Transitions 2018: Q&A with company member Wilhelmina Ojanen

Ahead of Transitions’ 2018 international tour, we caught up with Finnish-born dance artist Wilhelmina Ojanen.

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Image: Wilhelmina Ojanen (Credit: Chris Nash)

How does it feel to be dancing with Transitions?

We’ve become such a strong group. We’re very comfortable with each other and there’s a strong network of trust and support. Everyone has brought different training experiences, styles and strengths. It is such a rewarding process to learn from my fellow dancers as well as from the staff and invited choreographers.

What attracted you to studying at Trinity Laban?

My first experience of Trinity Laban was attending a dance summer school. I liked the atmosphere and the facilities and knew the conservatoire had a good reputation internationally so I came to study on the BA programme.

During my undergraduate I really enjoyed the opportunities to choreograph and perform throughout the three years of the programme. Through this I realised my passion for creating work as well as performing. Studying here as an undergraduate also gave me a great understanding of Transitions Dance Company – I observed first-hand what an amazing programme it is.

I chose to continue my studies with Transitions to develop as a performer and choreographer. I wanted to work in a range of styles and with different creators to learn how to be adaptable. I think it’s so valuable to experience different approaches as a dancer, to see how tasks are proposed, how a vision is developed. This informs my own practise as a choreographer, helping me to better understand what I’m asking my own dancers.

What can audiences expect from the Triple Bill?

I think audiences will be surprised at how different the pieces are and will enjoying being transported from one world to another.

What is your favourite piece to perform and why?

I can’t choose! All three are very good but in very different ways.

I love Hagit’s way of working and her movement style – it’s so human and easy to connect to. It has a generosity that I really enjoy.

We had so much fun in the studio with Jarkko, experimenting and testing things out. It made us close as a group.

Richard’s movement style is very specific and has an extreme physicality – he incorporates a lot of floor work and is influenced by martial arts and ballet – so even before the start of the piece I feel like I need to inhabit his movement world. But through this developmental process has made me feel physically stronger as a dancer.

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Image: Wilhelmina Ojanen performing ‘When running starts and stops’ by Richard Chappell (Credit: Lidia Crisafulli)

In Jarkko’s piece your vision is reduced/restricted as a condition of the work, what’s that like to perform?

Although the condition is quite challenging, it makes your other senses more aware, especially as we’ve been dancing this way since the start of the rehearsal process. In the first rehearsals we just had our eyes closed and now the costume has become an extension of this.

I find the work exciting to perform because where we end up and who we come in contact with is different every time. And I find it endearing in some ways. It’s rather cute how we’re so tentative and exploratory. I think Jarkko wanted to highlight something serious but make it fun and light-hearted.

You feature prominently in Hagit’s piece, tell us more about it.

Hagit described it as an individual trying to move backwards – emotionally, physically – and the group helping them forwards. She’s trying to resist that but also lets the group guide her. I think it’s really poetic.

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Image: ‘The Ar/ct of moving forward’ by Hagit Yakira (Credit: Lidia Crisafulli)

What are you most looking forward to ahead of the tour?

I’m looking forward to taking the work to other venues, to see how different stage sizes and different audiences change it, to experience how the pieces will develop as the tour progresses.

And of course I’m particularly excited to go to Finland – I already have a huge list of family and friends who want tickets!

You are Finnish but spent many years in South America. Where do you connect to most?

That is a really good question. I’m very interested in exploring questions of belonging, studying heritage, and investigating how culture influences the way we see things.

Finland is where my family is, but I do miss South America. I carry a little bit in my heart. I also feel like I’ve built a home in London – there’s a lot of opportunity to see and make work, and form connections with people.

You’re one of four Young Associates on Sadler’s Wells inaugural programme, can you tell us a bit more about this?

It’s a two year artist development programme led by choreographer Tim Casson that’s specifically aimed at emerging dance talent and forms a crucial missing step in their Associate Artist family. All of the support offered is designed to develop our own unique artistic and choreographic voice.

This is the first time Sadler’s Wells is running this programme and it’s amazing that such a prolific creative institution is offering support for young dancers.

Our first commission is for the Lilian Baylis for Oct 9-10th as part of the Sadler’s Wells 20th Anniversary celebrations, which is really exciting.

What’s next?

Right now I’m concentrating on performing and choreographing. I want to focus my energy on the tour and the Sadler’s Wells programme. Further ahead, I’d like to teach and share my work in that way.

 

 

 


Transitions 2018 Tour | 19 February – 24 May

For full tour details and to find out more about Transitions Dance Company, visit www.trinitylaban.ac.uk/transitionsdc

To find out more about studying dance at Trinity Laban, visit our pages.

 

By Robyn Donnelly (Press & PR)

INTERVIEW: JESSE KOVARSKY

In the second of our two interviews with dance alumni who are living and working in New York City, we catch up with Jesse Kovarsky (Study Abroad 2009 and Transitions 2011). Jesse has had a huge variety of performance work both in the UK and America since he graduated, including feature films, opera, immersive theatre and Broadway!

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Jesse you’ve had a fantastic performing career since you left Trinity Laban. Can you talk us through what you’ve done?

After I graduated from Transitions (MA Dance Performance) I wanted to get some experience dancing in Europe before I returned to the US, so I stayed in the UK on a post study visa and was then later sponsored by Punchdrunk Theatre Company. I’d always wanted to work with Punchdrunk as I really admire their work and was lucky enough to get cast in The Drowned Man. It was a really great show to be part of – creative, challenging and fulfilling.

My first job after graduating was in the film Anna Karenina which was a great experience just having left Trinity Laban. I then performed with the English National Opera in The Death of Klinghoffer and Carmen, and then returned to the Laban Theatre with Junk Ensemble which was such a privilege to come back.

When I returned to the US I worked again with Punchdrunk, and I reprised my role in The Death of Klinghoffer at The Metropolitan Opera House. Then in 2016 I was cast as the Fiddler in Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway which was choreographed by Hofesh Shechter. This was a great experience and I loved working with Hofesh.

And what have you been doing more recently?

After Fiddler I performed in Seeing You, which was an immersive theatre show that ran off Broadway. The show was choreographed by Ryan Heffington who has choreographed music videos, for TV and worked with artists like Sia and FKA Twigs.

I’m also currently Associate Choreographer for musical The Band’s Visit which has just transferred to Broadway.

You were an undergraduate student at Skidmore College in New York, how did you then come to study at Trinity Laban?

I started dance at Skidmore College and we studied Laban theory and technique. I really wanted to study abroad for a semester and so went to Trinity Laban on a Study Abroad programme. During that time I saw a dramatic improvement in my technique and was interested in doing more, so I auditioned for Transitions Dance Company and was accepted. I feel very privileged to have received a Leverhulme Arts Scholarship to support my studies.

What was it like coming to Trinity Laban as an international student?

I felt supported. It was great to be around different people from different parts of the world with different perspectives, and we trained and grew together. I loved living in London too, that’s where I formed my identity as a young adult.

How did your time at Trinity Laban prepare you for your career?

Trinity Laban prepared me as a practitioner of dance and as a performer, and it reinforced my sense of critical thinking. Importantly I was allowed to create my identity as a dancer, to find my own voice and form my own style. This has enabled me to know what to say yes and no to, to be able to say what I want and to find my own niche in my career.

 And finally what advice do you have for current students?

Take as many classes as possible and absorb the system you are part of – take advantage of it and suck it dry. You need to be relevant and understand what is going on in dance, what inspires you, who you want to work with, so educate yourself and see everything you can.

And importantly don’t be afraid to make mistakes and fail and find yourself through that.

INTERVIEW: DYLAN CROSSMAN

Whilst in America for the Trinity Laban in New York reception, we caught up with two dance alumni who are living and working in New York City and found out about how they have built their careers there. This week we talk to Dylan Crossman who graduated with BA (Hons) Dance Theatre in 2006. After graduating he joined the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and now has a full and diverse freelance career. 

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Why did you chose to study at Trinity Laban?

I grew up in France and started dancing when I was ten. For two years, I took contemporary and ballet classes at the Conservatoire in Montpelier in addition to attending regular school. In my teens, after a few years’ break from dancing, I was doing improvisation, ballet, jazz, hip hop and contemporary.

I had a Limon teacher who knew about Trinity Laban and so I auditioned there and for the Winnipeg Ballet. I chose Trinity Laban as I decided I wanted to pursue a contemporary dance training rather than ballet and also because I wanted to be based in London.

What was it like coming to Trinity Laban as an International student?

I didn’t feel lonely, I felt welcomed. There were a lot of international students in my year and there was a sense of community in the year group. I had a job in a bar as well and that helped to make friends outside of Trinity Laban. 

Shortly after you graduated, you joined the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. Tell us about your journey to America and joining the Company.

In the summer between my second and third year, Julia Gleich, one of my teachers at Trinity Laban recommended that I take part in Burklyn Ballet Theatre, an intensive summer programme In Vermont, USA. Through one of the teachers I met there, I was offered a part in the Nutcracker in Key West and after I graduated I moved to New York. I enrolled on a programme at the Cunningham studio, got a scholarship, and as soon as I began I knew that’s why I started dancing, it made complete sense to my body.

After six months a space opened up for a new understudy so I went to Merce [Cunningham]’s Assistant, Robert Swinston, and said that I was interested. I was told to take company class and that ‘Merce will decide’. I did one class and Merce said yes!

By that stage Merce didn’t go on tour with the company anymore, so when they were away he constructed new work on the understudies and I got to work with him a lot. He was so curious; to him you were like a problem to solve. I was an understudy for two years before being hired into the company and I was in the company for the two year farewell tour. It was an intense and amazing experience.

You now have a very busy career as a performer and choreographer. What are you working on at the moment?

Right now I am performing at Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) in Brooklyn in a piece called Buffer by visual artist Xavier Cha. As well as dancers there are also actors and an opera singer in the cast. I’m also working on new pieces with Pam Tanowitz and Kimberly Bartosik, both of whom I have worked with before, and am continuing to develop my own work including showing a new piece at the Cunningham centenary celebration. I also teach at Sarah Lawrence College and Purchase College and am choreographing a piece for the students at Purchase which will be performed next spring.

How did your training prepare you for your career?

I was given responsibility for my own training whilst at Trinity Laban. We were exposed to so many things, every kind of dance, analysing dance, music for dance, dance on film, choreography, Labanotation, so I had to choose what to focus on. This planted the seed for life as a freelancer, you have to take responsibility and manage your own work; administration, tax, funding, paying for classes and paying dancers.

And finally what are your top tips for current students?

Be patient and trust people in charge of your training, but break rules because you need to learn to listen to yourself and your instincts also. Challenge yourself as freelancer. And do more cross training and aerobic exercise! You’ll need it as a performer.