Ahead of Transitions’ 2018 international tour, we caught up with acclaimed Finnish choreographer and Trinity Laban alumnus Jarkko Partanen who is working with the company on a brand new piece. Jarkko is a founding member of multidisciplinary arts collective WAUHAUS, which recently won the prestigious annual Finnish State Award for Performing Arts.
The 2018 company is truly international – do you think this has had an impact on the style of the company and/or the way you worked with them?
Transitions is a company with its own identity and I think the group is fantastic. It’s really nice to have such a diverse group of people from different backgrounds, with very different skills, but who work really well together and complement each other.
What have you most enjoyed about working with the Transitions dancers?
At WAUHAUS we have a very collaborative creative process, which I have tried to keep in my working method with Transitions. It’s my responsibility to arrive at a point where the dancers feel they can take the piece and make it their own. As I usually work with people I know well, there is a certain level of trust and dialogue and understanding, which needs to be built here in a short time frame – just five weeks!
And in this scenario, it is a bit of a challenge to have a process-oriented rather than product-oriented working method. But it’s been going great so far. There’s been a lot of laughter and playfulness which is good and they are adapting to the continually changing and refining process and they work very professionally. I am very happy with this collaboration!
What was your inspiration behind the work?
The piece continues two trajectories I have been interested in continuing from previous works: touch and obscuring the body. In Playhouse (2017), we looked at different ways of physically encountering strangers in a performative setting, and in Flashdance (2016) the performers’ bodies were completely hidden throughout the performance.
I am interested in transforming the body – something that is always cultural and carries representation – into something else that can go beyond gender, and can challenge the norms of how we look at the body on stage. I think there’s something beautiful in limiting our senses and how we perceive things, so that the norms of watching meet the limitlessness of our imagination. We are challenged by whom or what we are looking at.
Combining these two trajectories of touch and obscuring, and finding a balance between them, is what’s interesting. In this piece the dancers have limited vision whilst on stage, which affects how they are on stage, how they interact, how the piece is experienced. The light, sound, stage design and other elements or materials – such as costumes – become intrinsically linked to the choreography. Together, they create a condition for the performers and audience. These create the movement vocabulary of the piece rather than me applying a “signature movement language” or something like that that I have shaped over the years. I consider every piece to have its own specific physicality.
You typically work in less traditional performances spaces. Have you had to adapt your choreographic style for the tour venues?
I don’t usually work in theatres with a proscenium arch, where the stage is very separated from the auditorium. The performance space brings another set of questions regarding how the audience engage with the performance. And of how to bring other senses into play rather than just ‘watching’. I would say it’s a challenge, not a limitation.
Transitions will perform at The Theatre Academy of Uniarts, Helsinki as part of their international tour. What will it be like to see the company dance your work in your home town?
I haven’t really thought about it yet, but of course it’s exciting! Of course I’m looking forward to the whole tour, and particularly to seeing my piece within a triple bill, which will add a whole other context. It will be interesting how the pieces will communicate with each other.
You studied dancing at Trinity Laban as an undergraduate. What was your time like here and how has that influenced you?
One of the reasons I applied and chose to study at Trinity Laban was the ability to experiment and learn choreography from the beginning. That was very influential for me, as it was very clear to me that I wanted to choreograph. I don’t think I’ve ever really imagined myself as a dancer. So to collaborate with so many colleagues and find people who were interested in working with me was very powerful. As was working with and observing the choreographers who created the newly commissioned works for us in my final year, which gave me greater insight into different creative processes. I really liked my time here, I felt very supported by the institution, and the Laban Theatre is one of the most beautiful theatres I’ve worked in.
By Robyn Donnelly (Press & PR)
Transitions 2018 Tour | 19 February – 24 May
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