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?
Pirjetta Mulari
Pirjetta Mulari
Do these enterprises sometime put up money for artistic creation? I mean support artists in their creative activities?
Basically, Basically, no, if they are not sponsoring an artist’s work. Because our state provides funding. Can you believe our university education is free for everyone? But you have to apply. That is really free education. It is great. But our taxes are quite high. Depending on your income, it may be 30%. Of course, you have tax deductions if you have a loan or something. But, thanks to that, we have fantastic education and social security. To become a dancer is basically possible to any one in Finland having that kind of talent to pass the entrance exams. Therefore, everyone has the equal starting point to get into the dance world. The artistic status is well supported. Our ministry of education and our arts council support artists. We have an artist salary, which you have to apply for. There are maybe 20 dance artists receiving it at the moment. It amounts to 1,000 euro a month. Of course, you have to show the Arts Council your working plan. For instance, Katri Soini is in a 5-year program with this salary. With that money you do not have to worry about the basics of life. Above that you can also earn money from your work.

We have to learn how to support the artists from your system. Now, let me ask you a question in different direction: butoh. Finnish people like butoh very much. Anzu Furukawa had an influence on many dancers in Finland. Why?
It is because it is a strong form of expression. It is very different from our expression. And it involves this point too; we are a very melancholic people. Not only us, but the Swedish, too. With its deep understanding of nature butoh is somehow easy for us to connect to. Because it is so deep. It involves natural feelings, although it is strict and severe. But, we find something we can connect to.
I understood that Anzu Furukawa was quite well accepted, with a real impact on Finnish dancers. Ari Tenhula worked with Anzu and Kim Itoh. Tero went to Kazuo Ohno. He just thought that he did not want to be just an ordinary dancer. He wanted to get the strict education [like that of butoh]. He had a vision of some sort of deep understanding of movement and body. When he started to create dance works, he felt that ballet was not enough.

How do you evaluate his recent development as a choreographer, which is interesting? Of course, it is not simple.
I think that he learned something from that experience, I am sure. I remember what he said at the National Ballet: “Dance has to express something more.” It was just a feeling, but maybe from butoh, the total extreme, somehow on a basic level.”

His inner research on the body. It is interesting to hear your evaluation. Also, I, as a Japanese, find a certain similarity in the Finns’ attitude toward nature.
I think so too. We are living in places that are so far from each other, but we have so many similarities. I do not know why our societies are similar in so many ways. High education, but very different history, and the industrialization process. And the mentality is somehow similar. We too are very shy. Not very talkative…

And even your attitude about nudity. In other European countries, it is symbolic of a challenge against “taboos” in connection with Christianity, etc. In Finland, it is more naturally accepted. In a way, it is considered very sound and healthy, a part of everyday life. So, there is not a hesitation about nudity in dance expression. Although the connotation may be different.
You have the public bath, “Ofuro”. We have our sauna. We have always been naked. Although there are different customs, there is a certain similarity. Europe is too close, but somehow a few people are really connected with our idea or our way. They have to be connected with nature in thinking and all of that.

Now for some more practical questions. I would like to know about the festivals you have in Finland. The Kuopio Dance Festival, which has a long history in Scandinavia first held in 1970, is now in its 36th holding. Held in the summer season of the midnight sun in the town of Kuopio in the beautiful lake region of central Finland, this festival has played an important role in the development of not only Finnish but all Scandinavian contemporary dance. In addition to the producers, it appoints an Artistic Director, whose vision and policies has given the interesting characteristics to the respective holdings. At times, the Artistic Director’s vision has been reflected in the planning of presentations of traditional arts from countries like Japan, China and Thailand. Recently, to introduce the young work from Japan Leni-Basso was invited to show their work FINKS.
Besides Kuopio, what kinds of festivals do you have?

We have the Full Moon Dance Festival. It has existed since 1992. They will celebrate their 15th Anniversary next summer. It was also started by Marjo Kuusela and Tommi Kitti. They used to have a summer place, very close to Pyhajärvi, which is the small town of 6,000 inhabitants located in the middle of Finland. It just happened that there were very active dance people there. It started as a very local festival. Then, in a few years time, under the new artistic director, who was Alpo Aaltokoski, a native of the area, he started to build this festival more like the Finnish Dance Platform. Now, it has become an international festival of dance. It lasts for six days, always at the end of July. The stage was built in a sporting house, but I assure you that the stage is one of the best in our country. They built it beautifully. Huge, on an ice hall. They built a beautiful theatre just for the duration of the festival.
The feeling is very special. You see five or six shows a day. All contemporary dance with just 500 or 600 people coming there to see the festival. During the daytime there are seminars and workshops. In the evening are the performances. Kuopio is the major dance festival, but the Full Moon Festival is a lot more intimate. It has just one street. It is important for young people to appear. The Artistic Director commissions works from young choreographers. Usually there are premieres of major choreographers, but also premieres from young choreographers. They also collaborate. Young choreographers are supported to create new pieces. The Zodiak (The Center for New Dance in Helsinki) and Jojo - Oulu Dance Centre production centers in Helsinki and Oulu, are often co-producing the young choreographers’ works commissioned by the festival. At least two works from young ones, with six to seven new works altogether. It is meant to show the most interesting Finnish dance at that time.

You invite foreign companies, too? Any dancers and choreographers?
Yes, I remember that for instance Akram Khan and Kitt Johnson were invited. It does not need to be young people. There are also more established international companies and young companies. Most of the audience are local farmers, who enjoy seeing dance. They ask a lot of questions. Also producers and audience come from Helsinki.

Festivals provide people with chances to know and learn new aspects of dance and other cultures. Do you have other festivals? How do you support the activities of dancers and choreographers, especially financially? You respect the basic concept that the arts play an important role in building a country’s culture. According to Takako Matsuda, who is a Japanese dancer currently active in Helsinki, foreign artists can also apply for support in projects where they are working with Finnish artists.
Yes, there is the Asia in Helsinki Festival at the Alexander Theatre, showing works from Asia. It always has an annual theme. Jukka O. Miettinen introduced a lot of ethnic things to Kuopio. Jorma made the Kuopio a contemporary dance festival. There is the Moving in November Festival, which has been around for 20 years, since the 80s. This festival is meant to introduce new international dance to the Helsinki audience. The Helsinki Festival is a festival for the performing arts with guest artists like Pina Bausch for 2005. Can you believe that it was her very first performance in Finland? Pina Bausch is not a big influence, although German dance had a big influence on our dance. Very hard to get her, it is true, after great expectations.
Yes, support for dance comes from that basic concept you have just pointed out. Even if the support may not be as complete as it should be, it is being pursued under a system that aims to make it possible for artists to make a living from their art. I am pleased to tell you that support for dance is on the increase.

In the support system for artists in dance, the Finnish Dance Information Center where you work undertakes the essential function to help and promote the dance culture in your country. Could you introduce the activities of the dance information center?
The Finnish Dance Information Centre was founded in 1980. Our center collects and publishes information on Finnish dance and promotes international cooperation. The Centre publishes a quarterly magazine named Tanssi (Dance) in Finnish. We also publish an annual publication in English titled Finnish Dance in Focus to provide foreign readers with the latest information on Finnish dance scene. Besides providing information, the Center collates and analyzes performances and audience statistics, and organizes seminars. I must tell you that the website of the Centre is a comprehensive online source of information on Finnish dance.
My work as Project Manager, International Affairs, is to create an economical and functional basis for establishing an international office at the Finnish Dance Information Centre, which would organize and co-ordinate international projects in dance both in Finland and abroad.
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