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Finnish Dance in Focus 2005
“Finnish Dance in Focus 2005” (Vol.7)
The annual magazine presents Finnish dance to readers outside Finland.
(Publisher: The Finnish Dance Information Centre)
Artist aAn Ovewview.
Finnish Dance Today 
If one were to describe European dance since the 1990s in geopolitical terms, it would be a disintegration of the center and dispersion toward new cells.
While on the one hand we see a continuing diversification of expression, we are also seeing the start of trend toward similarity in the creative approach and ideas due to the development of information networks and media. The creators are questioning the fundamental elements of “creativity” as the source of creation. Within this context, there was widespread critical acclaim when the Lyon Dance Biennial 2004 chose a program consisting primarily of artists from what had until recently had been considered the peripheral regions of Eastern Europe, Scandinavia and the Mediterranean countries rather than the “mainstream” countries of France and Germany. This move was considered an apt reflection of present conditions. In fact, there is increasing attention coming to focus today on the refreshing new expressions coming out of these areas of Eastern Europe, Scandinavia and the Mediterranean countries, which are indeed possessed of new, untapped appeal.
Among these up and coming dance nations, Finland has shown especially vital growth in recent years. It is dance that is energetic and strong-boned or, you would not call it stylish or adroit, but it stands out among the dance styles of Europe with a unique vibrancy that draws from an accentuated presence of the body.
For example, among the performances I saw during the 2005 season, the one that perhaps left the strongest impression was Borrowed Light by one of Finland’s representative choreographers, Tero Saarinen. This is a work that takes as its subject the Shakers, an especially strict religious group that was one of the Puritan sects that left Britain for the New World in the 18th century. The intricately thought-out stage is full of artistic tension that gives apt expression to the spiritual elevation born denial of the baser human desires. Set to unaccompanied chorus by Boston Camerata that combines exquisitely with the minimalist choreography of uneven movements and odd-shaped forms. Add to this the natural lighting of Mikki Kunttu and it produces a convincing expression of religious ecstasy building with the energy harbored in the constrained movements of the dancers.

The History of Finnish Dance

When looking at the history of Finnish dance, it can be noted that, unlike the other Scandinavian countries of Denmark, with its Danish Royal Ballet boasting a proud tradition since the romantic ballet of Aguste Burnoville, or Sweden, known for its Swedish Royal Ballet and Cullberg Ballet, the history itself is not a long one. Dance as an art, including ballet, has only taken root in Finland since entering the 20th century. It can be said, however, that the very lack of a long tradition of dance has created an environment that has encouraged a free development of unique dance styles. The absence of a strong aristocratic dance culture supported by the nobility eventually allowed new dance to bud without the constraints of such a tradition.

There are some similarities between the history of Finnish dance and that of Japan. Both ballet and modern dance were introduced at roughly the same time in the 1920s. Isadora Duncan first toured Finland in 1908. In that same year, Anna Pavlova and the dancers of the Mariinsky Theatre came to Finland from St. Petersburg to perform. As full-fledged ballet began to establish itself in Finland after that, there was an influx of Russian ballet dancers emigrating to Finland in the wake of the Russian Revolution in 1917. In 1921 a ballet company was established as a part of the Finland Opera Theatre, and in 1956 its name was changed to the Finland National Ballet Company.
In ballet, Finland has learned much from neighboring Russia, but there also seems to be an ambivalence deriving from the political distance that has existed between the two countries. In the first 40 years during which the foundations of the Finland National Ballet Company were established, the company developed under the influence of Russian ballet, led by two ballet masters who had studied in Russia, George Ge and Alexander Saxelin.

[Modern Dance and Contemporary Dance]
In the genre of modern dance, the expressionist “Neuer Tanz” of nearby Germany had a great influence on Finnish dance from the 1920s. In 1926, Mary Wigman and in 1937 Kurt Joos came to Helsinki with their companies to perform. During the 1920s and 30s Finnish dancers of what was then called the “Free Dance” movement went almost exclusively to Germany and central Europe to study.
Entering the 1960s we see the birth of a new dance culture stressing more abstract movement developing out of the popularity of figures like Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham and Alvin Ailey in the modern, post-modern and jazz dance genres.
It was in the 1970s that modern dance began to emerge as a full-fledged artistic genre in Finland. Two companies that contributed to the development of dance in Finland, the Dance Theatre Raatikko in 1972 and Helsinki City Theatre Dance Company in 1973, were founded one after the other respectively. Being a country where both Finnish and Swedish are recognized as national languages, the emergence of theater in Finnish was related to the movement to establish a national identity and independence. In the case of dance, which developed later, the search for a Finnish identity in dance was first observed in the 1970s. Based in those two companies, Finnish contemporary dance emerged in the 1980s.

‹Dance Theatre Raatikko and its founder Marjo Kuusela›
Raatikko was founded by two dance artists: Marjo Kuusela and Maria Wolska. Marjo worked as a choreographers-dancer and Maria as a dancer. They were the two power ladies of Raatikko.
The co-founder of the Raatikko company, Marjo Kuusela, chose works from Finnish literature for the company’s dance drama and also included familiar social and political viewpoints in the creation of works possessed of a unique strength. For example, one of Kuusela’s representative works, Seven Brothers, (1980) is based on a novel by one of Finland’s nationally renowned author’s, Aleksis Kivi, and is a story of the coming to maturity of the young protagonists. Kuusela continues to be active today as a choreographer, and since 1995 she has been pouring her energies into dance education as a professor for choreography in the dance department of the Theatre Academy in Helsinki. Her company has produced a number of prominent dancers like Tommi Kitti, who now leads the Tommi Kitti Company.

‹Helsinki City Theatre Dance Company and choreographer Jorma Uotinen›
Helsinki City Theatre Dance Company has continued to bring fresh new inspirations into Finnish dance with its ongoing creative activities. A review of its accomplishments over the years indeed provides a tour of the history of Finnish contemporary dance. In particular, it is safe to say that the character of this company became established during the nine years beginning in 1982 when one of Finland’s representative choreographers Jorma Uotinen served as the company’s artistic director.
After performing under Carolyn Carlson in Paris, Jorma Uotinen became artistic director of the Helsinki City Theatre Dance Company. During that tenure Uotinen produced nine works, including his representative works Kalevala and Ballet Pathetique. Although some of Carlson’s influence can be seen in Uotinen’s work, there is also a uniquely rich visual aspect to his work and deeper emotional nuance than Carlson’s work. For example, his representative work Ballet Pathetique, which takes the name of the Tchaikovsky piece uses about 20 male dancers wearing tutus melt into the music as they dance dynamically in subdue stage lighting. A portion where all the dancers jump together with half turns is truly uplifting, and you can even sense in it an extension of Matthew Borne’s Swan Lake. With works like this, Uotinen went on to serve as artistic director for the Finland National Ballet until 2001 and gave it a unique repertoire of its own.
The successive artistic directors since Uotinen have included some of the leading choreographers in Finnish dance, namely Carolyn Carlson, Marjo Kuusela, Kenneth Kvarnström and Ari Tenhula. The mother of French contemporary dance, Carlson is originally an American of Finnish descent. She spent a year as artistic director of the Helsinki City Theatre Dance Company after Uotinen and has had a great influence on the young generation of Finnish dancers. The current artistic director of the Helsinki City Theatre Dance Company (now Helsinki Dance Company) is Ville Sormunen, formely a dancer at the company since 1991. Kvarnström became the director of Sweden’s Dansens Hus by 2003, a fact which has deepened the exchange between the two countries’ dance worlds (and the two companies as well).
Since Finland is a country where ballet and modern dance developed at the same time, there was little opportunity for boundaries to be laid down between the genres of ballet, modern dance and contemporary dance, and the subsequent influx of musicals and jazz dance only contributed to further lowering of the barriers between the genres. The choreographers and dancers in Finland thus tend to learn a variety of techniques without concern for genre and seek opportunities freely in different areas of performance. The National Ballet Company also lacks the type of concern for tradition that exists in countries like Denmark and is able to introduce contemporary dance into their performances. And, there have been numerous cases of ballet dancers studying butoh as well. This flexibility, abundance of varied technique and openness regarding style have given Finnish dance its unique character typified by freedom of development.
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