Cramer Dance Company brings Swedish folklore to Britain
London's sophisticated dancegoers have just had the opportunity to see a small but well-respected dance company from Sweden which offered them a smorgasbord of Scandinavian folklore.
The experiment was interesting - a reminder of the enormous range of emotion and life that dance can cover. But the results were mixed.
The Cramer Dance Company, with 13 dancers, was on its first visit to England and spent two weeks at the Bloomsbury Theatre, near Euston Station.
The ensemble is one of two companies officially connected with the Swedish National Theater Center, the Riksteatern. The center aims to kindle interest in the Swedish National Theater by sending almost 130 varied productions a year the length and breadth of Sweden, reaching an estimated 1 million people.
In this organization the Cramer Company plays a unique role. Its founder, Ivo Cramer, has been involved in the dance world since 1944, first in partnership with the other famous Swedish dancer and choreographer, Birgit Cullberg, then as producer and choreographer of operas, operettas, and musicals all over Europe.
In 1967 he returned to Sweden and to ''pure'' dance. He was disturbed that so much outside influence from differing cultures was being showered onto his country through the mass media, and he set out to promote and preserve Sweden's national heritage and origins by presenting them in dance form.
He has done so by using folklore, history, poetry, and religious stories. Although the stories have no Swedish roots, they are presented in the context of national customs, costumes, and music.
Cleverly performed is a moving peasant gospel called ''Golgotha.'' Inspired by Swedish peasant painters at the end of the 18th century who depicted biblical characters in Swedish dress, Ivo Cramer has created a morality play with dance movement to the recorded music of folk instruments and the organ of the Church of St. Jacob in Stockholm.
A short prelude shows the angel Gabriel in brown piped jacket, felt hat, and butterfly wings visiting Mary, and also shows King Herod, who carries a large sign with his name printed boldly on it.
The story then leaps to the Garden of Gethsemane, and in a simplistic way, with basic dance movements, tells the story up to the moment when Joseph of Arimathea takes the body of Jesus down from the cross.
With soldiers in blue jackets and distinctive red, gnomelike felt caps, Pilate washes his hands in a china basin brought in by a peasant girl. He wears a hat with a long feather in it. In a quaint and unusual effect, a ''crowd'' of eight moves about the stage to create the illusion of a multitude.
The company offered six other pieces in a two-evening program, varying in range from slapstick music-hall mime to crude scenes from village life, an 18 th-century comedia dell'arte ballet, a Finnish poem, a Norwegian painting in dance form, and the murder of King Gustav III at a masquerade.
Mr. Cramer's goals for dance in his own country are to be commended. It is encouraging to hear of someone preserving national culture from the onslaughts of larger, more diverse societies.
Yet the London audiences are certainly not the same as those encountered on rural tours of Sweden, and perhaps Mr. Cramer would be wise to select differently for overseas tours. A piece called ''The Wood Carver,'' for instance , contained earthiness and vulgarities that diverted attention from other, more commendable aspects of the company's work.
''It was daring to offer rural Swedish lore to London,'' said a Swedish friend who knows the company well. ''Perhaps too daring. . . .''