The Kennedy Center wrapped up its month-long Nordic Cool 2013 festival last Sunday, ending its highly visible florescent simulation of the Northern Lights that illuminated the facade of the building each night. The regional festival, celebrating the performing and visual arts from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and other territories, brought more than 200,000 people to the center, an attendance that rivaled international festivals including 2009’s Arabesque and 2008’s Japan! Culture + Hyperculture.
Of the performing arts at Nordic Cool, dance was the most popular genre, and many performances, including last weekend’s Sweden’s GoteborgsOperans Danskompani, sold out the Eisenhower and Terrace theaters. Although the Kennedy Center does not release information about ticket sales, the dance program was at capacity most nights.
“Dance always sells out at the Kennedy Center,” said Alicia Adams, vice president of international programming at the Kennedy Center and the festival’s chief curator. “Since it was part of our dance season, it did very well.”
The theater program may have been the weakest component of the festival. The Nordic countries have branded themselves with their popular architectural and design aesthetics, but their theater is less familiar and marketable in the United States, judging by the Eisenhower Theater’s empty seats.
Adams said the language barrier may have been a reason for theater’s lackluster sales. Previous international performances in French, Spanish or Mandarin had wide-ranging appeal in Washington, but there is less interest in programming that features Nordic languages.
“These are very small countries with a population of 26 million,” Adams said. “Very few people study Nordic languages in the U.S.”
Adams also said attendance did not compare with the blockbuster crowds for the center’s Maximum India festival, which in 2011 attracted 400,000 visitors. The Kennedy Center, however, set its target attendance and budget goals lower for Nordic Cool event, because countries such as India and China have more than 1 billion residents and have worldwide diasporas that make for greater interest and larger audiences.
A spokeswoman for the Kennedy Center said Nordic Cool met its budget, and sales for some performances exceeded expectations.
Some theater sold well, such as the U.S. premiere of “Fanny and Alexander” by Sweden’s Royal Dramatic Theatre. Iceland’s Vesturport Theater’s production of “Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka also attracted theatergoers. Adams said the weakest showing may have been at Norway’s Winter Guests company’s “Bird in Magic Rain With Tears,” perhaps because the English title is inscrutable.
Adams said the theater attendance will not affect strategy for next season’s International Theater Festival, which will include productions from South Africa, Mexico, Israel and China, among others.
“That festival will not include any theater from the Nordic region, because we did it this year,” Adams said. Plays will be Spanish, English, French and other languages. “They’re not languages that are obscure.”
Adams also highlighted the Kennedy Center’s outward focus, citing Jesper Kongshaug’s “Northern Lights” exhibition as an example of the festival’s broad impact. The aurora borealis display was an effort to reach people who may not frequent the center, Adams said, particularly residents who cross the Key Bridge or Memorial Bridge after work, or visitors.
“Nordic Cool had a different reach than previous festivals,” Adams added. “It’s not quantifiable.”