Categories
artistic process interviews performance&dance

Anna Nykyri and the transient bodies

Pandemic has left many cities different, as if touched by invisible forces that folded a new narrative in front of us, for what is here now, and what might be more common in the future. At least, it is true to New York City. Finnish film director, visual artist and choreographer, Anna Nykyri created a short film “In-Between”, 2020 (2’51), to capture cityscapes during the pandemic. The artist collaborated with the photographers Aukusti Heinonen, Juan Pablo de la Vega and Griselda San Martin in Helsinki, Mexico City, and New York, respectively, to show relationships of the transient bodies that avoid contact with each other in these cities.

From short film, In-Between (2020). Image: Juan Pablo de la Vega

The documentary film curated by Andrea Valencia, is conceived as a montage that compiles photography and moving image to grasp the results of social distancing in the three cities, which are connected by the shared experience of the pandemic. By capturing details and fragments of the spaces and the moving bodies, “In-Between” suggests that, while movement and touch are being restricted, we are living an emotional collective experience.*

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: As an artist, your practice is quite multidisciplinary. What is interesting is the way your dance and choreography, and film-making, communicate fresh angles to these fields. Maybe there is a level of interconnectivity between these artistic disciplines. Can you tell, how did you eventually pick your artistic practices?

Anna Nykyri: My intention as an artist has always been trying to create an artform, that would bring together my artistic interests at the time. So, I never tried to be a director, screenwriter, visual artist or choreographer. The current piece that I’m creating matters the most. My definition as an artist can be defined through the piece.  

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where we come from, to some extend defines what becomes of us, or let me put it this way. I think that sometimes we dream very early on, what we want to be doing when we grow up. Where did you grow up and go to school?

AN: As a 4-year-old, I told my parents I wanted to be a dancer. We lived in the rural countryside and the ballet classes were too far away to attend multiple times a week. Kaustinen, where we lived in, is famous for it’s folk music tradition. So, music it was. During the ten years I played violin, I almost never practiced, was really bad at it but somehow managed to get along with the others to an American tour (twice) and understood what it meant and took to be an artist.

Later on I started singing and playing piano. After a college of music I went to Kemi-Tornio University of Applied Sciences to study my BA in media, started ballet classes and continued to MA-studies in Finnish Academy of Fine Arts specializing in moving image (MFA). I was lucky to have Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Veli Granö, Salla Tykkä and Liisa Roberts as my professors. They were great teachers and certainly had a great impact on my working processes. During the Academy of Fine Arts I also studied pedagogical dance studies in Jyväskylä University & later MA Choreography studies in Trinity Laban College of Music and Dance in London. I guess I have just always really loved learning new things.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Trinity Laban is a dear place in my own artistic history. When I was a student there, it was a place to find interdisciplinary approaches. You are a recent graduate. Did you find that the choreographer training supported multiple directions and platforms?

AN: Yes, I absolutely think it did. Still, after attending the MFA studies in Finnish Academy of Fine Arts with an unlimited number of courses to attend with a huge number of supportive one-to-one meetings with teachers & curators, studying in MA Choreography studies in Trinity Laban was much more self-lead. Also, the system of art grading is a different kind of process there, and I feel that being judged by juries was certainly the opposite of the pedagogical angle I had been used to. Of course the school had great teachers, and they are known for having creative professionals doing and implementing the curriculum. But, I personally felt that the system was partly old-fashioned. So, I struggled with disagreeing with some of the principles the system is built on, but fought my way through it, eventually. And learned a lot for sure.

Sonic Presence of an Absent Choreography

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Sound is an important part of your choreographic and creative work as well. In choreography, sound often comes together with the moving bodies. But, how do you compose a dance piece without choreography being visually present on stage, relying solely on sound? 

AN: I have had the joy to work in artistic collaboration with many great sound designers, sound artists and composers, to mention a few: Petri Kuljuntausta, Olli Huhtanen, Mikko Joensuu, Antti Nykyri and Félix Blume.

Immersive sound installation and choreographic environment “Sonic Presence of an Absent Choreography” is an artistic collaboration between curator Andrea Valencia (MEX/US), sound artist Félix Blume, choreographer, dancer Veli Lehtovaara and me. The installation was made for Prague Quadrenniale 2019, Finnish ECR Exhibition Fluid Stages and was curated by KOKIMO. The piece consists entirely of recorded sounds of a dance. Through the installation, we aimed to reveal the ephemerality of the body on the stage through the immaterial media of sound.

In this particular artistic collaboration, the choreography was based on a visual score, an image I brought to the rehearsals. The image is a picture of an empty advertisement board, filled with strands of old, ripped posters. I took the picture during a nighttime in Tampere, while passing by. For some reason I just felt like the empty advertisement board in the silent city environment had all the sound and choreographic elements in it. Choreographer, dancer Veli Lehtovaara looked at the image for a while and then started dancing. Sound artist Félix Blume recorded Veli´s dance and did a great job by creating a sound score for the piece and further mixing the sounds for the installation in artistic collaboration with me and Veli.

Video documentation from the recordings of the piece, by Félix Blume (6min 41sec):
https://vimeo.com/289907108

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: The all encompassing subject at the moment is of course the Covid pandemic. You created a film that was based on the pandemic in different locations of the world. Can you shed some more light on the process of making this short film?

AN: The short film “In-Between” (2020, https://vimeo.com/432870117 ) is a second work, which I had the chance to work with the great New York/Mexico City based curator Andrea Valencia. I met Andrea whilst working in ISCP residency, New York in 2017 and we instantly bonded, sharing the interest for empty spaces in the cityscape, for instance. Aukusti, who is specialized in photographing architecture, I knew from beforehand and had wanted to work with for a while already, but Juan Pablo, who especially blew my mind with his photos on the cityscapes and Griselda, who is and amazing portrait photographer (for example for New York Times magazine) were introduced to me through our curator Andrea Valencia.

The documentary film is conceived as a montage that compiles photography and moving images to grasp the results of social distancing in the three cities, which are connected by the shared experience of the pandemic. By capturing details and fragments of the spaces and the moving bodies, In-Between suggests that, while movement and touch are being restricted, we are living an emotional collective experience. -Andrea Valencia

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How do you think the collaboration taking place between multiple countries came together from the point of view of editing and bringing the entire visual material together?

AN: The working process, first of all, included people from various time zones during the pandemic, which created certain restrictions for timing our online meetings. Also, in Helsinki, the Covid situation during the late springtime 2020 was comparably easy, but in New York City and Mexico City, I guess no one really knew the magnitude of things at that point. So, we had to be really strict about the safety of the photographers participating, some of them having small children etc.

I felt that my main task as director in this particular project was to suggest ideas of the angles from which to shoot the world during pandemic. So, we had long talks with the photographers on the themes of the film, but still wanted to give them a lot of freedom and it was a surprise for me, how they would approach the subject. Editing the photos and videos together was an important part of the process, and reminded of editing an archival montage. During the summer 2020, we edited the film in Helsinki with Jaakko Peltokangas. Sound design of the film was made by Olli Huhtanen, whose work I deeply admire. We wanted to publish the film online so that it would be possible for everyone to access. At the same time, the film was made really fast, the clock was ticking and we knew it would stay online however it would turn out to be, there would be no going back.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: It is very inspiring that you are an artist between two or many artistic endeavors. It could also be challenging, but at the same time it seems to be rewarding. What obstacles can you recall having while finding parameters in your career?

AN: Working as a multidisciplinary artist within film, fine arts, contemporary choreography and sometimes also television, for me the most challenging part has been accepting the fact that it’s OK not to be good at everything, learning as you go. For example, in Trinity Laban, I was surrounded by amazing dancers. Dance has been a part of my life as a hobby and part of my practice for a while already. Still, there were MA Choreography students with amazing talents in that section, while my background was mostly in film and visual arts.

Visual Score by Anna Nykyri

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Can you say that you are more of a choreographer than filmmaker, or is it a completely irrelevant question? 

AN: I define myself as a visual artist, working with moving image, film, cinematic installations and choreographic environments.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did your everyday life and work life balance shift, and change during the pandemic so far?

AN: It certainly changed a lot. Basically, all my artistic collaborations turned into remote work – into zoom meetings etc. During the late fall, I was screenwriting and directing a pilot episode for a documentary television series for YLE. Shooting documentary footage during the pandemic was hard work for all of us – mostly with the extremely tight safety restrictions to keep everyone safe. For the past 1,5 months I’ve been lucky enough to work remotely from a cabin at Iso-Syöte, which is the southernmost fall of Finland.

My weekly dance classes shifted into online classes (mostly Gaga movement language, developed by choreographer Ohad Naharin, which I can warmly recommend to everyone: https://www.gagapeople.com/en/) and gym training into home workouts. I really am grateful for all the dance & sports practitioners, who have continued teaching online! The online classes and workshops have saved me during these unexpected times.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: This year, you are going to be participating in WRO Media Art Biennale in Poland. It is so interesting, as it also consists of a collaboration that you started at the new award-winning Oodi library in central Helsinki?    

AN: I’m super excited about the WRO Media Art Biennale opening in Wroclaw, Poland, May 12-15, 2021! I’m currently developing a new piece consisting of moving images in collaboration with visual artist Kaisu Koivisto, Helsinki Artist’s Association (project coordinator Anna Puhakka) and curator Agnieszka Kubicka-Dzieduszycka from the WRO Art Center.  The collaboration project, called “Synthesis”, began in Autumn 2020 with a shared exhibition in Central Library Oodi and includes, on top of the WRO Biennale, a following exhibition at Oodi in November 2021. Our interactive video installation will be presented in Wrocklaw in late autumn 2021 as well as in Helsinki, but we will already have an open talk during the opening week of the biennale: https://wro2021.wrocenter.pl/en/works/synthesis/. In the talk we will be reflecting the starting point for our work, Polish artist Pawel Janicki’s algorithmic structure “Synthesis”, and where has it led us.

The theme of the biennale is “reverso”. Me and Kaisu are at the moment gathering footage from our personal archives and filming some new footage. With this kind of theme, I think it has been a lot of fun to think of, what actually matters to us as artists, going back to the “roots”. Currently we are digging into the possibilities of MaxMSP program, testing the possible outcomes of an interactive installation, a choreographic environment.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: There is a lingering feeling that pandemic left us with some new ideas of how to connect and collaborate. Did you have any time to think what you want to do next?

AN: The year 2021 will be busy with the upcoming exhibitions and a screenwriting process of a fictional short film and a feature length film. Luckily, with the upcoming film works I’m collaborating with an experienced producer, Markku Tuurna and an established dramaturge Tarja Kylmä with both of the films. In 2022, I will also present an installation at the façade of Gallery Forum Box.


Also, for years already, my dream has been to have the time to focus on a research plan, apply for PhD studies, continuing my artistic research in relation to the choreographic environment within post graduate studies.

Who knows, what’s going to happen? There’s always a new adventure waiting around the corner.

— — —
*‘In-Between’ was supported and commissioned by The Finnish Cultural and Academic Institutes’ Together Alone project and supported by Arts Promotion Centre Finland.

Directed & screenwritten by: Anna Nykyri
Photography by: Griselda San Martin, Juan Pablo de la Vega, Aukusti Heinonen
Edited by: Jaakko Peltokangas
Sound designed by: Olli Huhtanen
Curated by: Andrea Valencia

Featured image:

Short film, Passing by:
Passing by (2020)
Documentary short film 1’50”
Passing by shows a carcass of a young roe deer slowly decomposing in a forest, whilst cars are fast passing by on a nearby highway. The film creates a strong emotional charge of passing by; moving from the highway into the forest, details of fur, flies, a carcass – then distancing again, leaving the calf to be covered by the forest.

The film was supported by The Promotion Center for Audiovisual Culture AVEK / Media Art and Arts Promotion Centre Finland.

Directed and screenwritten by: Anna Nykyri
Cinematography by: Italo Moncada
Edited by: Jaakko Peltokangas
Music by: Mikko Joensuu
Sound designed by: Juuso Oksala
Color correction by: Juuso Laatio

Categories
interviews performance&dance women in art

Favela Vera Ortiz: Choreography unplugged

Favela Vera Ortiz is a Finnish-Argentinian choreographer based in Helsinki, Finland. The choreographer has recently been celebrating her artistic anniversary. She is currently finding herself with compositions that extend the boundaries of the body, self, and the space. Vera Ortiz is well known as an inventor of Choreographer’s Appointment, in which participants find their solo movements with the choreographer, and engage in a social form of personal choreography with a performance. The choreographer has worked with multiple themes in her native Finland, in Stockholm, Buenos Aires, Paris, and Melbourne, Australia, to name a few locations.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Your career spans over 15 years, and in fact you just celebrated your artistic anniversary. Starting from the time you went to study at the Danshögskolan in Stockholm, how did you end up choosing to go there?

Favela Vera Ortiz: Actually I had tried to get in to some schools already earlier, but always seemed to be the one who almost got in. But I continued dancing all the time and became more and more interested in making choreography. I chose to apply to Danshögskolan because they had a choreography program. I got in on first attempt and was very happy about it.

deux2-choreography-favela-vera-ortiz-photo-anna-diehl
deux2, Choreography Favela Vera Ortiz. Photo Anna Diehl.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What are the key ideas and modes of working you learned while studying choreography in Stockholm, and have they stayed with you?

Favela VO: During the 3 years of education, I learned many tools from several visiting teachers. We were 3 students at the choreography program/education, and one of the learning processes was to be able to follow how the 2 others did their compositions when the starting point was the same for all. For example, professor Örjan Andersson gave a task to use certain compositional tools with 9 dancers and the result was interesting to see how different the works were.

I also invented a method of trying to be free of judgement while making the movement, this was kind of a brainwash that was supposed to get the body to produce material earlier unknown. I am a curious chameleon and tend to try out new things which leads to different works. I’d say styles in my works vary a lot. Similarities tend to pop up afterwards, but it is not intentional.

One example is the question of how to use time. I am very interested in the concept of time being round instead of linear. This shapes the movements and music choices I make, and it has stayed with me from the first work with this “round time” that I did at school. It was a choreography of 15 minutes with several black outs cutting scenes, the shortest scene was only 4 seconds. Work with playing visibility, repetition and strong visual images.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Looking back, does it feel that so many elements have changed over this time?

Favela VO: It is a long time – 15 years – and certainly a lot has changed. But it is hard to put a finger on it and say here is a changing point and then something happened. Mostly change comes slowly with several try-outs and when there is a new direction it grows from a process and forms new frame. This overlapping process is a living creature in itself. The old and the new exist at the same time. During the past five years I have done some collaborations with visual artists which is new for me.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Many of your works have a strong visual element in them. You have worked with costume designers, in which a dress, costume and also architectural and spatial elements are conducting the narrative, or directing the movements in a way. Is doing choreography sometimes like being a composer with a certain thematic?

Favela VO: I’d say the thematic sometimes brings the costume or other visual elements conducting the movement. I have often done costume, lights and stage design by myself as it feels they are so closely linked to each other and push the movement to what it is. Last year, for example, I did a site-specific work L’AUTRE in a bomb shelter where the strong  visuality comes with shadows on an uneven wall and laser light. I did the lights with five torches. What the photos don’t show very well was the glitter on the body of the dancer, she was covered in gold shiny glitter, very thin layer of it though. (Check the photos of this work here: www.photoslautre.tumblr.com)  I also enjoy working in a group with visual artists who bring their ideas to the common table. It is always an adventure to see how the process goes forward and which elements grow to be presented. My latest work OPUS CORPUS III is a beautiful example of this.

opus-corpus-iii-choreography-favela-vera-ortiz-2016-photo-valdis-jansons
Opus Corpus III, Choreography Favela Vera Ortiz, 2016. Photo Valdis Jansons.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: While working in Buenos Aires, you also started working with plastic wraps or bags that evolved to be headpieces for the performers. Tell about this choreography, which was created in a local park?

Favela VO: This work I made for three dancers, the inspiration was Greek mythology so the dancers were sort of goddesses. Even the name for the piece is MOERAE which are the three sisters making and cutting the line of life. But it was not a narrative work, merely the inspiration gave some movement ideas. It was made for Villa Ocampo, a cultural house in Buenos Aires. We used the terrace of the house and the park. The idea of using plastic bags to make costume was fabulous, it worked well. I did the wigs and tutus of thin white plastic. We also planned a stage version of the piece and filmed it while I still was in Buenos Aires. Later it got invited to Chile to a dance festival, so there are two versions of this work.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Does word intercultural resonate in your personality, or multicultural, and how?

Favela VO: I am half Finnish, half Argentinian. I have lived a nomad life for several years while working in different artist residencies. I was born in Helsinki and I am still based in Helsinki, but this year is the first full year that I have actually spent here entirely.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You have created solos for dancers, for example, for Finnish dancer Riikka Kekäläinen. How much does a dancer direct the development of the work with her personality, and how do ideas come together in the end?

Favela VO: The dancer has an enormous impact for the work. I often use different improvisations to search the movement so it is essential for the dancer. I choose the dancer who I believe is the best for the theme I am working with. The frame for the improvisations come from the vision I have for the theme, but then I choose the material from what comes out while working with the dancer and develop it further with the dancer. It is like a puzzle building the body of the work. One solo for Riikka, which I enjoyed a lot to do was called LA SEULE. It was seen in Finland but also in Paris at the Finnish Institute and in Düsseldorf Tanzmesse. The theme is the history of hysteria.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
LaSeule, Choreography Favela Vera Ortiz. Dancer Riikka Kekäläinen, Photo Vilma Niskala.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Tell about the work in STOA Cultural Centre in Helsinki, in which the floor had mirrors all over, and the audience was sitting in a tight setting looking at the performer from a close distance?

Favela VO: The work is called 21 notations on human. We had visitors in our rehearsal space. They were 20 persons who each came to share one rehearsal day with us. My question for them was “What is it that interests you in humans?” So, it was very wide question with personal answers. We created movement material with the visitors during the day with the dancer Hanna Ahti and got kind of a movement bank. The work is a selected composition of these things, as the material was several hours of material on video. The 21st notations on human (https://vimeo.com/35870033) is our version. The mirror floor reflects the dancer as many and brings also a visual element with light reflecting to the walls. It is a tender piece with the dancer having a conversation with notations on the body and the surface.

21-muistiota-2011-choreography-favela-vera-ortizuupi
21 notations on human, Choreography Favela Vera Ortiz, Dancer Hanna Ahti. Photo Uupi Tirronen.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Somehow there is a sense that dancing for you carries several elements that might be also called as non-human, such as animal like, or vegetal, or spiritual; are these definitions closer to what you are aiming or thinking?

Yes, there is an idea I’ve been working with for some time now where the body is half human, half animal. Like a hybrid body. This creature was more animal in the work Myoclonic (year 2013) and more human than animal in L’AUTRE (year 2015). This year (2016) the work OPUS CORPUS III was asking the question of where is the human, where is the animal, where does it start or end? The whole work seems to be a question so there is no answer. This hybrid is also an alienated body and represents the other, the strange, the weird in each of us.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Your time spent in Australia, and doing the piece with yet another visual component, reminds a lot of the spiritual elements that are perhaps inherent to the aboriginal heritage, with the embodiment of place and environment and the essence of the human body in the entire life cycle. Could you tell more about this work?

Favela VO: This work started as a collaboration with Annee Miron, a sculptor and visual artist from Melbourne. We met in Paris in the Cité Internationale des Arts residency in 2010. The meeting and our discussions and sharing knowledge of our previous works made both of us interested of a common project. It took some time in between until it happened. I was working in Melbourne with Annee in 2013. The collaboration started with Annee’s project of sleepless, which developed into a performance MYOCLONIC (https://vimeo.com/66894548). Annee built a huge installation at the Yarra Sculpture Gallery, it worked as its own piece but also as a scenography for the dancer. I consider it is some kind of a jungle of mind. Annee used cardboard as the material and we used cardboard mask for the dancer. The performer, Sanna From is a Finnish dancer who came to Melbourne to work with this project. In our working group was also a local artist Anna Brownfield making the video. The work grew with visions of subconciousness and muscle tension of extremes, forming the body of being awake and alert. The name comes from Myoclonic jerks often appearing when falling asleep. The creature grew during the process and became more animal than human. It is as if this animal, creature is a relative to the hanging installation. The idea of animal body gave a strong impact to the piece. The hands were as kangaroos keep them, this certainly came after me seeing kangaroos in live for the first time. I was not thinking of using the aboriginal heritage.

myoclonic-choreography-favela-vera-ortiz-dancer-sanna-from-photo-kelly-russ
Myoclonic, Choreography Favela Vera Ortiz, 2013. Dancer Sanna From. Photo: Kelly Russ.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Finland has a rich contemporary dance culture. How would you describe Finnish contemporary dance scene from your own point of view, and experience, how has it changed over the years?

Favela VO: It has grown a lot during the past 15 years. It has grown hugely since I started to follow contemporary dance as that is about 29 years ago. Now we have more dance artists than ever, which also brings more voices, more variations of how to use dance as an art form, and gives more lively platform to all of us.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What are your favorite places to work?

I have enjoyed working in residencies as I enjoy of impulses each place resonates concerning space, energy, people, it is the whole world around – colours, light, different languages, working with local artists and getting other visions. But the absolutely best place to work is whenever the working group is working well, despite in where it is.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Who are your greatest mentors or influencers?

Favela VO: During the school I had a strong experience being thought by Hilda Hellwig, a theatre director. I liked her methods of thinking of the working process and leading it with great intuition. I suppose I have tried to keep that knowledge as one base while working. I do not tend to have idols, most of the time, I consider it is more some works that make a strong influence, so it is more one work per each artist I know that I admire. Some of the latest are works by Sophie Calle and Bill Viola. I get inspiration in books, films and exhibitions. Films having strong feeling of movement are special for me, it feels that they fill a dwell in my mind with visions and movement combined, and these strong images bubble and some day grow to live in yet another form. Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite novelists, her latest books with dystopia visions have given inspiration for my work with human/animal/alienated body.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where are your plans for the future, you have a one-year scholarship starting now, where do you think it could take you?

Favela VO: That’s what I am planning at the moment! Not sure yet where it will take me, but I am definitely planning a new residency far away from Helsinki. I also want to continue with my latest working group in Helsinki so surely part of the year I will be spending at home.

***

Artist website: http://favelaveraortiz.tumblr.com/

Check out video about CHOREOGRAPHER’S APPOINTMENT https://vimeo.com/14337885