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K&C Kekäläinen & Company - The Harmony of Chaos

This article was originally published in Finnish Dance in Focus 2001 -magazine

The choreographer and dancer Sanna Kekäläinen is a central figure at the forefront of Finnish contemporary dance. In spring 2001, the group she directs changed its name from the Physical Art Theatre to K&C Kekäläinen & Company. For Sanna Kekäläinen, making a choreography is a research process, an attempt to find a bodily form for her conceptual thinking. In addition to Kekäläinen's works Faun and Uhri - Sacre , the company's programme for the season 2001 also includes visiting performances.

Changing the company's name and the way in which it operates is clearly connected to the changes that are taking place in the choreographer's own methods of working.

-In the Physical Art Theatre, we studied the combining of expressions of movement and speech. Now I want to concentrate primarily on getting more deeply into movement as the means of expression; I want to bring to movement all the different aspects of the text, states Kekäläinen.

Even though movement and its study as a medium of expression are currently uppermost in the choreographer's thoughts, she does not rule out the possibility of returning to the world of words.

-Movement is my passion right now; there is no time for anything else, although at some point I could perhaps try directing for the theatre. I would like to examine how I could adapt my own methods and style of creating rhythms and situations for the stage, using speech as the starting point.

Part of the reason for adopting the new operations model has been financial. Kekäläinen & Company is one of two companies that receive ensemble-based support from the National Council for Dance (2001 - 2002). In practice, however, that money is spent on the running of the infrastructure, and the money for the dancers' salaries has to be found separately for each production. The financial resources simply did not stretch to the running of a compact ensemble such as the Physical Art Theatre.

Sanna Kekäläinen's work is presently secured by a five-year state grant for artists, which she started receiving in 1999. She has earlier received e.g. the Young Art Finland Prize (1994) and the State Prize for Merits in Dance (1990), as a member of the Zodiak Presents team.

Skinless

In her solo Skinless, which had its first premiere in March 2001, Kekäläinen returns to the use of movement as the medium for a subjective expression that has its origin in her own personality. Skinless is an expedition into states of mind and mental landscapes in which the choreographer examines the relationship between humans and animals - their differences and the ways in which humans identify with animals. At the beginning of the work, Kekäläinen spreads herself on the back wall of the stage, like an insect using its limbs to explore an open space. The animalesque figure moving on the stage sometimes resembles a bird, while at other times it is reminiscent of some kind of quadruped that defies a more detailed classification.

Characteristically, however, Kekäläinen does not allow the spectator to be lulled into in the emotional atmosphere created by the animal-character's harmonious movements. The choreographer breaks up the mood by introducing a female character to the stage and forcing the spectator to enter her conflicting mental landscape. With this metamorphosis, Kekäläinen challenges the viewer to think about human egocentrism, indifference and complexity, all of which are woven into the work's language of movement.

One of the threads that run through Sanna Kekäläinen's whole body of work to date is the study of being human. She characterises herself as somebody who questions things and says that she does not feel comfortable with harmony being defined as an unproblematic state.

-For me, harmony means a certain chaos that I try to deal with. A human being needs stimulation and challenges to make thinking possible in the first place. I get bored looking at expression that is unproblematic in character - the prismatic range of possibilities is missing.

In Skinless, Kekäläinen returns to the themes she worked with in the late 80s and early 90s. In her deconstructive works of the early 90s, she studied the limits of non-verbal languages of expression and form, aiming for the primary movement that manifests itself during a child's pre-linguistic phase. After those years, working with movement and speech has left its mark on the choreographer, and the form of a dance work has now become more important to her. The birth-process of Kekäläinen's works could be described as a kind of synthesis of movement that is born of the choreographer's subconscious, subjective bodily history and movement memory. Finding a bodily form for her conceptual thinking has always been central to her work.

The movement material of Kekäläinen's works is largely created through improvisation, as the result of which thought finds its form as movement.

-I improvise endlessly, I move. I often videotape what I do. I take the material produced through improvisation and start finding a shape for the work, says Kekäläinen, explaining the way her works come into being.

Uhri - Sacre - a comment on Nijinsky

In her new work, Uhri - Sacre , Sanna Kekäläinen continues working on the same aesthetics of movement that she started in Skinless. The work is partly choreographed to Stravinsky's music and will have its first premiere in Helsinki in October 2001. Uhri - Sacre , a piece for four dancers, studies the concept of sacrifice. The work is also a comment on Nijinsky's choreography Le Sacre du Printemps. It is not the first time that the choreographer has got to grips with Nijinsky's work, the Kuopio Dance Festival having commissioned Faun from her in 1996. This was originally made for the dancer Mika Backlund, and the solo has since been performed several times in France, Austria, Portugal and South Korea.

-I would never have started working on Faun had Jukka O. Miettinen, who directed the festival at the time, not suggested it. Through Faun, I started, albeit slowly, to become interested in Nijinsky. My Uhri - Sacre is a comment on the history of dance. It is interesting when a piece already has a history, says the choreographer.

Her interest in historically central works of art comes from her need to relate her own artistic work to the history of art, which has had an unavoidable influence on the artist's personal history and her dialogical method of working.

Kekäläinen is one of only a few Finnish choreographers of contemporary dance who have aspired to reproduce their older works. In autumn 2000, she repetitioned her work Moondrunks for the Turku-based Sun Ballet Co. This piece was originally choreographed in 1994 to Arnold Schönberg's vocal work Pierrot Lunaire. The soundscape was composed by Shoin Kanki.

In Moondrunks, six dancers move through an imaginary night and dive into the labyrinths, passions and obsessions of the mind. The expression of Moondrunks aspires to portray the extreme states of the psyche, and is a prime example of the way that Kekäläinen's art realises a synthesis of subconscious and physical expression.

Sanna Kekäläinen reproduced her pieces Der Raum (1987), Studien über Hysterie (1991) and the solos Santa Maria della Gracia (1989) and Miekka (1992) when, in 1998, the Kiasma theatre in Helsinki produced a series of reconstructions of these earlier works.

Dance Out of the Foyer

In addition to the landmarks of modern dance created by Nijinsky, Kekäläinen has often dealt with well-known names and literal themes e.g. in her works Spartacus (1998), Querelle - Variations (1997) and Death in Venice (1999). Her aim in working with well-known topics and works of art has been to communicate with the audience.

-A familiar theme helps one to reach people. I want to bring dance out of the foyer, says Kekäläinen, who goes on to talk at length about the small and uncommunicative character of the Finnish dance scene. In her view, Finnish contemporary dance does not communicate enough with other art forms or society in general.

Well-known topics brought the Physical Art Theatre a new audience and, in that respect, Kekäläinen thinks that she made the right decisions. She emphasises, however, that the other aspect of working with the classics, indeed the inspiration for it, is that it effects the art field's internal re-evaluation of those works.

Even though the themes Kekäläinen deals with are often familiar, their realisation challenges the spectator to look at things from new perspectives.

-It is also a matter of challenging the audience. I believe that there are always those amongst the audience who are willing to use their heads and think why a certain topic is being dealt with in a particular way. I try to widen the possibilities. It is important that things are looked at from various perspectives. As an attitude, however, multiplicity is not very popular; people like to be given clear and familiar interpretations. It can also be difficult for spectators to let go of their previous understanding of a work.

Finland - Europe?

Kekäläinen studied dance at the London School of Contemporary Dance between 1980 and 1983, in addition to which she has studied at the Theatre School of Amsterdam. As a young dance artist, therefore, her identity and ideas of dance art were formed in central Europe.

Kekäläinen, however, decided to return to Finland, and she was one of those who influenced the transition that occurred in Finnish dance in the 80s and early 90s. It was as a consequence of this transition that contemporary dance in Finland gained its identity as an independent art form.

In Kekäläinen's estimate, contemporary dance in Finland is not yet a natural part of the field of contemporary arts, as it is in other European countries, and she is enthusiastic about the idea of linking contemporary dance to Finnish everyday life on the one hand, and to the cultural debate on the other. In the choreographer's view, it should be as natural for the average Finn to attend a dance performance as it is for them to visit Kiasma, Helsinki's museum of contemporary art, which received one million visitors during its first three years in operation. Such a figure is remarkable in a country of only five million inhabitants.

Despite scarce resources, Kekäläinen & Company has started to organise visiting performances on a small scale. These occur at the Cable Factory and, in spring 2001, the Turbine Hall was the venue not only for Skinless, but also for Poland's Hanna Strzemiecka's Dance Company's works DC 568 1494, Hours, years and Voices. The company can host a couple of visiting productions in a year.

Presently, Helsinki offers a relatively small amount of foreign dance productions, and Kekäläinen is interested in importing new choreographers into the country.

In Kekäläinen's view, Finland's role in the European dance context is very peripheral. She does not hesitate to say that even though Finland has a "sound dance culture", it is somewhat unknown to the rest of Europe, apart from, perhaps, the Nordic countries.

-When I perform abroad, the first thing I have to do is break down the prejudices that people have about Finnish contemporary dance, and in addition to that I have to make my own artistic work known. Kekäläinen refuses, however, to remain in the northern margins. In 2000, her works were seen in Russia, Poland, France and Portugal. In autumn 2001, Skinless will be performed in Paris and Lublin, Poland.

Author Johanna Laakkonen
Artist Kekäläinen, Sanna