance (now ZeBu) with ‘Sun Dance and Moon Play,’ that incorporated the Balinese percussion instrument the trombong.
Corona La Balance were one of five companies invited to perform at Manhattan’s New Victory Theater on Broadway in 2007. The New Victory Danish Festival gave Americans the chance to sample interactive children’s theater at toddler height—and clearly illustrated that what is taken for granted in Scandinavia is still groundbreaking across the Atlantic.
Me You Us will be shown as part of the Assistej World Congress’ closing cavalcade in Malmö on May 28-29. The festival runs from June 20-29th: A full program of events is available from the festival website.
Image shows ‘Me You Us’ and is courtesy of Åben Dans and photographer Ditte Valente.