Do you know where Norway is? Some people think it is the capital of Sweden. It is not. Norway is the longest country in Europe and is very, very north. Norway borders Sweden, Finland and Russia and is just some hours boat ride to Denmark. Over half of Norway is situated in the Arctic circle. Norway is also the birth home of Ibsen, Munch and Grieg and has some of the most beautiful natural scenery I have ever known. I should mention, too, that it has been, for years, rated as the best place in the world to live.
This year, I enter what is my 5th year to live in Norway (I split my time between Oslo and Austin).
How in the world did we end up here?
My wife’s grandmother is a legendary dancer and choreographer by the name of Jorunn Kirkenær. At the time of writing this post, she is 84 years old. She is a remarkable woman and is the greatest mentor I have ever known in my life.
Jorunn served as a Prima Ballerina in the Norwegian Opera, has performed countless times on television, including the Ed Sullivan Show, and became a household name in Norway. She has been honored by the King of Norway twice for contributions to Norwegian culture and has built numerous schools, all of which are still in existence today. Not only did she serve as a pioneer and largely help shape dance as it is known in Norway, but did so as a woman in a time period that was dominated by men. She survived tuberculosis and the Nazis, the death of her husband and innumerable obstacles. The woman is simply a marvel.
This amazing woman ran a childrens’ dance school called Kirkenaer Ballettskole for 50 years and wanted to gift it to my wife, her granddaughter, Kristina Kirkenaer-Hart. My wife and I were both in career transitions at the time. Kristina was a professional dancer in New York, dancing with the Doug Elkins Dance Company and I was serving as an independent artist, director and teacher, doing gigs nationally and internationally. We both found ourselves in transition when Jorunn said, “Come to Norway. Take over the school”. Well, my background is theatre and up until that date, I had been imagining what type of school I would like to build one day…and so, we did. We moved, took over the ballettskole, which had nearly 500 students at the time, and I built TITAN Teaterskole, my first conservatory to build.
Building TITAN was a rich opportunity and I then strove and strive to this day, to create the school I wish I had gone to. I believe that if I always keep that perspective, that the school will be meaningful, fresh and dynamic.
This trip was not without its struggles. I am a firm believer that whenever you commit to large scale adventure, that you get push-back in equal measure…and so we did.
In my first year, I was attacked by the head of the Actors’ Union, followed to Turkey by organized crime and fell from a ladder, blowing out my heel bone in nine places. This injury to my foot resulted in four surgeries, two of which were major and resulted in a five year healing process.
Nothing about this adventure has been easy.
However, it has been rewarding. The school I built works. We are now in our seventh year of operation and I can honestly attest that the school is stronger now than it has ever been and that the students are happier than I have ever known them to be (this according to them and alumni), which is ultimately the test. I have matured as a teacher and artist over the years and strive to offer my students the perspective I have gained and the experience I have had.
Living in Norway has been such a rich gift for us. It has been a grand adventure, one that has taken me completely off of the path of my previous adventures of pursuing commercial theatre/TV/and film work in New York. As a result of this committing to other adventure, I have had experiences I previously would not have thought possible or known how to achieve. To paraphrase Joseph Campbell, Doors have opened I did not realize were even there before.
Committing to adventure in Oslo changed everything and necessitated that I create a path before me and FOR me, as one did not exist upon arrival.
Why Norway? Adventure. The certainty of change and the potential to reinvent…by my own terms, desires and out of my own center. So far…so good.
Jim Hart is the founder of The International Theatre Academy Norway and Austin Conservatory of Professional Arts.