Text: Ervi Sirén
Photos: Tuomas Uusheimo, Johanna Havimäki and Perttu Saksa
I went to Africa, Benin, Villa Karo at the beginning of March for seven weeks with an empty mind. I thought to be left alone, to write about my thoughts on my choreography career and the way in which I work, which I have been developing for decades. I was sure that my thoughts would clear up and I could clearly describe the core of my work. I was deciding something and not knowing what to do next.
Photo: Tuomas Uusheimo
The youngest of my children had moved to their own home. It was also the spring of becoming an independent mother.
Arriving at Villa Karo, a large part of the staff greeting me was an emotional point for me, as someone who is an emotional crier. The same on the next day when in a small presentation I said I’m happy I’m here. The heat, the sea and the beautiful Villa Karo would immediately soaked me into it.
Two weeks and a crisis, and I wasn’t the only one. No old routine, I didn’t plan a new production, no ideas, I didn’t go shopping, I didn’t cook, I didn’t walk the dog. Who am I, or am I anyone, can I tolerate being or should it be good to create some kind of daily rhythm. Writing is not interesting, feels like an old idea.
The environment begins to unfold, excursions, voodoo and the village begins to have some familiar faces. At times, a tired flood of information called Africa. I can't understand. Must have a rest day. Then move on again, every day something new. Kwassi Akpladokou’s great advice “one thing a day is enough” worked best. Sometimes it was just a thought of where to eat today?
Photo: Johanna Havimäki
Then with Linni Olamo to the neighbouring country of Togo, to the capital city Lomé for an afrodance class and from there to watch the practice of the dance troupe. With Linni’s quick thinking, dancer Estelle Foli came for a week ‘s residency to Villa Karo which gave me the opportunity to try out how my own working method works.
My 15-year-old solo Mountain of Four Stories was translated into African in four days. At night, Estelle listened to the music and after a couple of days she got malaria. The performance date had to be postponed even earlier than planned so only a small number of people came to watch. Estelle still in malaria, Villa Karo's dog Markus visited the stage in between and in the middle of the performance there was a power outage and thus the end of the performance was without music. Estelle’s timing was extremely accurate until the end. Such are the dancers. So the show was perfect. My own work got new nuances with Estelle's personality and tradition which became new to me as well. Estelle took the solo with her to Togo.
With us was artist Johanna Havimäki who was staging and photographing and Perttu Saksa also filmed the performance and the next day even on the beach. My friend Donald Agbodjakin also helped me all week to get everything I needed, translating from French to English and vice versa. His fine understanding of my work led me to elevate him as my assistant and later as a producer with new fine sunglasses.
Meanwhile, Nigerian artists working in the residence immortalised Estelle in their paintings.
Estelle returned later for a couple of days and we got to work and talk in peace. Also involved were violinist Laura Kokko and Donald Agbodjakin, a djembe and vocalist, a refreshing and surprising combination that inspired Estelle’s improvisation.
Estelle Foli Photo: Perttu Saksa
Estelle returned later for a couple of days and we got to work and talk in peace. Also involved were violinist Laura Kokko and Donald Agbodja, a djembe and vocalist, a refreshing and surprising combination that inspired Estelle’s improvisation.
Estelle's visit showed the best of Villa Karo, ease, fluency, joy and something everyone enthusiastically shares from their heart. Collaboration with other fellows and local artists. Maybe I went to get something like this from the trip, but I just thought I was contemplating new ideas, I didn’t think they would start to actualise.
Our spring fellowship community was top notch, great new friends, conversations about art and life. New African friends who I hope will continue with me and keep in touch despite the distance.
I've been lucky, I'm excited. I couldn’t resolve if I had some kind of identity without dancing and art. I was at home again when I got to delve into my own world and work, but surely this emptiness was necessary for something to begin to fill again.
I did not write a single sentence.
Photo: Perttu Saksa