ES Dance Instrument Inventor & Aerial Choreographer: Sven Börje Johansson, choreographer, reindeer specialist (b at Säffle, Värmland, Sweden 29 Aug 1924). Sven Johansson grew up at Torskog, Bohus län, near Göteborg on Sweden’s Atlantic coast. His upbringing included amateur theatre, music, lively discussion and a large home library. The overwhelming horror of World War II clouded his late teens, and as a young man he moved to Swedish Lappland to live off the land and contemplate life’s mysteries. A massive hydroelectric project to flood the Upper Luleå River basin, where he lived, was the reason for his 1962 decision to emigrate to Reindeer Station on the Mackenzie Delta.
His knowledge of reindeer husbandry, learned from the Sami in northern Sweden, earned him a 5-year contract to reorganize Canada’s languishing domestic-reindeer industry. Keeping the herds in small spaces had resulted in severe malnutrition, a problem solved by Johansson’s introduction of free-range herding. Afterwards he continued living in the Mackenzie Delta and worked with the Geological Survey of Canada on a survey of the Arctic Polar Shelf with North Star, a special vessel built for the Arctic. Since the early 1970s Johansson has lived on his boat in Victoria, BC, leaving only to skipper Belvedere, a 60-foot sailing yacht and the first private vessel to sail through the Northwest Passage from the Pacific to the Atlantic, arriving in New York in 1989.
Johansson’s entry into artistic dance began in 1989, with incorporation of the non-profit Discovery Dance Society, based on the development of ES Dance (ES stands for Excedere Saltatio – Dance Exceeding Limitations). Allowing performers to flout gravity and dance in midair, the ES Dance instrument is a long pole on a wheeled fulcrum run by a trained operator. With proper stage lighting none of the equipment is seen, only the dancer.
Johansson’s innovative technique premiered in 1992 in Victoria with Exalted Surprise. Since then he has choreographed his own dance productions as well as theatrical productions that lend themselves to the technique, such as Peter Pan, Fiddler on the Roof and Mer Tribu, a 2001 pilot project symbolizing underwater dance. Some of the productions have aired on CBC TV and Bravo Canada. In 1994 his Discovery Dance Company pioneered dance for the disabled using the ES Dance instrument, which compensates for blindness, muscular inability and lack of balance.
Johansson won the International Dance Festival Award for professional choreography at Prague, Czech Republic in 1999 and again in 2000, and was nominated in 2005 for the Canadian Dora Award in choreography. In 2007 he won the Jessie Award in choreography for Skydive, produced by RealWheel Society in Vancouver.
For his work with the domestic-reindeer herd, on the polar shelf surveys, and on studies in Arctic ethnology and Inuit and Scandinavian Viking migrations, Sven Johansson was invested as a member of the Order of Canada in 1994. In 2002 he was awarded the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal.