It was quite a while since the last interview with a contemporary dancer or choreographer. Quite a while, but it was worth waiting for. This time I have a pleasure to present a conversation with a very charismatic and intriguing Scandinavian artist Virpi Pahkinen. I was able to make this interview thanks to Agnieszka Federowicz who is a cultural manager at Arsharter Atelier in Krakow. Aga visitetd Finland some time ago and met Virpi Pahkinen there. She saw her performance and talked to her about her art, her work and her attitude towards life. I didn't have that opportunity but thanks to Aga I was able to send a pack of my questions and receive answers to all of them. As a result you may read below a short bio of our guest as well as a complete interview right after it.
Virpi Pahkinen, one of the Scandinavia´s most successful solo dancers. She has been succesfully touring the world in her dual role as choreographer and solo dancer. Her solos have met critical acclaim in over 40 countries including Australia, Mexico, South Africa and Lebanon. (...) She has also choreographed and appeared in a short dance film for wide screen, Atom by Atom, an existential thriller filmed on the remarkable volcanic mountains of Lanzarote and M de Mafra which was shot at the Palácio Nacional de Mafra Library in Portugal. (...) Her musicality and her interest in light as architecture has attracted artists of the highest quality, the lighting designer Jens Sethzman for instance, the composer Akemi Ishijima and live-musicians such as Jon Rose (violin,etc.) and Sussan Deyhim (song). In 2001, at the International Solo Dance Theatre Festival in Stuttgart, Virpi Pahkinen won the 1st Choreography Prize with her solo Prayer of the Scorpio. In 2002 she was awarded Carina Ari Foundation Gold Medal. (...)
She has taken part as a dancer in several of Ingmar Bergman´s theatre productions at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm: The Bacchae, Peer Gynt, Goldberg Variations, Space and Time, A Winter´s Tale and Ghostsonata.
Antoni Sikora: When I meet modern and contemporary dancers, especially in Poland their dance educational backgrounds are usually very different from each other. Some of the dancers used to be acrobats or gymnasts, some were martial arts professionals that moved away from karate or aikido to modern dance. Some have a classical ballet background. Your dance background is also different. Can you please tell us what you did before you took up dancing and why you decided to change?
Virpi Pahkinen: Before dancing I did gymnastics and figure skating. At the age of 15 I saw an announcement about modern dance classes. I got curious. At that time this dance school hired the studio from the Mormon church, so the place was quite fantastic, high in the ceiling and big windows. This is unlike the usual studios down in the basements. I tried to combine everything but then I decided to take more dance classes and skipped the other activities. Of course I also played piano a lot. So after school. I always had something to do. When I saw Carolyn Carlsson´s "Blue Lady" on the TV I got more enthusiastic. It confirmed that Dance can open up new spaces in our souls. At the age of 18 had no idea what I should do. I intuitively knew it should be something to do with Art, but didn´t know which direction. I dreamt of traveling. Signed up to study in the University but instead of going to lectures I enjoyed the student discounts and saw lot´s of films, in a.o Tarkovski. While doing my piano studies in the conservatory of Helsinki also danced every evening. Got a hint from a teacher to apply in the National College of Dance in Stockholm. I started my studies in the choreography department 1989.
Antoni Sikora: Have you ever been/are you associated with any dance theater or group or do you prefer to work as an individual? Why?
Virpi Pahkinen: Already 1990 one of our guest teachers in choreography, Donya Feur picked me up to a theatre production, Peer Gynt, directed by Ingmar Bergman in the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm. So it was busy times with both the performances in the evening and studies in the daytime. By 2001 I had been working with Ingmar in 6 different productions as a dancer and also in 2 of them as a choreographer. I had many contracts with the Royal Dramtatic Theatre in the 90´s and sometimes it was hard to combine with my own independent productions and touring with that theatre job. But I appreciate a lot all the rehearsal periods with Ingmar Bergman, it was really interesting. Now am happy to be a freelancer, couldn´t be doing any too regular normal theater work any longer. The freedom and the responsibility, the uncertainty and the surprises keeps the dance spirit inspired and live. Am of course ready to make commissioned works for ex ballet companies, but these type of contracts are just few months.
Antoni Sikora: What intention do you have when you create your choreographies? Is there any specific subject you want to touch on through your dance performances or do you want people to understand them individually, each interpreting the performance on their own?
Virpi Pahkinen: I wish people can get connected with their own spirituality and fantasy. I want to offer a beautiful resting place for a soul.
Antoni Sikora: You have said you have drawn your inspirations from Asia and the Far East. What is it about these regions that has affected you most significantly? How do you translate this influence onto your artistic work?
Virpi Pahkinen: Actually people have seen these "asiatic" influences long before I even visited Asia for the first time. Maybe it is my life before this that carries the "dance" karma from the past. One of the most important books I ever read is the Tibetan Book of Death. Some of the temples in South India are mind-blowing. The extraordinary architecture and the atmosphere that is vibrating of the prayers.
Antoni Sikora: You wrote a book called "Snake Eater". There’s not much information about it in English on the internet. Can you tell us what is it about and what made you write it?
Virpi Pahkinen: When I was kid I wrote a lot and while I was 18 years tried some poetry. It is still a little mystery why one Publisher in Finland asked me if I was interesting in a book project. The genre was free. I admitted that I might have some notes and maybe it was time to sum up something. It took me 3 years to write. When you are touring and dancing it is the other parts of the brain that are activated. Another kind of fire. quite far from the writing process, which needs more calm mood and melancholia The book is difficult to put in any box, it is autobiographical but with some ironic twist, lot´s of short travel stories, some poetic visions of life when the motor is improvisation, even some romantic adventures are present.
Antoni Sikora: What are you working on right now? What are your plans for the nearest future?
Virpi Pahkinen: I recently had a premiere in the Finnish National Opera Ballet. The commissioned work Korona was for 11 dancers and the music by Slovenian composer Borut Krzisnik. Tomorrow I will continue with a technically advanced dance film project, directed by Marita Liulia. Later this summer will have few gigs in Sweden, then will go to Java, Indonesia to work with Mugi Kasido and perform at the festivals in Solo City and Jogyakarta. In October my work "Aajej" will tour in Mexico, starting at the Cervantino Festival in Guanajuato 17th Oct.
Agnieszka Federowicz: What does dance mean to you? What fascinates you about dance?
Virpi Pahkinen: When I was young and anxious about the meaning of life, the physical activities were the relief form difficult questions, a run-away from God. What fascinates you about dance? Nowadays it is the highway back to God.
As an artist your need is to communicate, and when the words are not enough, the dance is the continuation of the thought, dance touch the places that words are afraid of.
Agnieszka Federowicz: Have you ever been involved in any projects in Poland? If so, what projects, can you tell us about your experience?
Virpi Pahkinen: I have choreographed for Polski Teatr Tanca/Poznan, two times, the latest was in 2003. I made a work called Zefirum. I liked the company and their artistic quality a lot. Sometimes we had some language problems but that passed away while drinking a strong black tea. I specially remember one of the company´s fantastic dancer, Iwona Pasinka. I have also performed in Cross Roads festival in Warsaw in 2005 (Theater Maly) with my solo series called SUITE 303.