Breaking boundaries: Finnish contemporary flamenco
By Carina Chela
Dancer-choreographer Kaari Martin is best known for being a reformer of traditional flamenco. She expands the narrative themes of flamenco and introduces a Nordic perspective. In La Kalevala she explores women’s role in the Finnish national epic; in On a String, performed together with star ballerina Minna Tervamäki, Sibelius’ violin concerto is intertwined with the flamenco metre; and in Kill Carmen the romantic and cliché images related to Spanish women are totally crushed. Compañía Kaari & Roni Martin have claimed first prizes in prestigious competitions that have usually been the preserve of Spaniards. In 2016, Compañía will perform – in cooperation with the contemporary dance group Pupu Riot Collective – Whispers and Cries, based on Swedish director Ingmar Bergman’s film.
Flamenco came to me at a very late age, at 16. For me it was just a natural way of expressing myself, a dance tool that suited me. My instrument is contemporary flamenco. But I consider myself more of a contemporary dancer with a base in flamenco.
I incorporate different genres of dance in my work. Our company is not interested in doing traditional flamenco, we want to change and evolve from that traditional phase. But I don’t underestimate traditional flamenco. It’s just not for me. Perhaps as I am not a Spaniard it’s easier for me to let go of the burden of tradition. My culture is different so why should I dance like a Spaniard if I am a Finn? When it comes to flamenco I am completely unprejudiced.
You studied piano as a child. How have you benefitted from your music studies?
Yes, as a kid I studied classical music and piano, I was meant to become a concert pianist. I even had a punk music phase! Music has always been present in my life. And I believe that flamenco dancers are good dancers only if they are also musicians or at least understand music. The connection between dance and music is crucial in our company, and most of our productions include a live orchestra.
What inspires you?
I don’t have a particular time or space in which I have to go to for inspiration. My inspiration is very practical. My feet are planted firmly on the ground. But from mistakes I have got some really good ideas! Mistakes are great if you know how to take advantage of them. In our rehearsals I often get ideas from the so-called mistakes and use them for the choreographies.
In Compañía Roni is in charge of the music and the studio, and we have similar tastes so it’s easy to work with him. Sometimes we don’t even remember whose idea something was, but we don’t care anymore. We work well together, now… But at the beginning we used to discuss and fight a lot about everything! Nowadays we hardly ever fight.
How do you see the position of flamenco in Finland?
We have many excellent flamenco teachers in Finland and we also have two flamenco festivals, in Helsinki and in Tampere. Most of my Finnish colleagues work with pedagogy, very few of them work with their own choreographies. I would like to see a dance form, within this context, that is more Finnish or more global. But to be able to work with an art form that belongs to a very marginal group you have to be very stubborn! And fight your way all the time.
Any plans for the future?
After Whispers and Cries our company will continue working with Pupu Riot Collective on a performance based on Leo Tolstoy’s book Anna Karenina, but that will be in 2017.
What is the first thing you do after a performance?
I like to go back to the stage after the public has left, I just stand there in silence, I look around, at the seats, at the backdrop… There’s magic in the air, it’s a very special feeling that’s left behind after a live performance.