Back in 2016 we wanted to make a new performance – something rooted in Finland – and chose Kalevala as the starting point. Kalevala is a 19th century epic poem based on ancient Finnish mythology and folk tales. It has become ingrained in Finnish culture to the point that it is seem as integral to the national identity. Despite the immense respect that Finns have for the poem, it remains pretty inaccessible – particularly to children. Tanja remembers struggling with studying Kalevala at school, due to the heavy concepts and old fashioned language. We aimed to update the story by making a show for children based on some of the characters and their adventures, integrating digital media and revisiting the story with a modern twist.
The initial research into the project was funded by a CreaDemo grant from AVEK, and support from OAMK and Valve. This enabled us to audition for a performer and to explore how we could create a stage environment that could feature interactive projection, and yet be easily tour-able to schools and venues.
We did some character research with dance artist Titta Court and spent a week with multi-skilled performer Marjo Kiukaanniemi developing the story and the tech. In 2017 we went into production of Born Old/Tietäjä Iänikuinen with funding from JoJo – Oulu Dance Centre. The show is based on the beginning part of Kalevala and tells of the creation of the world, into which was born Väinämoinen, already an old, wise man. He’s a kind of natural magician who uses magic to create the beautiful garden of Kalevala before journeying North to find a wife. His adventures in the North involve battling the weather, meeting a powerful witch, fixing a money-making machine and battling with sea monsters, mist maidens and a terrible storm. Its exciting, funny, poetic and engaging – just the thing for 4-10 year-olds.
We designed the stage to be a circular white floor, just over 4m across, where the audience sits around the edge of the circle. The floor acts as a projection screen and becomes various landscapes and locations. The action happens so close to the children that they are drawn into the story by Marjo’s dance, song and storytelling combined with some digital magic. The video projection is provided by two identical ultra-short-throw projectors on stands, mapped together so that the light from one cancels out shadows from the other.
The show was performed at the OuDance Festival, and revived for the Children’s Theatre Festival in 2018. That year, we were also invited to Hammerfest in Norway to perform in DansFestivalBarents, which gave us the extra challenge of how to tell a Finnish story to Norwegian children….
The answer was to incorporate another performer as storyteller – someone who speaks Norwegian and can join Marjo in some of the dance and song. Through the organisers of the festival we found Gro Skanke Raattama, a musician, teacher and performer based in Lakselv. We developed a Norwegian script, where Marjo became the wordless traveller, bringing the story from a far-off land. The format worked really well, and we found that we now had a way of exporting Finnish heritage, entertaining children in their own language and connecting with artists working in different countries.
Tanja pitched the idea at Ice Hot – the Nordic Dance Platform – in Reykjavik in December 2018 and we started planning incorporating other languages into the show.
Along with the Ostrabothnian Dance Centre in Vaasa, we created a Swedish script, and began talking to the Nordic House in the Faroe Islands about making a Faroese version. The Corona pandemic put a hold on the project during 2020, but in Spring 2021 we launched the Swedish version with Annika Sillander duetting with Marjo. Unable to tour into schools, we teamed up with a camera crew from Kulttuurivoimala to live-stream the show out to schools in Finland and Sweden. With the support of Pohjanmaan tanssin aluekeskus and Norbottens Danskonsulent we reached over 6000 schoolchildren with three performances.
As a result of the Ice Hot session, we were invited to create a Faroese version of the show to be part of Children’s Week at The Nordic House in Tórshavn. The Corona travel ban prevented us from going in 2020, and the project was postponed for a year. By early 2021, we became aware that would still be really difficult to travel. The Corona situation in the Faroe islands was vey good, but we would need to quarantine for a week on arrival, which was hugely impractical, so we started looking for a new way to perform, using technology instead of air travel. We teamed up with Oulu-based company Near Real, who have developed a platform specifically for remote healthcare – where doctors can consult with patients online. With a grant from Oulu City’s TechArt programme, we collaborated with Near Real to adapt their platform for use in a performance context, making it possible to connect a studio in Oulu with one in Tórshavn so that the two performers could share a hybrid space. We rehearsed the script with Marjo and Eyð Berghamar Jacobsen using Skype before setting up the connected studio to create the movement.
So now we have a choice of versions of this lovely show, all centred around the talents of Marjo Kiukaanniemi.
1, Solo live performance in Finnish
2, Solo livestreamed performance in Finnish
3, Norwegian duet
4, Swedish live duet performance
5, Swedish duet performance for livestream cameras
6, Faroese hybrid performance
and I’m sure there will be many more variations developed in the future