Dance in Finland
Aino Kukkonen, Theatre Research
My PhD dissertation working title
Postmodern on the Move – Reflections on
Finnish Dance in the 1980s
First a few words about dance research in
Looking at the main features in Finnish
dance history -> viewpoint dance as a
performing art (cf. social dancing)
Finishing by looking at DVD examples on
current Finnish dance
Nature of the research ’object’ in
”One of the problems which has preoccupied
certain dance scholars is the difficulty of
determining or fixing in place the object of the
study. For dance practitioners, dance
completes itself in the moment of its
disappearance, that is, in performance, and
yet it is the nonreproducibility, the
tracelessness, which has been regarded as
the greatest impediment to its acceptance as
a credible object of research.”
(E. Dempster 1994)
Reasons for neglect of dance research
Ephemeral nature of movement
Antique (Platon): division of dances to noble and
accepted and ugly and improper
Negative opinion of the church (debate in Kuopio
Western dualism body/mind. Dance is activity of the
body -> ”dance is not intellectual”
Women’s art, low status, morally dubious...
Question of theory and practise – what is dance
theory, can you study it without dancing yourself?
Lack of substantial and stable canon troughout
history. Modern dance: strive for new, personal
Key source is not traditional written one
General lines in dance research
• In Europe late comer in academic field
• USA: dance within physical education at the
universities, degrees 1920s onwards
• Started as dance history outside academia
1930s-50s (USA and UK)
• Amatory history aspect in Finland: Raoul af
Hällström, dance critic, writer, director, founder
of Dancers Union
• Academic dance research grew and diversified
during 1980s -> From dance history and
anthropology to dance studies
• Theoretical turn - new analytical perspectives to
dance: semiotics, gender, body
• 1990s – some afraid of ”losing” the dance –
need for own theory?
Finnish dance research
Until recently low status of the art form in
Cf. arts based on language -> Finnish national
identity and art created especially trough
literature and theater
Finnish research starting during the 90s. First
PhD in 1994, University of Helsinki
Now about 20 dissertations!
Dissertations have applied frame work from
philosophy, aesthetics, cultural history,
sociology, among others
Dance research itself is not a subject in Finnish
universities and it is done under theatre or music
Features of Finnish research
Artistic research or ”practice-as-research”:
Theatre Academy the focus on the research done by
artists themselves on their own work
Especial emphasis on phenomenological approach (7
Researcher’s own body and participation is present in
many dissertations. (Ostrobothnian minuet, Nicaraguan
dance rituals, old female dancers)
Dance pedagogy an important field (5 dissertations)
Many use open interviews, questionnaires, discussions
as methods to gather information. (subjects: everyday
life in dance institutions, stereotypes and motivation of
amateur dancers, for example)
Finnish dance history is not very hot topic…
Dance events in Finland in the 1800s
• Touring dance companies and visiting teachers
from Sweden, Russia, Germany etc.
• In the 1850s, the Bavaria-born dancer Alina
Frasa settled in Helsinki. Authors A. Kivi and Z.
Topelius her admirers. “First Finnish dancer”.
• Amateurs played in tableau vivants, costume
balls, charity events.
• First local dance instructors.
• 1866 stylised folk dance performed on stage.
• Dance part of the plays, also performed during
the intermissions. Solos, ”exotic” dances,
popular dances, short ballet numbers
Alina Frasa (c.1849) in Polish style dress.
Gentlefolk in Swiss dance (Helsinki 1860s)
Dance as independent art begins
Interesting: ballet & free dance starting out at the
same time. NB! in Finland no court ballet
tradition (Sweden, Russia, Denmark...)
1911 dance pioneers Maggie Gripenberg and
Toivo Niskanen gave their first dance
performances in Helsinki.
Frequent Russian visits from St. Petersburg’s
Mariinsky Theatre in Finland 1906-1917
including stars like Anna Pavlova, Mihail Fokin
Emigrant teachers stayed for a while in Helsinki
during the Russian revolution.
The Finnish National Ballet founded 1921.
Theatre and teaching providing living
• Finnish National Theatre
Gripenberg, Liiman) ->
teaching was a ’proper’
occupation for a woman
• Dancers taught also
Argentinian tango came
through Paris in Finland
• On the right: Hilma
Liiman dancing tango in
a Finnish movie ”Secret
Ballet in a young nation
• Full length Tchaikovsky
ballets (Swan Lake,
performed in 1920s.
• Ballet saving Finnish
• First ballet masters and
Gé and Alexander
Saxelin studied in
Russia -> imperial The Sleeping Beauty (1928)
tradition continued here
Lack of creative and expressive freedom in ballet.
Freeing woman’s body – emancipatory aspect. No
ballet shoes, corsets!
Idea of natural moderate movements of whole body,
Isadora Duncan visited Finland 1908
Often short solo dances on classical music (Chopin,
Bach, Sibelius etc.)
Based on impressions and emotions rather than
First called also plastic or rhythmic dance in Finland.
Baroness Maggie Gripenberg (1881-1976)
• Painting studies in Paris.
• Ideals from Duncan
• Studied dance in
Stockholm and in Dresden
with music pedagogue
• Movement in relation to
music and rhythm.
• Performer in dance,
theatre, opera, also
• Productive choreographer
• Dancers in the first Finnish
opera performances from
Close connections: dance and gymnastics
• Free dance and
gymnastics similarities in
Finland and in Germany:
harmony of mind and
body, movement from
the center, flow
• Several Finnish dancers
studied and worked in
• 1926 Mary Wigman,
leading figures of the
• Right: dance evening in
Swedish Theatre 1924
Active free dance movement in 1920s
Many free dance movement
schools and occasional
No stable groups in
theatres, or official support
like ballet had
Union of Finnish Dance
Artists (1937) included
ballet and free dance
Right: Students of Marta
Bröyer School in 1931
Finnish National Ballet 1950s -
Popularity of ballet,
improvement of skills. Helsinki 1958. Ballet stars from
American Ballet Theatre, Kirov,
Closer relations with Bolshoi with Finnish colleagues.
Soviet ballet: visiting
Opera director Alfons
Ballet tours 50s-
Jazz and modern dance
• Free dance in decline after the WW II: economical
reasons, isolation inside Finnish dance and from
German contacts -> amateurish image.
• New influences from American modern dance: first
courses in the end of 1950s
• Martha Graham's, Merce Cunningham's,
Donald McKayle's and Alvin Ailey's companies
performed in Finland in the 1960s.
• Jazz dance begins – popular hobby.
• Need for musical dancers – communal city
theatres and their new houses, also tv employed
Dancer-choreographer Riitta Vainio
• Dynamic performer and
• Studied in USA
• Systematic training
• School of Modern
Dance and own
• Discussion ballet vs.
modern dance heated
up, like in 1920s
• Left: Kotka (Eagle).
Professionalisation of modern dance field
1970s: Dance became a full-time profession
also other than ballet dancers
The Kuopio Dance Festival (1970), the oldest
and biggest dance festival in the Nordic
countries, arranged for the first time.
Many new professional dance companies:
Raatikko, Rollo, Mobita...
1973 The Helsinki City Theatre Dance
Company (Helsinki Dance Company) hired 6
dancers and a director. Since 1965 work in
musicals, plays, own performances, education
within the theatre.
Dance Theatre Raatikko 1972-
Kuusela and dancer People without power (1974)
Part of the Theatre
Centre: tours in Finland,
dance for children,
dancers should get paid!
Leftist political attitude
Breaking down the elitism
and isolationism in dance.
Realist dance theatre -
Narrative, literal subjects
1980s: legitimization of dance
1980 Finnish Dance
1981 Tanssi magazine
1983 The National Council for
Dance: an official status in
regards to state art policies
1983 Dance Department at
the Theatre Academy
Uotinen (1981-91). symbolic,
abstract, visual modern
dance.(left Ballet Pathetique
’New dance’ movement in 80s
Similar to movements in Central Europe, UK
Soft techniques like contact improvisation. Asian martial arts,
Zodiak Center for New Dance(1986) collective: Kirsi Monni,
Sanna Kekäläinen etc. Questioning ballet and traditional
modern dance. Turning the gaze inwards.
Contemporary dance since 1990s-
1990s: variety of orientation and techniques
Return to the elaborate movement: Kenneth
Kvarnström (no-no 1996, Helsinki City Theatre)
energetic, aggressive, yet sensual.
Cf. 90s ”Euro crash”
Evolving collaboration between choreographers,
lighting designers, scenographers, digital media
Finnish National Ballet: changes in repertory.
French style and contemporary ballet instead of
Russian Vaganova training.
New Opera house 1993, Uotinen as a ballet
• Growth of the independent field. Now about 40
• Interesting names: Tero Saarinen, Susanna
Leinonen, Jyrki Karttunen, Eeva Muilu...
• Recent features: use of speech and text, old people
and disabled as performers
• New festivals: New Moon Dance Festival, URB,
Tampere Flamenco Week, Moving in November etc.
• 2008: in Finland 203 premieres and about 2 400
• 2008: Finnish dance performed abroad in
approximately 28 different countries.
Literature on Finnish dance in English
Laakkonen, Johanna 2009. Canon and Beyond.
Edvard Fazer and the Imperial Russian Ballet 1908-
Scholl, Tim 2009. Guns and Roses, or, Dancing
through the Cold War. Article in Ballettanz Yearbook
Pakkanen & Sarje 2006. Finnish Dance Research at
Kukkonen, Aino 2003. Stretch – Tanssiryhmä
teatterissa. (with English summary and photo texts)
Räsänen & Hakli 1995. Suomen Kansallisbaletti
tänään - Finnish National Ballet Today.
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essay in order receive 5
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On the right Eeva Muilu: