New York City Dance Inspiration

Frankie Mannning’s cetennial celebration, Tap teacher training, incredible performers on stage…. The dance teacher of Helsinki Traditional Jazz Dance Society reflects on the inspiration she received while dancing her summer away in New York.

As for several years now, my summer in New York was spent studying, learning, experiencing, exploring and just simply breathing the spirit of dance. I have participated to festivals, workshops, tap teacher training, weekly dance classes with fantastic teachers; I have seen an incredible amount of breathtaking performances; I have danced to the enchanting music of great jazz and Latin bands in parks, concerts and dance parties.

I feel overwhelmed after all of these wonderful experiences, all the inspiration and insights, all the great things I have learnt. But as the master of tap dance, Brenda Bufalino said to me: “It is better to be overwhelmed than underwhelmed”. I agree. And I am happy to say that the dance summer of New York has definitely not left me underwhelmed!

Me and my partner Clyde Wilder came back to New York for attending the Frankie 100 –festival – the centennial celebration of dancer Frankie Manning, the legendary member of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers. Clyde performed in a number called “Swing classics” in the show Swingin’ Frankie’s Way, produced by Chester Whitmore at Harlem’s famous Apollo Theater. Every night, the greatest big bands of today, such as George Gee, Gordon Webster and Harlem Renaissance Orchestra, played for thousands of swing dancers from literally all over the world. It felt astonishing to realize that all of them had travelled here just out of the pure love of dancing, and for wanting to celebrate the legacy and memory of Frankie. What an incredible uniting power dancing can be!















1.The performers of the “Swing Classics” –number, choreographed by Chester Whitmore, on the stage of Apollo Theater, Harlem, New York. 2. Joseph and Josette Wiggan tapping to the tune “Broadway” in the show at Apollo Theater 3. The legendary queens of jazz backstage of Apollo Theater: Mable Lee, Norma Miller and Dawn Hampton. 4. Countdown into Frankie Manning’s 100th birthday at Terminal 5, New York City. On the bandstand Gordon Webster’s Big Band is swinging to dancers from all over the world.

While swing dancers were stomping for Frankie at the Terminal 5 in Midtown Manhattan, on the other side of the city a big, old, beautiful theater was filled with traditional African drum rhythms and dance steps. Brooklyn Academy of Music hosted the 37th Dance Africa, a festival produced by Baba Chuck Davis. (Clyde originally started his dancing career in Chuck Davis’ dance company.)

The highlight of this year’s show was Bakomanga, a dance company presenting the traditional dances and songs of Madagaskar. Last year, me, Clyde and our friend Ilse Paakkinen, who is also a board member of Helsinki Traditional Jazz Dance Society, went to this festival together and experienced the absolutely captivating rhythms of traditional Zimbabwean dance, performed by Umkhathi Theater Works:

This summer, I have mostly been devoted to the study of the wonderful art of tap dancing. I have been privileged to work on the rudiments of tap with Charles Godderzt, who has been generously sharing his expertise, gathered through decades of work as a dancer and teacher.

One of the highlights of my summer was the intermediate level adult residency program, taught by the legendary dancer Brenda Bufalino at the Tap City Festival. During the intense week, we worked on her choreography Turnaround (to John Di Martino’s modern jazz tune “Turnaround”), which we got the change to perform at the end of the week in the student-show case Tap Future at Symphony Space.

My learning-experience became even more comprehensive by also, during the same week, reading her book Tapping the Source – Tap Stories, Theory and Practice. Being a philosopher by education, I love how this work opens up the philosophical depth of  tap dancing.

In addition to technique, steps and working on the 6/8 rhythm, I learnt tremendously about the artistry and choreographing of dancing. I am a great admirer of Ms. Bufalino’s choreography, and I particularly enjoy the way she creates counterpoints. As an example of this, I link the choreography Buff Loves Basie Blues, performed by the American Tap Dance Orchestra:

Tap City 2014 058







Malin and Clyde Wilder swinging out on the Copasetics Boat Ride. By organizing this boat ride, Tap City Festival continues the tradition of the legendary dance group, the Copasetics, who used to give boat rides with dancing and live music – and hands this tradition down to future generations of dancers.

My intense tap studies continued the next week in the first training period of the Tap Teacher Training Program, organized by the American Dance Foundation. I feel very grateful and privileged for the possibility of participating to this program, which I also knew would be on a very high level (which, at the outset, made me feel somewhat nervous). What makes this program particularly fantastic is that it both offers a very high-level education in the technique and aesthetics of tap dancing and transmits the cultural history and artistic legacy of the great masters of tap.

Teaching children’s dance programs myself (even if not specifically in tap dancing), I was quite inspired by the amount of attention the program paid to the dance pedagogy and questions concerning e.g. how to teach jazz rhythms to children.

Since working in an intimate connection to the history and cultural tradition of jazz is one of the most important foundations of my work as a dance teacher, I was thrilled to learn dances of the Copasetic canon: a dance repertory handed down by such legendary dancers as Honi Coles and other members of the dance group Copasetics. Their dance choreographies were handed down to us by Barbara Duffy. I also have to mention that as little of an early-morning-person as I am, I really enjoyed starting each day at 9 AM with Ms. Duffy’s technique classes. The energy and intensity of her classes are a great source of inspiration!

Here’s a link to Honi Coles and Cholly Atkins performing their classic shoft shoe choreography Taking a Change on Love on an TV interview with jazz historian Marshall Stearns:

In Ms. Bufalino’s master classes, we entered the depths of the artistry of creating dance choreography, as well as of performing with live musicians. In this context she also reminded of the importance of “seeing work”: watching performances and exploring the possibilities of what has been done and what can be done in the dance.

This summer, me and Clyde have definitely seen work. And not only any work, but dance as its peak, performed by many of the greatest dancers of today. We have seen work on extremely high level of creativity and originality, work of tremendous depth and meaning.

We saw Savion Glover entering the spiritual realm of mediation and prayer through the rhythms of his feet in his latest production Om at the Joyce Theater.

We saw the uplifting and dynamic Broadway show After Midnight, produced by jazz legend Wynton Marsalis, accompanying great singers and wonderful jazz tunes from particularly my favorite composer Duke Ellington. The show received the Tony Award for its great choreography – but for our shock and surprise, it was taken off from Broadway right after the Tony Awards. We only got the change to see this show once – some of our dancer friends liked it so much that went to see it more than ten times!

When we spent a week in New York with dancer Chazz Young, an old friend of Clyde’s back from the days of performing with Norma Miller’s Jazz Dancers, we spent a lot of time looking and discussing dance and music films. (Films, of course, are essential for seeing and celebrating the work of the great performers of the past.) We also went to see Audra McDonald’s phenomenal presentations of Billie Holiday’s music and life story in the show Lady Day at the Circle in the Square Theater. All of us were captured both by McDonald’s singing and the narrative that painted a vivid picture of how it felt to be a black female performer on tour through a segregated country where one could, for example, be denied the right to use the toilet, just for being black (and a woman).

When Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater played two weeks at the Metropolitan ballet, we saw three different programs. We will never get tired of seeing the masterpiece Revelations over and over again, but this year’s highlight for us was The Ostrich – the original choreography of Asadata Dafora from 1932, restaged by Charles Moore. When pursuing my archival research in the history of African American dance at the Lincoln Center Performing Arts Library, I saw old footage of Asadata Dafora himself personifying the ancestral spirit of the great bird. Here’s one version of The Ostrich I found online:

Another great book I read this summer, and can warmly recommend, is Alvin Ailey’s autobiography, fittingly named Revelations. This book opened new dimensions for my understanding of the pieces we saw onstage.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has great material on their Youtube channel; check out e.g. this video of Uptown, choreographed by Matthew Rushing for AAADT’s 2009–2010 season (Clyde was the swing consultant of this piece):

Finally, we have been extremely encouraged by just how bright the future of tap dancing looks like. One of the greatest inspirations for us, from the point of view of spectators of dance, was the show Tap & Song produced by Tony Waag. This show (part of the program of Tap City Festival) included outstanding performances by both new and more established tap dance companies, mixing the vernacular of the tap with other cultural influences such as Brazilian rhythms and capoeira. All of the performances were spellbinding, and many received a standing ovation, but the class act Tap and Tray by the German duo Kurt & Klaus (disciples of “Mr. Magic Feet” Carnell Lyons) really brought the house down.

I will return to Finland with lots of new ideas and inspiration, as well as lots of technical homework and the mentioned dances of the Copasetic repertory to work on. My dance classes of this Fall will be connected to my tap teacher training, and I look forward to communicating about my work in a long-distance collaboration with my appointed mentor. I very much look forward sharing the inspiration, insights and skills that I have acquired with my students!

I am thrilled and encouraged by the fact that attending ATDF’s tap teacher training program felt like a beautiful affirmation of many of the central concepts that me and Clyde are already working with in our dance classes, both with our child and adult students. We feel that our work is essentially about transmitting the vernacular of jazz and introducing the philosophy and history together with the steps, rhythms and movements. With our work, we also want to hand down the legacy of the great dancers of the past. We feel that the ancestors of this dance tradition are very proud that their legacy is being continued, as the ATDF so wonderfully does in their programs, shows and festivals, as Clyde has been doing throughout his long career as a dancer, and as we are doing together through the work we do at the Helsinki Traditional Jazz Dance Society.

We look forward continuing our work in the Fall, in all of the many classes and workshops we are about to teach, all the shows we are going to perform in and the events we are going to produce!


Malin Grahn-Wilder

Swinging with kids – multicultural arts-in-education through traditional jazz dance

by Malin Grahn

The latest Kuohu -newspaper featured my article on the after school dance program I teach with my dance partner Clyde Wilder at the community cultural center Kääntöpaikka. You can read the Finnish version of the article “Swingin sykettä ja tanssillista tarinankerrontaa” (“The Beat of Swing and Stortytelling Through the Dance”) online.

In this program, we have worked with traditional jazz movements and rhythms, and the children have learnt rhythmical and fun dances from the African American tradition like the Shim Sham and the Big Apple. They learnt both choreography and improvisation, vernacular material and to create their own art works through the dance.

The dance also connects to many philosophical themes: coming in terms with one’s own emotions, finding one’s own creativity and self-expression, being able to be creative together and support the creativity in others. In the classes, the children work in groups to  create their own choreographies. Last winter, our fantastic young dancers performed at the charity ball House Rent Party (16.11.2013) and at our end-of-the-season Tea Dance Party in the beautiful cultural and neighborhood house Bokvillan. Many amazed parents and other members of the audience came to talk to me after the performances, and asked: “Were the choreographies really created by the children themselves?” Yes, they were.

Many people also commented the precision and excellence in jazz rhythms that the children mastered. Indeed, it is inspiring to see how much the kids enjoy dancing to the swing songs from the earlier part of the 20th century. They have developed their own taste in jazz, too, and some songs have become really popular in the class and are requested over and over again. One of the favorites is Lionel Hampton’s “Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop”, which the kids sing with their own lyrics: “Hei, mä oon rikas!” (Hey, I’m rich!).


Kääntöpaikka’s school children’s group performed traditional jazz dances at the House Rent Party (16.11.2013) to a room full of enthused audience. Photographer: Aura Vapaametsä.

During the Spring, it has been clear that our young dancers really enjoy working on their own little dance stories and choreographies. I really look forward our Spring Party and Tea Dances at Kääntöpaikka on May 4th, where the Kääntöpaikka after school program will perform again and present their own creations. Which, I promise, are truly amazing!

A few quotes from the article:

“One of the most wonderful experiences in teaching the after school program is to encounter the children’s unique and individual creativity that stems from a focused and open mind and shared enthusiasm.”

”It makes me happy see how immediately the kids react to the uplifting rhythms of swing. They feel a strong connection to the movements of the African American dance tradition, and the swing music from the early 20th century does not sound as distant to their ears. In the class it is easy to see how dance can help to overcome artificial boundaries. By dancing to jazz and swing the kids can participate into a cultural tradition, that was created on the other side of the world but still feels close to them and connects to many of their familiar everyday experiences.”

“And finally: while dancing one can just be oneself. As a group, we can share the movement of the dance and the pulse of the music, but each of us can dance as the unique individual she or he is. As one of the kids from the group crystallizes it: ‘It is fun that in this class not everybody has the to be the same.’”

Read the entire article (only in Finnish) under this link (1/2014, p. 9):

During the spring, me and Clyde have also been teaching multicultural arts-in-education work shops in traditional jazz dance at the International Cultural Center Caisa, both for school and Kindergarten Groups. It has been an extremely inspiring experience to teach these classes, and I have been happy to see all the enthusiasm, learning experiences and pure joy of dancing in the classes.

I am also very proud that the wonderful class from Kaisaniemi elementary school we worked with in the 5×2 –program at Caisa will perform our choreography “Swing Classics” on the International Day of Dance, April 29th. There will be two performances at the Kaisaniemi school (Kaisaniemen ala-aste), 17:30 and 19:00. Tickets at the door (adults 6 euros, children 4 euros).

I don’t want to reveal too much, but I can assure that they will rock the house with their extremely energetic, rhythmical and uplifting performance! I look forward seeing them on stage!


Koululaisten tanssiryhmien esitykset / Performance times for our school children’s groups:

Tanssin juhla @ Kaisaniemen ala-aste ti 29.4. klo 17:30 ja 19

Teetanssit & kevätkauden päättäjäiset Kääntöpaikalla 4.5. klo 17-20



Happy International Day of Dance!

I am very proud to have the pupils of Kaisaniemi ala-aste perform my and Clyde Wilder’s choreography “Swing Classics” in the International Day of Dance -performances at their school.

During this spring, with this group, we have been working on many classic elements of traditional jazz from the 1930’s and ’40’s. The class has learnt traditional jazz steps and routines, partner dancing (swing) and tap. For example, they have learnt the classic tap routine “The Shim Sham”, which we have practiced without tap shoes. But even in the barefooted version, the young dancers express incredible sense of rhyhtm and syncopation!

The choreography “Swing classics” has elements of all of these different expressions of traditional jazz that we have worked on together. My co-operation with this group started in the multicultural arts-in-education program at the International Cultural Center Caisa, and I am very proud that our work together has produced such a beautiful outcome as this performance.

Here’s a picture from the show. Jazzy rhythm and good feeling – these are fundamental elements of jazz that the group expressed in their performance.


 Photo: Malin Grahn

Travelling through the history of jazz


Photo by: Jirina Alanko

JAZZ HISTORY THROUGH TIMES, 05.02.2014 at Espoo Cultural Center

We had an amazing night at Espoo Cultural Center on 05.02.2014, performing to an almost full and a very energetic audience! Thank you so very much everybody for coming out to see the show, and for all of the beautiful comments we have received afterwards!

Our Black History Month Program continues on Thursday 20.02. at 19:00 at International Cultural Center Caisa, with our lecture-demonstration entitled “Reflections of Jazz”.

Dancers Clyde Wilder and Malin Grahn will lead the audience through the fascinating history of jazz, and discuss some of its central philosophical contents like freedom, improvisation and communication. And of course – the lecture and discussion will go hand-in-hand with uplifting dance performances, performed by Wilder, Grahn and dancers from the Helsinki Traditional Jazz Dance Company!

At the end of the lecture, we will also have a question-and-answer period, so whatever questions you might have wanted to pose after the show in Espoo – now is your chance to ask them at Caisa!


Tickets 10 euors / at the door.

Click here for more information.


Photo from the show Jazz History Through Times, by Jirina Alanko.

PS: Tune in to YleTV5’s morning show Min Morgon on Thursday 20.02., 7-8:30 AM, to get some insight into what we will talk about and perform in the lecutre-demonstration at Caisa – and to see some memories from the show we did at Espoo!

Reflections on Jazz History Through Time

This performance was held on 21, 25, and 28 April, 2013.


It’s Charleston time! – Malin Grahn (front row; purple dress) and dancers grooving to the beat.

Malin Grahn, producer, performer, artistic director:

The main project of this spring for our dance company was the production of the show Jazz History Through Times with dancer, choreographer Clyde Wilder.

Jazz History Through Times is Mr. Wilder’s show, based on his original idea and centered around his dance-wisdom: ability to both capture the history and development of African-American dance in a fascinating narrative, and show the language of jazz in the different movements and dances, starting from traditional African dances and from there moving through the different decades of jazz and blues. Mr. Wilder has performed different versions of this show around the U.S.; now with our group, the show saw its premier in Europe. In Helsinki, we created a new version of the show where we also could benefit from the pre-existing skills of our group.

Thanks to the support of the Helsinki City Cultural Office, we were able to produce three performances, two of which at Cultural Center Kääntöpaikka and one at International Cultural Center Caisa. The production included multiple tasks and challenges: choreographing, rehearsing, practical arrangements, costumes… We wanted to have beautiful posters and flyers that would reflect the style of the show, and we were grateful to get graphic designer Tero Juuti to work with us. We were also grateful to have photographer Nuppu Linnavuori to take promotional pictures for the show and to document our performance at Caisa. For a full-length show including many dances from different decades, we also had a need for new costuming, which kept our fantastic costumer Anni Laanti busy. Lights and sound needed to be thought of. At Kääntöpaikka, we practically did everything ourselves, starting from organizing the space, carrying chairs etc.

The biggest artistic tasks, of course, included choreographing the pieces and rehearsing them with the group. Clyde and I created some new choreographies for the show. In addition to the choreographed dances, the show also included an improvised blues, performed by us two. Personally, I was thus engaged both with choreographing, teaching, rehearsing the dances and the acrobatics, as well as taking care of practical arrangements. During the process, I learned both of organizing and being in charge of an artistic project, of detailed technical issues, and of staging of the dance.

I am very happy and proud of the results of our work, especially given our limited timetable. For me, the greatest reward was to hear the numerous, enthusiastic comments from the audience. Many people came to tell how touched and inspired they were of the show, both the narrative, information and the aesthetics of the dance.

We had people of all ages in the audience, including many children, and several of the parents came to tell me how happy they were that their children had been captivated by the show even if they could not understand the English language narrative. In our question & answer period after the performance at Caisa, we were encouraged to bring the show to schools, and this awakened a lively discussion on the importance of telling about the roots of jazz and blues, and of discussing such issues as slavery, racism and segregation with young people.

Yet one thing that made me particularly happy in this project was the multi-artistic nature of it. Even if the art of our group is first and foremost the dance, which we want to present on as high level as we could, the creative process included more than that: also photography, costuming, styling and graphic design were important parts of creating the beautiful whole. This blog writing also reflects the plurality of different creative approaches and the voices of different people who participated to the process.

I sincerely hope that we will develop this show further, with the help of the comments we received as well as the new ideas and inspirations that we received along the way. The version we performed was a work-in-progress, and we hope to continue on our historical jazz journey.


Clyde Wilder and dancers of Helsinki Traditional Jazz Dance Company

Clyde Wilder, dancer, choreographer, artistic director:

I felt very happy and honored to be invited to Helsinki by the company, to share my information, knowledge and experiences with them.

Jazz History through Times talks about the experience of traditional jazz music and dance. It explores this experience by going to its very roots in African music and dance, and showing how the language and communication of jazz evolves from the movements and rhythms of the African communities. For example, gathering of food in different areas dictated how the people lived and told of their experiences and ways of life. This goes together with particular ways the voice was used, hand claps, instrumentations etc. These experiences were continued with the people who were brought to America through slavery. The conditions and situations that the people lived in influenced a special type of music and songs as an inspiration for human dignity, balance and survival. The music and dance express the importance of utilizing our strength to communication, to exist and to fight and to protest the situations that we have been living in.

My personal understanding of traditional African and African American music and dance and of the importance to explain and to share it has been my life work. I am fortunate to have been associated with may of the elders who carried those vernacular movements and history, and shared so many wonderful experiences with me, like Chuck Green, Sandman, Bunny Briggs, Illinois Jacquet, Ruth Brown, Mama Lou Parks, Norma Miller, Frankie Manning, Al Minns, Buster Brown, Cookie Cook and Honi Coles form the Copasetics…

When I was home in New York and tried to visualize what would be the main theme of the show, I tried to figure out how I would be able to work with eight women in a project where you generally need male and female characters for the swing dancing. But then I found that it was beautiful to use the lead and follow positions instead of male and female. I have done it before but not as a theatrical piece. When I came to Helsinki and met everybody and the spirit was open and beautiful, I realized that this is what we work with. It is an excellent start when you have open people who are ready to work.

I also knew that it was extremely important to speak of the blues and the development of its movement and conversation. Now how would you do that without the male and the female character? Then I thought it was more appropriate if I just did the blues section with Malin. Fortunately, we had a live performance at the Stompin’ at the Savoy -blues festival at the Savoy theater, so we had the opportunity to communicate the blues already there. When we did the show at the Savoy, people saw the emotions and responded to the communication, the closeness and the balance of the music that we shared together.

At one of the rehearsals, we asked the girls for their participation and help for choosing the record we would dance our unchoreographed blues to, to see which one they were most affected by emotionally. They chose Bobby Blue Bland.

At our rehearsals, I always try to get the participation of everyone, to get them to express what they think and feel, so that they can give their self-expression and improve creativity on each piece we are working on at the time. I thought it was extremely important to everybody to feel that this was our work, our experience and development together. And to be able to, at the end of the piece, put the breath of life into the movement and the work so that it can have a continued life, after one show is done.

Just by the way the audience said what they felt after the performance, I feel that we have touched people’s spirit and emotions, and opened a different level of understanding. What they have said, and seeing the pictures and film of the show, made me realize that our approach and our journey was clear and successful.


The amazing Swing-Bot costumes by Anni Laanti.

Anni Laanti, costumer:

From the costumer’s point of view, the project included many challenges. The most obvious thing also for the viewer is the aesthetics; how our costumes reflect the atmosphere of the show and the different decades we tell about in our dance. There was also a lot of technical stuff that I needed to consider, to make the costumes durable and easy for the wide range of movements all the dancers do.

We girls had already the shiny swingbot-costumes from the Helsinki Burlesque -show, so it was easy for me to continue on that theme. The golden shorts and spats from that number were accompanied by new wrap around -tops, which were modeled on a picture I found in an old Life-magazine from the 1940’s.

Also the silver skirts for The Skate for the dancers doing the female part brought out the swing movement nicely. To make Clyde a part of our group costume-wise I made him a silver vest and spats to match our shine.

The fringe dresses for the Charleston were first used already a year ago by the members who have danced longest in our group. And as new girls have been joining in, they’ve had their colorful dresses made – of course with matching panties!


Designed by: Tero Juuti

Tero Juuti, graphic designer

… writes in his own blog on the project of designing for Jazz History Through Times:

I was asked to make a poster for an event by Helsinki Traditional Jazz Dancers. I don’t know much about jazz dance but sounded fun, so I decided to do it. I hadn’t done any actual hand-made lettering for a while so I thought that could be the starting point of the poster.

I actually thought I would letter all the texts by hand but that turned out to be a bit too big job for the schedule so I settled for a font that would contrast the handmadeness. The client was very happy with the poster, as were I. Nice job.


“Let’s Do the Big Apple!” – Dancers of Helsinki Traditional Jazz Dance Company having a blast.

Serena Chan, dancer:

First of all, it has been a great honor to be part of this dance production and to be able to work with a group of amazing people with a burning energy and passion for the same thing. It feels exceptionally exciting since it was our company’s first own bigger dance production!

It has been a very steep learning process throughout this entire production. It was fun, overwhelming, satisfying, challenging – all at the same time. Most of the time, when someone asks me about it, I feel like there just aren’t enough words in the dictionary to describe my exact feelings.

On a more reflective ground, there have been some very valuable lessons and insights from this experience. One is on dance and history.

We started the preparations about 1,5 months or so before the show – learning new routines, polishing old ones, practice, practice, practice.

Yet, what captivated me the most was the historical aspect of the dance. In my opinion, understanding the roots and appreciation for the dance run parallel side-by-side.  Every time Clyde or Malin shared a piece of information with the group, I got a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach as though I’ve just been re-connected to the past through a time machine.

The more I learn of its history, the more powerful every step feels. To re-enact all these precious feelings and past experiences onstage felt more like a dedication to the people and the spirits from the past than just another performance. We danced for them and ourselves, as well as, with them and ourselves.

What else did I take away from this journey?

Enjoy the moment…enjoy every step…enjoy every connection with each dancer on stage, and dance with a breath of life.

It took me a while to come to terms that nobody remembers the “mistakes” we made onstage. But, they will always remember the energy we shared in that space and the story that came alive.

As Clyde puts it, “Breathe that breath of life in the dance and people will see us, our loved ones, and our ancestral spirits.”

That was exactly what happened!

Our historical jazz journey will continue in February 2014 – follow us, and we will keep you updated!

Burlescopolis & Swingbotit

Kevät 2013 käynnistyi Helsinki Traditional Jazz Dance Companyn osalta komeasti osana Helsinki Burlesque Festivaalin kattausta, rinnallaan burleskitaiteen huippuja niin Suomesta kuin ulkomailtakin. Tarkemmin ottaen ryhmämme kunniatehtävä oli avata koko festivaaliviikonloppu (1.-2.3) perjantain ensimmäisenä numerona.

Jo kuudetta kertaa järjestettävä festivaali kantoi tänä vuonna nimeä Burlescopolis, viitaten Fritz Langin ”Metropolikseen” (1927), ja kuljetti teemallaan elokuvataiteen alkuvuosikymmeniin. Festivaalin eräänlaista suojeluspyhimyksen seppelettä kantoi Helsingin symboli, Kauppatorin laidalla patsasteleva Havis Amanda.

Aikakauden ja Metropoliksen maailman inspiroimana  koreografi Malin Grahn halusi tehdä kunnianosoituksen 1900-luvun alkupuolen elokuvien ja teattereiden tanssitaiteelle sekä liikekielelle, jazztanssin hohdokkaista perinteistä ammentaen niitä samalla luovasti uusintaen. Puvustajamme Anni Laanti sekä modisti-kampauseksperttimme Fiona Timantti loihtivat asumme juuri tätä esitystä ja teemaa silmälläpitäen. Sumuiset flappermeikit taituroi Miia Magia.

Esiripun noustessa seisoi lavalla seitsemän lakanalla verhottua kivettynyttä hahmoa. Pick up herrasmiesten riisuessa lakanat yksitellen, paljastui alta joukko kullanhohtoisia veistoksia, kuin seitsemän art deco Havis Amandaa. Musiikin tahtiin hahmot heräsivät hitaasti eloon, kunnes – pam – yhteisestä iskusta muuttuivat seitsemäksi synkronoiduksi swingbotiksi!


Esityksen ensimmäinen osa tapahtui 1920-luvun Chorus Girls -kokoonpanojen hengessä, yhdistellen charlestonia ja steppiä. Aikanaan Chorus Girls -ryhmät viihdyttivät niin yökerhoissa kuin teattereissakin, ja heidän taidonnäytteitään näkee myös aikakauden elokuvissa. Näiden kokoonpanojen tanssijat hallitsivat laajan määrän erilaisia perinteisiä jazzsteppejä ja rytmejä; he olivat viehkeitä ja vauhdikkaita, rytmisyyden ja ryhmässä liikkumisen taitureita. Numeromme kumarsi  siis myös noille ryhmille. Musiikin joka ikinen isku oli huomioitu, koko lavaa, samoin kuin seitsemän tanssijattaren kokoonpanoa, käytettiin hyväksi, mutta tilaa jäi synkronoidun liikkeen lisäksi myös yksilöllisyydelle, huumorille ja hulluttelulle.

Toisessa tanssissa Swingbotit matkustivat ajassa jazzin kulta-ajasta 1920-luvulta swingaikakaudelle. Vauhdikas swingnumero luotti perinteisen jazztanssin klassisiin elementteihin, mutta yhdistellen niitä omaperäisellä tavalla, kuten improvisoivaan ja persoonalliseen jazztanssin perinteeseen sopii. Numerossa yhdistyivät tanssiminen yksilönä, parina ja ryhmänä, samoin kuin rytmisen tarkat synkopoinnit, koko lavan täyttävät ryhmäkoreografiat, nopeaan musiikkiin pareittain tanssittu lindy hop, soolo-osuudet sekä akrobaattiset elementit. Esitystä edelsikin melkoinen määrä hientäyteisiä treenejä. Nostojen ja heittojen käyttäminen osana tanssia vaatii harjoittelua keneltä tahansa, mutta pelkistä naisista koostuvalla kokoonpanolla yhteisen ajoituksen ja luottamuksen löytyminen on kaikki kaikessa. Lisäksi numeron kuntoa kohottavaa puolta tehosti osaltaan myös nopea musiikki. Harjoittelu palkittiin, esityksemme päättyi kirjaimellisesti kannat kohti kattoa, ja hymy kasvoillamme kertoi miltä swingbotsydämissä tuntui.

Mutta, se riisuminen. Miksikö ryhmämme, jonka esityksessä päältä lähtivät vain lakanat, oli osana burleskiohjelmistoa – ohjelmistoa, jonka tyyliin, tapoihin ja tarinallisuuteen liittyy vahvasti vaatteiden väheneminen?

Ja kiitollinen vastaus on: koska nykyburleskitapahtumien sateenvarjon alle mahtuva skaala on laaja. Esitysten kirjo on moninainen ja tyylejä on yhtä monta kuin tekijöitään. Niissä yhdistyy historiallisesta burleskiviihteen perinteestä ammentaminen, sen kunnioittaminen, sen varioiminen ja uudistaminen, siihen erilaisten estraditaiteen muotojen sekoittaminen sekä lopulta viihdyttävän, vaikuttavan ja yllättävän shown luominen.
Ottaen huomioon, että aikoinaan 1900-luvun alkupuolen Amerikassa burleskitanssijattaret kiihdyttivät ja viihdyttivät mm. osana varieteeteattereiden ohjelmistoa, sana variety ( = monipuolisuus/ moninaisuus/ vaihtelevuus) kuvaa myös nykyburleskitapahtumia osuvasti. Lisäksi menneen ajan vaudeville- ja verietee-esitykset, visuaalisuus, puvustus sekä eskapistinen lumo inspiroivat nykyburleskiesiintyjiä yhä. Nykyään burleskin nimissä voidaankin nähdä niin stand uppia, nukketeatteria, gorilla-asuja, veitsenheittoa kuin nykytanssiakin.

Ryhmämme ei siis esittänyt varsinaista burleskia, mutta menneistä vuosikymmenistä inspiroitunut, tanssin perinnettä jatkava, populaarikulttuurin vivahteita omaksunut esityksemme sekä asumme toivat oman kullanhohtoisen osansa showkokonaisuuteen. Esitysten yhteisen nimittäjän voisikin paikallistaa ennemmin tietynlaiseen tyylilliseen jatkumoon ja tiettyyn esitystaiteen perinteeseen kuulumiseen kuin siihen, montako vaatepartta lavalle lentää. Jos yhtäkään.

Festivaalilla eri esittävien taiteiden ja kehon hallinnan muotoja edustivat mm.  drag-hahmoinen cyr-rengasakrobaatti Oskar Rask, mongolialainen käärmenainen Khaliuka Narankhuu, Anna Fur Laxis dramaattisen sensuellina ninjakissana, The Baron perinteisen karmaisevalla sideshow’llaan, ihastuttava Finnish Blonde Burlesque Troupe taikurispektaakkelillaan sekä kohtalokkaan kaunis Mr. Pustra musiikkinumeroineen.

Oman ryhmämme lisäksi vuosisadan alkuvuosikymmenistä, art decosta, orientaalin lumosta ja elokuvan estetiikasta inspiraation saaneita olivat mm. Pepper Sparkles Mata Harin aikalaisille kumartavalla numerollaan, Bettie Blackheart ja Frank Doggensteinin Frankensteinin morsian -tarinallaan, Lyalya Bezhetskayan klassisella perhosenkuoriutumisinumerolla ja Xarah Von Den Vielenregen tunnelmallisella kynttelikkötasapainoilullaan.

Klassisen amerikkalaisen, glamourikkaan burleskin lippua kantoi vanhan polven legenda Isis Starr. Hänen livebändin säestämänä improvisoitu numeronsa tihkui sellaista vuosikymmenien tuomaa itsevarmuutta, kokemusta ja karismaa, jollaista ei voi rahalla ostaa.

Kansianvälisen nykyburleskin kärkinimet ja uuden aallon nousuun vahvasti vaikuttaneet Dirty Martini sekä Tigger! olivat ehdottomasti festivaalin odotetuimpia nimiä. Molemmat näyttivät esityksillään sekä olemuksellaan keskisormea kaikelle tavanomaiselle, konventionaaliselle ja turvallisen sievälle. Dirty Martinin klassinen tanssitausta sekä sille irvailu luovat vaikuttavan, perinnetietoisen, yllättävän ja kokeellisen cocktailin. Tigger! puolestaan – noh – tapahtuu.

Tanssijana monitaiteelliselle, huolella tuotetulle ja arvostetulle Helsinki Burlesque Festivaalille osallistuminen oli kokemuksena avaava ja korvaamaton. Viikonlopun aikana huomasimme, kuinka tanssinumerokaan ei tyhjene pelkkään tanssiin – puvustus, meikki, kampaus, lavastus, valaistus sekä esiintyminen lavalla ylipäänsä täydentävät teoksen kokonaisuudeksi. Elämys puolestaan syntyy niistä ystävällisistä, taitavista, uskomattomista ihmisistä, joiden kanssa kokemuksen jaoimme. Muiden esiintyjien, tanssin ammattilaisten sekä eri tyylien edustajien numeroita  näkemällä aisti ja ymmärsi myös tanssin moniulotteisuuden. Kuinka se loppuun asti hiottu pikkusormen liike, viimeistelty ele ja oikealla tavalla ladattu katse voivat räjäyttää pankin. Kuinka toisaalta äärimmäisyyksiin asti hiominenkaan ei aina korvaa luonnollisuutta, spontaaniutta ja aitoutta. Kuinka viehkeys, karisma, ammattimaisuus, huumori ja kepeys tukevat toisiaan. Kuinka ammentaa perinteestä, sitä kunnioittaen, sitä uudistaen ja siihen oman sanomansa tuoden.
Kuinka tärkeää on tanssia.

Teksti: Oona Latto & Malin Grahn


Burleskin historia, sen yhteys jazztanssiin sekä esteettiseen vastakulttuurisuuteen kiehtoo meitä jatkossakin. Suunnitelmissamme onkin mm. laajempi julkaisu tähän blogiin sekä tapahtumaa ensi syksyn ohjelmistoomme – pysy siis kuulolla!


Tule ja näe kuinka Swingbottien tarina jatkuu Ylioppilasteatterin Lyhytteatterifestivaalilla 17.5! Lisää infoa ja aikataulu: