Dance artist Annika Sillander is our partner in crime of making BORN OLD multilingual and international. Annika translated BORN OLD into Swedish and as we streamed the show to schools in Sweden and Western Finland, she performed alongside Marjo Kiukaanniemi, telling the story of the ecological and creative hero Väinämöinen through dance and words. 

Please, meet Annika Sillander, dance artist and manager in Pohjanmaan tanssin aluekeskus/The Regional Dance Centre of Ostrobothnia. Here is what she says about combining technology and choreography, performing in Corona time and multilingual principles in arts.

Annika Sillander:

– Performing BORN OLD – FÖDD GAMMAL feels lovely, especially now that I haven’t performed professionally for over two years. Like most Finnish people I had to read Kalevala at school, and it didn’t make much sense then, seeming too long and boring. Now, combining a national epic with modern technology makes sense, because it comes to life in a totally different way. 

I don’t get to be so creative in my daily working life at the Regional Dance Centre of Ostrobothnia, where I mainly work administratively, producing and enabling other artists to work. 

I love encouraging people to experience dance: it promotes well-being, gives a creative input and offers artistic experiences. 

Dance is an art form that is suitable for everyone. There is always something that you can relate to or you can get something out of it. When you are participating in dance activities, the body is in focus, this helps to focus the mind and perhaps helps to concentrate on energies. 

I have always been interested in performing and dance. One Autumn day, when I was eight, I was jumping around in the new place we had just moved to, and my mum suggested that I pick a hobby. That’s how I started in a dance school in Vaasa and later carried on with professional studies in a dance school in London. I did try ballet when younger, but then it felt too strict for me – exactly what I like about it now, years later. When younger I preferred jazz and contemporary dance. 

We are the only bilingual regional dance centre that works with audiences and artists both in Finnish and Swedish. It is natural for us because we are a bilingual area. Everyone has the right to experience things – whether in art or everyday life – in their mother tongue. Unfortunately there aren’t yet enough bilingual activities or organizations within the Finnish dance field. 

While in my region speaking both Swedish and Finnish or just Swedish is classified as normal, in other parts of Finland it’s not. That is why I feel it’s important to highlight that there are in fact Swedish speaking audiences, makers, artists and participants in Finland, which is after all officially a bilingual country. I have grown up in this bilingual environment and see it as an obvious thing. Yet I know there are areas in Finland where speaking Swedish is considered as a negative thing, something perhaps to be discouraged. 

Perhaps dance itself suffers the same thing in certain areas. For some dance is not a familiar art form nor choice of career. Part of my job is to educate people about dance as a profession and the artistry of dance. I think it is important how you talk about dance, how you take ownership of the topic to raise the profile and appreciation of the art from. 

In terms of working with organizations things have progressed greatly. Dance is perhaps not yet a mainstream art form known to a larger audience, but it’s becoming integrated in other activities, recognized as contributing to well-being and also integrated into the wider field of culture. Sometimes I still come across people that perhaps have an old-fashioned attitude towards dance, in that they don’t see the artistic, cultural and social value of it, but I don’t have a problem with this anymore. I don’t feel offended, I have so much experience that I can just talk them over. 

Corona has caused huge changes for everyone, having brought about a lack of human contact, lessened the opportunities of performing, brought restrictions to audience numbers… The pandemic has caused a lot more of work too. We plan activities hoping to do something in 3 months’ time and then we must cancel and change plans again. We have had to move to digital ways of working, for example producing video material. It makes you rethink what you can and can’t do – not just once, but all the time. 

Maybe Corona has blurred the line between political, social, and personal. In our professional context we are sharing our private lives more because we are in our homes more than before, meeting through Zoom… The restrictions and the pandemic really underline how important the performing arts are. In January we arranged 3 performances with only 8 people in the audience. And it feels so much more precious: previously we were having a headache over the dance audiences being small, now we are rejoicing that we can have performances at all. 

Performance is something that opens up all the features of the art form: physical communication and empathy. That is why I really dislike distance teaching: it takes so much out of that which works. But the positive lesson for all of us is that the value of the each – whether it is the member of the audience or an artist, or the art itself – has risen. 

Annika Sillander was talking with Lölä Vlasenko

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