Jarkko Lehmus Blog: Sweet loving and banjo music… Don’t do it.

Jarkko Lehmus.<br />© Jukka Nuutinen. (Click image for larger version)
Jarkko Lehmus.
© Jukka Nuutinen. (Click image for larger version)


Jarkko is Artistic Director of the JoJo – Oulu Dance Centre based in Northern Finland (map). This month he blogs candid views on ballet and contemporary dance plus talks about all the projects he has coming up, not least the next OuDance Festival…

Sweet loving and banjo music… Don’t do it.

Steamy Wonder wondering about the world.<br />© Johanna Nuutinen. (Click image for larger version)
Steamy Wonder wondering about the world.
© Johanna Nuutinen. (Click image for larger version)
It has been a while. Again. Let’s just say that the first few months of this year have been fairly busy to say the least. There have been, and still are, plenty of projects going on. By far the biggest undertaking was Tero Saarinen’s take on Kullervo to commemorate Sibelius’s 150th anniversary. In a way it was pretty easy on me, since I was only there as one of the six guest dancers in the middle of the National Ballet and Opera folk. In reality the process took a lot of energy and time even from me, so I can only imagine what was going on in the minds of the people riding the big beast towards the premiere. It was a pretty extraordinary production after all: the first time Kullervo has ever been staged as a theatrical dance performance; almost a hundred people on stage and about as many again in the pit; the first real co-production between Finnish National Opera and Ballet during their 90-year-long history together. Throw in the mix us aliens from Tero Saarinen Company and you’ve got a pretty good recipe for all manner of high drama.

It’s always interesting to revisit Planet Ballet. It’s such a closed environment and due to its insular nature there are plenty of people within and without carrying all manner of preconceptions and stacks upon stacks of emotional baggage. Within there are plenty of people whose world is only as big as the walls of the opera house and the nearest bar. This is hardly surprising considering the single-minded, and due to that quite often mind-numbing, nature of classical dance training and the fact that any decent size dance company brings together people from so many different nationalities in a country and city more or less alien to them. In Finland this is probably even more pronounced due to the messed up language, harsh weather and the axe-hewn sensibilities of the Finnish people. Put a bunch of young foreigners together and more often than not they choose to stick with what they know and spend the little free time they have hanging around (and humping) with people that have similar life experience to themselves. Better the devil you know. Unfortunately that sort of behaviour does nothing to give those pointy-footed fabulous beasts of that far away planet any new experiences nor does it do anything to dispel the elitist image of ballet. And that, my friend, keeps Planet Ballet alive/slowly dying. Meanwhile at the other end of the scale… A lot of these arguments could also be levelled at the intellectually snobbish woolly sock wearing contemporary dance (or should I just call a spade a spade and say: conceptual performance art) field. Same, same. Different. What would that be called? The Asteroid of Arty Shite? Anyhow. Inbreeding is never the way forward regardless of your choice of footwear. So looking at the Kullervo process from that point of view it was extremely important that it was done. Mixing up different cultures of work, movement and thought is very seldom painless, but always interesting. There was and is plenty to be learned, but in the end all involved survived and most of the drama was kept on the stage. In the end the most important thing is the art work that was created and the experiences the audience and the performers had while creating, performing and experiencing the performances. That is what we are here for. New experiences. New viewpoints to life. Little evening trips to other worlds.

While performing Kullervo we also warmed up Morphed again for a few performances in Germany, Austria, France, Finland and, finally, in Japan. It’s always great to get revisit a piece. I’ve talked about this in length in the past, but I believe it’s an important topic in this disposable age of ours, so here goes again. I believe that the premiere of a piece is only the start of the second creative period. Repetition in a studio is one thing, but audiences and new theatre spaces add a whole new twist into the mix. Repetition in the performance context is the most fascinatingly fabulous of all the fabulous beasts. An ever changing, ever morphing, bucking and snorting, bobbing and weaving, purring and hissing, crying, laughing, shitting and pissing beast of heaven and hell. Every single performance calls for a fresh heart to be torn out of the chest for the first time ever. For the hundredth time always the first time. Dance, theatre, is a successions of failures. In every performance you dig a little deeper because the deeper you dig the further you realise you could go. Every step towards the horizon opens the world two steps more in every direction. Yet you can only take a step in a single direction at a time. Agoraphobia of choices in the claustrophobic single-mindedness of the repetition. The only thing you have left is the task at hand. What is right here right now. Doing what you do a little better every time. Whatever better might be. I am here. I do what I do. And then I do it again. And again. And again. Repetitive performances are never the same. They are always a journey of exploration of self, the relationships inside the group and the interaction with the space and the audience within it. Fascinating. So many of the contemporary dance pieces never reach maturity. What do the short performance lives of dance pieces do to the maturation process of the performers and choreographers? Spending months on end to create something that you know won’t live for more than a few days is disheartening. Maddening even. Imagine Dr Frankenstein toiling away with Igor years on end, but never getting to shout: “It lives!” Err… You plant and harvest the same plot over and over again and see how fertile that land is after a couple of decades. Not every piece has enough juice for a long life, but it would be nice to live in a world where the pieces that have a strong heart could live long and colourful lives. I would rather see new productions getting thirty performances rather than three. At least the performers and choreographers would have enough time to develop the work further and the audiences would have enough time love or hate them for it. At the moment there is no national touring network in Finland, but where there is a will there is a way.

Wise words. Plenty to explore.© Jarkko Lehmus. (Click image for larger version)
Wise words. Plenty to explore.
© Jarkko Lehmus. (Click image for larger version)
It’s nice to occasionally be able to step away from all these mega-productions and just sit on a couch and recite a few lines. Astu Sinä Virtaani – You Step into My Stream (Yes. That’s me sniffing a slightly older lady.) is based on Eeva Kilpi’s latest book of poetry and aphorisms: Kuolinsiivous (WSOY, 2013). On the surface life as an actor in a small scale lyrical production might appear very different to dancing in a contemporary dance mega-spectacle, but in the end it’s all the same. One theatre. One body. Reciting poetry in a theatrical context is still refreshing though. I like the way the voice resonates in my body. I like the subtlety of intimate feelings in an intimate space. I like to imagine new ways to make the imagination flesh. I like the fact that because this particular piece deals with ageing and the dynamics of age differences we can keep performing and exploring it for the next twenty years. The leading lady will always be twenty years older than I am. Thank you for the words, Auntie Eeva.

What else has been going on on the artistic front? There’s the small matter of the Social eMotions project that we are slowly shaping. It’s a two-year artistic/scientific project about social emotions and emotions in a social context that I’m doing in collaboration with Aalto University brain laboratory. I’ll write a bit more about that in June once we have a bit more to show for our efforts.

Ready. Set. Emote!© Jarkko Lehmus. (Click image for larger version)
Ready. Set. Emote!
© Jarkko Lehmus. (Click image for larger version)

There is also a little installation project by Hans Rosenström shown simultaneously in art galleries in Helsinki and in Tammisaari coming up in mid-May. The choreography is pretty well sorted already and now we just need to shoot the video material. Then there’s the Getting There and Falling Short symposium about communicating complex content, organised by Helsinki University’s math and languages boffins. And what am I doing there in the middle of all those world class scientists? Well… Abstract dance is a fairly complex concept and the written notation of dance is even more so. I’m by no means a dance notator, but I am somewhat familiar with the challenges of dance notation and have some experience of dance as an art form. Some. To make that experience useful I managed to find a bit of time to mentor a young lady studying in the department of dance pedagogy of the Theatre University in Helsinki. She has taken it upon herself to start spreading the gospel of Graham technique in Finland. Important work in my opinion, since we in Finland are missing the modern physical and mental bridge between classical and contemporary. At this point I would like to take a moment to thank Linda Gibbs, Anne Went, Darshan Singh Bhuller and Kenneth Tharp OBE for passing on the good stuff. The stretching and contracting pull between heaven and hell and past, present and future.

It’s funny what people ask me to do and it’s equally funny what I accept to do. Interesting challenges.

There have been times in my life when I’ve just waited for things to happen. All manner of things happen all the time, but the person waiting for them to happen is very seldom part of them. Doing things makes more things happen. It may be a bit counterintuitive, but expending energy gives more energy. Momentum and longevity are the key elements. That brings us to the little Instagram project I’ve been doing since 20th of September 2014. It’s simple really: I post a 15-second dance clip every single day. It started out as a challenge from the Finnish Dance House organisation. The idea was that if we artists show all the places we dance in it would help the organisation to lobby for a bricks-and-mortar home for dance. I liked the challenge and the cause, so I decided to post a video per day for a month and challenge other another person each day. After the moth was up I saw no reason to stop posting the videos. It keeps me aware of my surroundings, since I never know when the right time or place for dance presents itself. I’m having fun dancing. People are having fun watching the clips and the making of them. Some even want to participate in the clips. The clips have even landed me a solid offer to shoot more clips for money. Ultimately money is not the point. Dance is the point. @amokballet is the man and #RightHereRightNow is the tag.

That’s the artistic work dealt with. Then there’s the planning work at JoJo. 2015 OuDance festival will take place on 9.-13.9. in and around Oulu. The programme will be published just about now. I’ll send you guys a link once it’s out. This year’s programme ended up having only Finnish choreographers in it, although not all of them live in Finland. The mixture should be pretty good with more works presented outside of theatre spaces as well. Small but significant steps forward from last year’s festival. JoJo’s 2016 core programme is also pretty well set. There might be a few changes here and there, but the big picture is pretty solid. The numbers are being crunched by our managing director as we speak. Once she’s done we can present the programme to the board. Hopefully we’ll get to publicise the programme during May already. That would be some three months earlier than last year. Crack on some vintage Salt ’n Pepa and pu-pu-push it!

The reason to push the decisions earlier is simple: If the artistic decisions are made so late that the artistic teams have no time to find more funding for their projects, I am forced to choose projects and teams that already have money. So in essence the artistic decisions have already been made by the funding bodies. Establishing JoJo’s decision-making schedule earlier gives us as a production house the artistic initiative. As it should be, in my opinion.

A business trip to Barcelona: 23 performances in three days. The Aerowaves folk asked for everyone to bring some local wine to soothe the frazzled programmers. The Finns were happy to oblige.© Jarkko Lehmus. (Click image for larger version)
A business trip to Barcelona: 23 performances in three days. The Aerowaves folk asked for everyone to bring some local wine to soothe the frazzled programmers. The Finns were happy to oblige.
© Jarkko Lehmus. (Click image for larger version)

Now back to the matters at hand for a bit. This year’s festival programme is certainly more complete compared to the previous year and 2016 core programming is not looking too shabby either. Let’s see how well the artistic babies will fly once we fling them out of the window into the wide world. There is still a lot of work to be done to develop the festival and JoJo into a major artistic force to be reckoned with. Baby steps… I think the festival and the 2016 programme will warrant a whole blog entry by themselves, so I’ll leave deeper musings about the planning work to simmer for a little while longer.

Phew… I can say that the long days of office work do their best to kill the groove monster. The monster needs to be fed!!!! Over the next couple of days I’ll be feeding it some fat beats, quiet French alleys, Esa-Pekka Salonen’s tunes and big theatre stages. Saint-Étienne, prepare to have your derriere morphed!!!!

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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