Jarkko Lehmus Blog: Planes and bums and rock ’n roll.

TPAM, Yokohama. © Jarkko Lehmus. (Click image for larger version)
TPAM, Yokohama. © Jarkko Lehmus. (Click image for larger version)

Jarkko has recently taken over as Artistic Director of the JoJo – Oulu Dance Centre based in Northern Finland (map). This month he talks about Japan, nude dancing and invites applications for JoJo – Oulu Dance Centre’s co-productions for 2015.

I seem to be writing these blogs at an airport or on the plane. I started this one on a trip to Japan, continued on the plane from Oulu to Helsinki and am finishing it off on a plane from Helsinki back up to Oulu. My mother told me that when I was young I had looked at a world map, pointed at places on it and said to her: “When I grow up I will travel here, here, here, here, here, there, here, there and there and here and there.” A nomadic spirit from birth. A three-day trip to East Asia is just the ticket: just enough time to change the body clock, but not quite enough time to actually settle properly before flipping the clock back again. I’ve got three spare hours in Narita and a six-hour connection in Helsinki/Vantaa. What do I do? Go through  the rest of the OuDance festival applications? Check. Create a mind map of all the connections from TPAM? Check. Write utter rubbish? Check. Listen to Whitesnake? Check. Babble like a pygmy marmoset channeling the spirit of Chris Rock? Check. Feel like a marinaded manatee? Check.

The past few weeks have been hectic as ever what with going through all the applications for OuDance festival (A huge thank you to all that applied!), rehearsing Satu Tuomisto’s Riisuttuna – Bared, popping over to Yokohama to do a bit of networking and a gig of Kosei Sakamoto’s Haigafuru and on top of all that doing my best to learn the ropes of the artistic directorship. The festival is slowly starting to take shape, so that’s all good. If I manage to squeeze together what I’m planning, I’ll be one happy chappy. Still plenty of moving parts to nail down, though. I’ll write more about the festival once I’ve got the programme sorted.

We called this part “kökköpyörintä.” The translation would be along the lines of “the rolling bit that feels like crap.”<br />© Uupi Tirronen (Click image for larger version)
We called this part “kökköpyörintä.” The translation would be along the lines of “the rolling bit that feels like crap.”
© Uupi Tirronen. (Click image for larger version)
Haigafuru was good fun again. The piece does hurt the body and gives me a bit of a headache, but I still do enjoy exploring it further. Silly me. This time around we only had three rehearsals together in Helsinki before heading way out east. Big up to Terhi Vaimala, who jumped in to cover the piece with such a minimal rehearsal time. A pro is a pro, there’s no two ways about it. That’s just as well, since we were left pretty much to our own devices to organise and run the rehearsals. There’s no point going into the details, but I can say with a hand on my heart that we, the dancers, made this performance happen and it went well. Well done Terhi, Ville, Meeri, Johanna and Kaisa. The choreographer was happy and the audience cried and cheered. Job done. Thank you very much.

I’ve been to Tokyo Performing Arts Meeting in Yokohama once before a couple of years back. The weather was positively balmy back then and there were a couple of blondes in our group. It was quite a cultural experience with all the bare-faced staring and giggling from the locals.  This time around we weren’t quite as exotic, but the weather made up for it in spades: we brought with us the worst snow storm Yokohama has seen in 25 years. Total chaos. Quite amusing to observe from a Northern perspective. Three intense days of snow, networking, baby powder, flashing lights, some of the most awkward body twisting this side of Chubby Checker went on topped off with the traditional late-night spa. My first actual gig as an international presenter resulted in achy body, no sleep and wallet full of business cards. Some great contacts were made (Just to pick one out you guys should really check out the artist residencies on offer at Kinosaki Arts Centre.) and good times were had. Japan – we love you!

A <I>Riisuttuna</I> promo shot of the choreographer, Satu Tuomisto, and her husband.<br />© Pirjo Lempea. (Click image for larger version)
A Riisuttuna promo shot of the choreographer, Satu Tuomisto, and her husband.
© Pirjo Lempea. (Click image for larger version)

Surely the hot topic of the month up in the Oulu region has been Riisuttuna – Bared. In this performance the performers, me included, are dancing mostly in the nude. In one of the performances also the audience will be invited to experience the performance naked. This sort of stuff has been done for decades around the world, but it’s a first for Oulu. As a side note: judging by the reaction to Olivier Dubois’ Tragédie, nudity and dance seem to be a bit of a taboo for some French folk as well. Although we might not be alone with our fears and prejudices up here in The North, Taina Kinnunen, a university lecturer and researcher at the University of Tampere, posits in her recent book about the touching culture of Finland that the people of Northern Ostrobothnia touch each other the least in the entire world. We also have areas where the dominant religion is a form of conservative Lutheran Christianity that regards dance as a sin. It’s a very interesting social environment to be working in as an artistic director, choreographer, teacher and dancer. To add to the mix most of the arts in Finland are at least partly publicly funded, so everyone and their (tax paying) dog feel entitled to make their opinion heard. I can relate to that. I don’t believe that wars really solve anything, so understandably I didn’t want to fund them while the roads, the school system and the health care system were falling apart. So here I am in neutral Finland again sounding out my opinions. The Finns in general are a stubborn lot, so they (I guess I should say “we” although I still live in a kind of cultural limbo.) tend to dig their heels in, tuck their chin, grit their teeth, tighten their belt and carry on. The social and political landscape looks very conservative, but I do believe that we are much more open-minded than we think we are. That said the piece has sparked quite heated (on a scale of any culture that veers towards public display of emotions this really is nothing, but on a sedate Finnish scale it is a monster.) discussion about nudity, sex, porn, child abuse, dangers of uninhibited humanity, repression, self-righteousness, holocaust and generally everything under the moon, except for the actual content of the performance. It is a rather typical display of highly biased public opinions and the equally cockeyed knee-jerk reactions of local politicians. In all its absurd glory the opinions being aired on the various internet forums are rather informative. People comment on themselves rather than the piece of art that has provoked the comments. Although at the moment it seems unlikely that the loudest shouters will ever venture into a theatre to actually experience dance, I do sincerely hope that once all the commotion has passed at least some of the questions raised will linger. I intend to carry on with the these questions in the form of a series of panel discussions at the next OuDance festival in September. How about The Role of Physical Communication in a Healthy Society or Dance and Religion and Dance and Gender, for starters?

To wrap things up I’d like to remind you that JoJo – Oulu Dance Centre’s 2015 co-production application deadline is on the 31st of March. It’s just dawned on me that JoJo means Jokaiselle Jotakin – Something for Everyone. I might seem un-hip and behind the times on the contemporary scene by saying this, but I personally have a penchant for the handicraft of the choreographer and the performer. I like dance. I like sweat. I like ideas that have been cultivated through physical exploration. What am I looking for: fusion projects are especially welcome – fusions between different forms of dance and art and that display the art and the craft of the art.  (Apparently there is an art in fitting the word “art” three times in one sentence about the art.) Get your finger out, show me what you’re working with and bring the noise!

Yes. If you feel like you’ve got a great idea coursing through your veins just waiting to be realised you really should click that above sentence and fire in an application. Do it. Doooo it.

About the author

Jarkko Lehmus

Jarkko Lehmus trained at the Finnish National Ballet School and at Millennium Performing Arts in London eventually becoming an award winning soloist at Scottish Ballet. He was also well known for blogging on Balletco.

Now freelance and based in Finland he has worked with Tero Saarinen Company, Susanna Leinonen Company, Finnish National Ballet, David Hughes Dance Company, Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre, Arc Dance Company among others. In his own artistic work Jarkko concentrates on spatial imagination, the physicality of emotions and kinesthetic empathy. He is on Twitter @LehmusWorks and his home on the web is: www.lehmus.works.

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