Minna Tervamäki, a former principal dancer from the Finnish National Ballet, is heading to a full-fledged freelance career as a choreographer and producer. This dancer étoile discusses about her current work as a multiple entrepreneur in the field of contemporary ballet. Her new premiere together with Compañía Kaari Martin and Kare Länsivuori opens at the Savoy Theatre in Helsinki on October 17, 2012.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: The idea for interviewing you goes back to 2005, when you were rehearsing for your choreographic premiere “Something Else?”. This work was designed for three women dancers yourself including. You received very positive response when you hosted and produced your own evening presenting different choreographers. Would you describe how that influenced your later decisions to pursue your own productions?
Minna: That was a turning moment. I had been sketching to my desk drawer (metaphorically) for years, but I lacked the courage, which was needed to do it. All of a sudden, I just decided to take a full dance evening into production by myself, literally producing it too. Now, after I have more experience I’m only wondering how could I do it then, where did I get the courage after all to take care of the big production without previous experience. Then again, that is what usually happens, we grow together with our task, with the projects. And I had an amazing group of people to work with me who were so helpful. I had also decided that I wanted to express my artistic view to include the lobby of the Opera House. The Alminsali stage cafe and lobby were designed with certain colors and with candles. During intermission there was a saxophone player tuning, and on the walls we had an exhibition of the photography that displayed the performance works. The entire evening was carefully thought through. What I had in mind was to include women dancers and artists, who were strong and charismatic.
I feel that everything I have done; doing choreography, directing and so forth, has so greatly influenced my own dancing, it has been a positive experience. It has helped me to get oriented to other kinds of processes in my life. Right now, I look at the new productions as a whole, not just from my own perspective. Every work has given me ingredients for my own choreography and direction.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: At the moment you are preparing for a new premiere, which opens in Helsinki on October 17. What are you staging for the evening?
Minna: This evening will be my second collaboration with the Finnish flamenco company Compañía Kaari Martin. It is an evening by Tervamäki-Martin. Kaari will be dancing her amazing contemporary flamenco solo “Korppi ja kello” (“The Raven”). I will include first, my solo “SE2”, which is based on the idea that was born in 2005. “SE2” means “Something Else 2”, so the idea has developed further from the piece that I originally created. What remains the same each time as a main theme of my solo, is that I use my huge and massive skirt structure as part of the dance. The skirt is a design made of an iron and crinoline, and it influences the movement, and how my body appears on the stage.
The main program of our evening is my new duet that I composed for myself and ballet dancer Kare Länsivuori. The duet is called “Koti/Home”. Our three works will premiere together at the Savoy theatre in Helsinki on October 17, 2012. In March 2013, I will premiere a new work called “Yksiö/Studio”, which is a continuation of the theme introduced in “Koti/Home”. It will be performed at the Aleksander Theatre in Helsinki.
The themes in my current projects Koti/Home and Yksiö/Studio are about building structures of our lives. The works question how can we do this together and alone? How do we define ourselves in our relationships, and are we alone? What is the role of the community in all of this? The everyday life skips over the sometimes rough and edgy parts. These issues are also hidden behind the facades. In my mind, our society is too individualistic, and it leaves us alone too often with our struggles and questions.
My colleague Kare Länsivuori and I both want to create works that are touching the lives of our own generation and our age groups. We want to invite new, younger adult audiences to view the contemporary ballet, which has timely and challenging topics, and great storytelling. Then we use diverse venues for these performances.
Koti/Home is investigating an important topic of what it means to be in a relationship, and what constructs the every-day life in it. The duet between Minna Tervamäki and Kare Länsivuori builds up characters, who are mimicking the contemporary life. It also questions how to keep up the facade that we have to built to protect our private lives. Like each of us today, professionals that have high public pressure lives need to built facades to protect their private life. When changes happen, what is evident is that one survives when life is not structured around the success only.
“Yksiö/Studio” will handle a theme of modern loneliness, and the division between the private and the public. The work investigates the life in the city, where the neighbors are physically near each other, and yet people are often total strangers to each other. There is an unwritten law that people do not interfere in each others’ lives, and will stay more or less distant. The set-design in the choreography will include two apartments, and the stage will be divided into two spatial areas. There will be a wall between these areas: audience sees this contrast between the two dwellers, two dancers, each in their own apartment. However, the dancers don’t see each other. Also the dancers will be improvising some of the material, which is adding an comical element for the work.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: I am so thrilled by your collaboration with the Compañía Kaari Martin. Tell me about this collaboration, how do ballet and your dancing meet flamenco and its movements? It sounds truly innovative, and I believe it is not really performed much in the world?
Minna: Yes, Kaari is a representative of a contemporary flamenco. And I am thinking about the contemporary ballet from the similar point of view. I think that our techniques are based on our traditions very strongly, and we have found our own styles and interpretations inside of these traditions. Personally, I have worked with so many choreographers that their methods have obviously influenced my own movement interpretation. When I started to collaborate with Kaari Martin, I immediately noticed her amazing movement vocabulary that she created with her hands, how she was expressing with her hands. At times, it looked as if she was having the ‘swan hands’; she has a ballet training background, and she is using it. In Spain, for instance, the most well-known flamenco-dancers have a strong ballet training. When I work together with Kaari, I am probably most impressed by her musicality, the exactness that comes with the musical rhythm, and how she lives in the musical moment. She is definitely as much a musician as she is a dancer. I wanted to bring this same concept to the ballet world, because we too often focus on the technicality of the dancing. In the end, I believe, that all the dance genres are intermingling and creating fusions in the course of the time, as dancers deploy similar methods and the ways to move.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Since you come from being a well-known principal dancer in a major opera house, the Finnish National Ballet Company, you have a prominent career behind you. Yet, you are facing changes right now, as you are pursuing a free lancer career. I am convinced that the changes you are going through have been coming to you gradually. Where do you see yourself today, and what are the current questions that you have today in your career?
Minna: IT IS EXACTLY HOW YOU SAY IT, THE CHANGE HAS BEEN GRADUAL. IN FACT I AM PROUD OF IT, AS I FEEL I HAVE MYSELF CHOREOGRAPHED THE CHANGE. I STARTED TO CREATE DIFFERENT PRODUCTIONS QUITE EARLY, OR JUST IN TIME. THE EXPERIENCES WITH THE PROJECTS OUTSIDE THE OPERA HOUSE HAVE BEEN SO VALUABLE AND IMPORTANT. ALSO I HAVE COLLABORATED CLOSELY WITH OTHER CHOREOGRAPHERS WITH DIVERSE BACKGROUNDS, WHICH IMMENSELY HELPED ME TO GAIN COURAGE TO WORK WITH MY OWN PROJECTS.
In addition, I started my own firm in 2005, which includes creating dance productions, and lecturing for the business venues, companies and non-profit organizations. I tailor dance performances to these as well, and of course, teach dance courses and workshops. I decided to get training in some relaxation techniques, because I believe that the techniques that work with images and mind are a comprehensive way to take our inner and mental resources into full utilization. Almost by accident, there was suddenly a class called “Minna Tervamäki methods”, which gradually works with our body-placement, making our bodies stronger and more sustainable.
I have tried to be so open as a person that I have basically mixed everything that I have learned during my career. This includes Pilates, ingredients from different yoga traditions, from diverse dance styles, gyrokinesis and Susan Klein technique. I have learned methods from many physiotherapists, since I have had injuries during my long career. My knowledge includes how to recover from those. I gained a lot from my training in New York in the past years.
As we all know, the biggest question in our freelancer field is the money. I have so many ideas and creativity, but as everybody in the industry knows, nothing can really happen without thinking seriously how to fund the project. I think that it is more and more the challenge of today; when there are more freelancers and enterpreneurs out there, the money gets tighter too. What I also reflect sometimes in my mind, is the audience: where does the audience come from? Even when there are so many amazing projects out there, the local audiences here in the greater Helsinki area are still quite limited. We are not a world metropolis like New York.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What are your plans and dreams for the future?
Minna: I feel that I am living a wonderful time in my life. My body is still in top condition, and I can enjoy dancing. At the same time, I am finally in the phase of my life, when I have a freedom to choose my own working rhythm, meaning when to work, and who should I collaborate with. I can basically structure my own calendar, after 28 years in a big ballet institution, this is absolutely a welcomed change. At this moment, I am exited to have my first speaking role as well, I will be the narrator in Kenneth Greve’s new ballet “The Snow Queen”.
Minna Tervamäki: (www.minnatervamaki.com/)
Compañía Kaari Martin: (www.companiakaarimartin.fi)