Sum of Us All – dancing in Helsinki


Creative Director of Dance Integrated Australia, Philip Channells presented Beyond Technique – searching for authenticity from 7 – 11 April 2014 in Helsinki, Finland. This project marks the second destination of a 10-week European/Scandinavian Spring Tour, which includes partnerships with DansiT – Senter for dansekunst i Sør-Trøndelag (Norway), Zodiak – Uuden tanssin keskus / Center for New Dance, Itäisen Tanssin Aluekeskus / Regional Dance Centre of Eastern Finland – ITAK (Finland) and The Centre for the Arts and Learning at Goldsmiths University of London (UK).

As part of the Community Engagement Program for Zodiak this week-long activity was divided into two parts. This included Skills Development & Choreographic Practice for professional artists and dance practitioners, and an Enrichment Program for students aged 9 – 17 years from three classes at the Käpylän peruskoulu.

Sporting a fractured 5th metatarsal sustained in a fall in Trondheim (Norway) Channells facilitated the program hobbling handsomely with a walking crutch and an oversized protective moonboot which enabled him to continue directing the project despite his accute injury. He was joined by local artists, Sally Davison (Danceability Finland, Kaaos Company) and Johanna Röholm (multi artform practitioner with visual impairment) who both assisted in the facilitation of the workshops. The participants expressed an interest in developing new ideas, tools and methodologies for their work within the community and many sought inspiration deriving from a different perspective.

Many of the 15 students with disability had had little to no dance experience, therefore the range of movement and choreographic tasks were tailored to suit their individual and collective needs. After just one day of working together (professional artists working mostly one on one with the students), the teachers from the Käpylän peruskoulu were treated to an impromptu performance. Their responses to what they witnessed were of overwhelming surprise.

My first dance-exchange with Minttu has really stayed in my mind, or body-mind better to say. I think I’ll never forget it. When I first approached her she seemed to be quite far away in her own world, unreachable. I tried to persuade her to join in with the others, but she very strongly refused all my attempts. As I started to see that she was actually moving a bit on her own, small things with fingers and arms, I started to mirror all her movements. Then came the moment that really struck me: the smile she gave me when she realised what I was doing, and the light that ‘switched on’ in her eyes the same moment. Such a simple thing made her so happy! Off we went then dancing; me mirroring her moving. (and she constantly checking what movements of her I was ready to follow… like asking me: “Can I do anything and you will do the same ?”). Was great to gain somebody’s trust in such a short time, just through movement and being present with her, with no spoken words. Jenni Koistinen

The dancers became very familiar with each other after just three days of working together and they developed a sense of trust and togetherness that equaled a professional dance outfit. They were challenged by Channells to bring the sum of all their creative tasks to an audience in a 45-minute studio showing.

There is never just one way to work in this specific and unique environment where the participants bring such different life experience with them, but if we allow enough time to connect on a deeper level with the people we work with, the creative possibilities are endless – and ultimately, this enriches all our lives. Philip Channells

All dressed in black, the dancers filled the entire studio at the old box factory (with white walls and white floors and windows which looked out over the waters edge). Each dancer introduced themself by name before they began tracing each others body shapes on various levels against the backdrop. They presented duets, trios and solos of movement ideas which included mirroring techniques, sign language dances and sequences of connecting various body parts in succession. Highlighted in the middle of the showing was the work of several of the younger students, which provided the audience closer insight into the individual expressions and creative possibility that dance and music can provide.

Audience members consisting mostly of friends and family of the students were impressed by what they had witnessed and thrilled by the level of integration and professionalism in the presentation. One family had driven all the way from Rome just to be there and commented that they wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Click for more information about Zodiak – Centre for New Dance

Photo: Johanna Hurme / Dancers: Minttu Heinonen & Jenni Koistinen