The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Presenter Interview
Breathing new life into contemporary dance   What is the source of the vitality in Finnish dance today?
Probably, that was the impression I received from Finnish dance. My first visit to Finland was made in 1998. I have been watching the development of dance, and I guess I arrived there at the right time for that.
And the Helsinki City Theatre Dance Company is important. Marjo Kuusela, Jorma Uotinen, Kenneth Kvarnström, all these people worked there. …And Tommi Kitti was the dancer for Raatikko.

These lines connect to the Academy? The Academy educated the new choreographers?
Jorma Uotinen also still teaches at the Academy. He is doing work almost annually. Kuusela has been the professor for choreography since 1995. Their idea is that dancers should be independent and thinking artists. They should be strong individuals for choreographers to work with.
As for the curriculum of the Academy, they have a 3-year course for a B.A. in the Dance Department. After that, an M.A. can be earned in the fields of dance, choreography, or dance education, which ensure that the education lives. Kuusela built the base for “dance as an art” with confidence in the value of dance. Susanna Leinonen and Jenni Kivelä were both trained at the Academy under Kuusela. That is the educational center in Helsinki. The Academy also has courses in film, film technology, stage art and lighting design and they work closely together.
In other cities, there is the college education. It is the secondary level education that ends at the Bachelor level. Or the Conservatory…those students often come to Helsinki for further studies in dance. The cities involved at this level are Kuopio, Oulu, Turku and Tampere. Mainly they educate dance teachers in the ballroom dance, folk dance and jazz dance fields.

So, would you say that the arts are nicely mixed in Finland? The fusion in styles and techniques gives a good energy to Finnish dance? The close relationships that develop between artists in different genre have also had a positive effect.
If you think about our mentality… we have to be open. We only have five million people [in Finland]. From the beginning we have to manage everything in such a small world. We have a long tradition of collaboration. For example, Tero and Mikki Kunttu, plus a sort of strong director in the theatre… and choreographers are open. They are working together in one production—total theatre—more than anything else. I am very happy to see how that fusion is the energy for our dance. Jorma Uotinen really made it clear in his works that ballet is also contemporary choreography too. I guess we are open-minded people.

The National Ballet is now going back to the old classics under Dinna Björn from the Danish Royal Ballet. It is interesting that the National Ballet has been influenced by Russian ballet, but it seems that you have had no Russian ballet director so far.
We always had a tricky relationship with Russia. People have been very clear about having a Finnish leader. Nowadays, it is becoming less so, and we are getting closer with Russia. That is our history.

By the way, it seems to me that lighting in Finland is very dramatic. Do you think that the fact that you have many wonderful lighting designers has something to do with the natural environment in Finland? The climate you have up in the north, where you have the white summer light [midnight sun] and the long darkness in winter…
I do not know the reason. First, there is education for lighting design. I think it comes from the environment too. We have a dark, dark winter. We have to really think of the lighting in our life. Light is very important for us. As you said, we have different shade and different light. Also, we are a very technological country. So, lighting has become a part of technology and has become an art in itself. Lighting artists make such specific work. For instance, our city itself might be considered a work of art.
I actually had a talk with Kimmo Karjunen, who is one of the main lighting designers who worked a lot with Jyrki Karttunen and used to work with Ari Tenhula and Alpo Aaltokoski. Tero always works with Mikki Kunttu. Kimmo actually teaches at the Academy. He has had a strong influence. Dancers and lighting designers are educated in the same place. From the beginning they work together. Choreographers understand the meaning of the lighting design in their works from an early stage. Lighting designers understand what art form it is. I don’t know why, but lighting works so well in Finnish dance. You know, it is really the collaboration in art. Choreographers and lighting designers are main collaborators in the work. Of course, the costume designers have input, but I would say that a lot of contemporary dance work could be sort of concluded between the choreographer and the lighting designer. Miki also uses this kind of huge show of light, like in rock concerts. The light in Borrowed Light was cleverly done.

You also have nice film and multimedia artists as shown in Tero’s piece, Hunt.
That is Marita Liulia. The government subsidizes this area nicely. If you think about Nokia, we really think as a nation we provide things mostly in the fields of knowledge and technology. So, media art is an established art form having its own research and centers. An artist like Marita is appreciated. They have established the art. They actually create. So, the technology is endless as a tool for art. For us, just video projection with choreography is not interesting enough anymore. How you use the technology as a part of the art, as one element, is the most interesting. The collaboration between Jyrki and Kimmo Karjunen, or the collaboration between Tero Saarinen and Marita Liulia are much more than just putting in the video.

Yes, it is more than just showing video. The live movement and video images have an interactive effect that enriches the space.
But it would not work if the choreographer does not know how to work the technology into the art. The choreographers need to have ideas and aims for the technology in order for it to be a part of his art. Also, vision is necessary.

I was really impressed with some videos I saw in the Information Center. I remember Alpo’s beautiful dance work with dynamic images of nature in the Sahara and Raatikainen’s Opal-D.
It was images by Kimmo Koskela in Arja’s work.

How about the education in filmmaking?
We have university level education for the visual arts including filmmaking. The University of Art and Design Helsinki has different departments for film and TV production, visual arts, multimedia, design and art education. Marimekko, Iittala and other design companies based in Helsinki collaborate with the art university. They are really advanced in their thinking. Technology has been an element of art for a long time. There is a lot of collaboration going on.
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