Breaking boundaries: Finnish contemporary flamenco

Breaking boundaries: Finnish contemporary flamenco

By Carina Chela

KAARI Foto retrato 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.

Why flamenco?

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.

What about traditional flamenco? korppi_promo2

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.

Tell us about the husband-and-wife-team work. NAUSKA roni_kaari_martin

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.


Wearing the shoe that fits

aki_1Wearing the shoe that fits.

by Carina Chela

Spotting Aki Choklat in a crowd is not that difficult: look out for his shoes -probably the most eclectic or spiciest footwear in the street.

Choklat’s own AC collection – focusing on high quality men’s shoes – has spellbound a set of international loyal Choklat devotees. Currently Choklat is working on his forthcoming book Menswear Trends. As of January 2016 the Finnish-Moroccan cutting-edge footwear and accessories designer is Chair of Fashion Accessories Design at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, USA.

Your first choice of a career was not in design. You pursued a diplomatic career, why was that?

Well, I come from a bohemian multi-cultural family. And as a child I had quite a different hobby: I was sketching shoes. But I wanted what most kids had: a normal life. I wanted a good job and money. So I moved to the United States to study at a university and after graduating I did a congressional internship at Capitol Hill. But I was profoundly unhappy. I simply was not meant to sit in an office all day and wear a suit. Politics and office environments are not meant for me.

When do you consider that your career as a shoe designer started?

When I decided to join my sisters in New York. I continued there with my passion: selling and designing shoes in a market stand. We imported Moroccan clothes and accessories making alterations and updating them for street wear. I’ve always loved the Moroccan babouche slippers and, among other things, I redesigned them and they sold! Someone bought one of my designs and when I realised how happy that person was, well, I never looked back again. That was around 1997 and, although it has often been a struggle, I never regretted taking that road!

How can you know if a new shoe model will be a success?aki_2

With designs you never really know. Many times the shoe that I didn’t even want to show becomes the best seller. It’s difficult to predict what will be a success.

When do you feel most creative?

When I go to the factories. When I see all the materials and machines I get new ideas for the seasons to come. I love being in a factory… maybe it’s because my first job in design was working on the factory floor designing for various brands. Like many designers my process of creating starts with inspiration. Everything – stories, life, relationships, exhibitions – inspires me, I sit down and design endlessly, no problem there.

What do you think  about Finnish footwear?

We have some special traditions that we excel in. The Finnish birch bark [tuohi virsu] shoes are very unique to Finland, same as felt and even the combination of these two. I also think that Finnish footwear design talent is remarkable and world class. The innovations of Julia Lundsten’s label Finsk, Minna Parikka’s fun but romantic collections, Janne Lax and his bespoke tradition meets sportswear and the legendary Pertti Palmroth that was selling globally decades ago.

What about your work for Lahtiset?

I really like to work with those felt models because it is something that is traditionally Finnish. My own AC line has sold very limited numbers in Finland but the ‘Aki Choklat for Lahtiset’ line has sold very well. I think the ACFL-002 is the best seller, a simple slipper with holes on top. And my work for  the Lahtiset factory gives me an excuse to visit Finland, not that I need one!

You have taught in several design schools in Europe. Perhaps the most prestigious one is Polimoda School in Florence. What was that experience like?

I am a very down-to-earth person and teaching in any good school is as important as teaching in Polimoda. But of course I considered it an honour to be part of the Polimoda academic family, and working in a school whose president is Salvatore Ferragamo‘s son Ferruccio Ferragamo was obviously very special. It’s rewarding and great to meet new talents. But yes, I must admit that it also was one of the most beautiful teaching environment in the world.

Are you a dreamer or a realist?

I live a very simple, I guess realistic and non-fashion lifestyle. I like hanging around with friends and reading, going to pubs and gardening. But my work life is full of the other more superficial fashion stuff. So I really appreciate the so-called normal life. But a dreamer? Yes, of course. I think a designer has to be a dreamer.


I guess you get asked a lot if you like chocolate?

Occasionally I get asked about this, but not too often. I do love chocolate, dark bitter. I indulge myself from time to time! Sometimes in passport control, when they notice my surname, I get the odd shriek of joy!