Finland is not only famous for rock and metal bands, it is also a cradle for inspiring underground art culture. Wilma-Emilia Kuosa is a young jazz dance artist from Helsinki, who moved to Nice in France for professional jazz dance training, since jazz dance is not so popular in Finland any more. One of her latest dance projects is the „Geisha Dance Concert“, a dance performance combined with a photo exhibition, which deals with the subject matter of women’s rights in modern society. I talked with Wilma-Emilia about her work in order to get to know more about jazz dance and the role of young women in the Finnish and European dance field.
Interview with jazz dance artist Wilma-Emilia Kuosa from Helsinki
Moi Wilma, thank you for joining our interview. Before we get to know more about your latest dance project „The Geisha Dance Concert“, let us talk about your career and your love for jazz dance and music. When did you notice that dancing and singing are your passion? And has it ever been your dream to become a famous jazz dance artist?
Since I was a child every time we had people over, I liked to give a singing and dancing performance. For me it has always been a way of communicating on another level. Singing a song can tell so much more about how you are feeling, then trying to put the same message into your own words. Unless you take the time to make it a poem, that is also natural for me!
I knew I wanted to make performances, when I was still in kindergarten and made the neighborhood children do my plays. Sometimes my mum woke up to the whole neighborhood ringing our door bell and queuing with handmade tickets to the plays in my room. As I grew up, I took every chance I got to choreograph in school by either giving a performance or putting together the show. It was clear to me through-out growing up, that I want to make performances for a living.
When I was 14 years old, I took my first jazz dance class and after a decade of ballet classes, I knew, this was, what I had been searching for. It was dynamic, fueled with self-expression, animalistic and flirted with darkness in all the ways that can charm a teenager. Jazz dance was the first dance style that gave me tools to express the fire I have with-in. Ever since the first jazz dance class I have spent my time looking for a school that specializes in jazz dance and when I found OFFJAZZ I knew I was home.
Just tell me more about the jazz dance scene in Finland? How popular is jazz dance in Finland?
Finland is completely lacking professional training in jazz dance, so I never even considered staying there. Jazz dance is very marginal in Finland and this is why I am working internationally.
I have always dreamed of being able to support myself through the arts and I have been grinding hard to make that happen, ever since I started working. My first job was teaching dance at an elementary school, when I was 15 years old and I still appreciate every chance I get to share my discipline.
I am hungry to learn more to be able to offer my dancers a wider world of jazz dance. The art form has a rich legacy and a strong identity that needs to be embraced in today’s throwaway-society. I think fame is something that will fade, but knowledge is for forever.
I want to leave a mark by helping jazz dance live through these difficult times of everything melting together and losing its identity. I believe the best way to do it is to educate myself to the highest level in jazz dance and slay through the dance field by choreographing, performing, teaching and making conversation about it.
Which jazz artist inspired you the most? With whom would you love to work together in the future?
My all-time favorite singer is Nina Simone, to me she embodies the art of singing jazz. She has so much soul in her interpretation that it is disarming. She breathes the legacy of jazz and when I am creating I always take my time to get re-inspired by her. I want to reflect my time in what I do, so lately I have been jamming to Daughter and Angus & Julia Stone since they have that soothing indie vibe that sounds like a permission to feel.
Beth Hart is one of my favorite singer’s and I even did my jazz dancer’s diploma solo called “Aprés” to one of her songs. I love collaborating with live musicians and I would love to build a collaboration with her. I’m curious about new talents around the world and I think Instagram is a great way to stay up-to-date of what’s going on in today’s dance world. It’s important to remember that dance performances are longer, than the one-minute-clips there, so I keep doing my homework to see what the work is actually about.
Pina Bausch has always been the choreographer for me with her out-standing dance company. Even though she was not doing jazz dance choreography, her movement language is so unique and her approach embraced humanity in a way the world is in need of. When I saw her piece the Window Washer in Monaco at the Grimaldi Forum, I was amazed that everyone I talked with after the performance had the same feeling from it – we were all thinking that “that is how we want to be loved”. It would be my dream job to create a jazz dance piece for Tanztheater Wuppertal.
And is there a person, at OFFJAZZ, who influences you most at the moment?
My biggest influencers right now are my professors at OFFJAZZ, where I am pursuing my master’s degree in jazz dance. The school’s artistical director is Maestro Gianin Loringett, who’s way of training jazz dance technique and creating choreography is as close to the roots of jazz dance as you can get to today. He works with respect to the legacy of the jazz dance tradition and teaches the discipline in honor of its rich history.
I also train with Angelo Monaco who I consider is one of the most interesting jazz dance makers. Angelo is a student of Gianin Loringett. His animalistic style and way of communicating through his intriguing movement language is a blessing to the art form.
On your Facebook channel as well as on your website you often use the slogan #danceyourheartoutsessions? Does it have a special meaning for you?
In the creative process I feel, it is essential to connect with your soul before taking any action. This way whatever you end up doing came from the right place. You need to be able to listen to your heart and take the time to feel what is going on around you. Only by knowing where you are, you can communicate with others from a true place. We need roots to be able to grow.
I believe the only way of truly getting through to people is sharing something of yourself and this way you can communicate. Dancing for me is the most natural way to communicate. Sometimes the word “performance” is misleading to me since it gives out the impressions of portraying something else – I think all performing is honestly sharing the moment with the audience.
If you want to be able to communicate you need to start by listening. So, I start by listening to my heart. I think you can only dance with all of your being and that is why I call everything I do the #danceyourheartoutsessions.
You have created several dance performances, e.g. the “The Neglected Dance Concert” and the “Jazz & Dance” concept, which you have already performed in locations like the famous Koko Jazz Club in Helsinki. What are the two dance concepts about? Tell us more about them!
“The Neglected dance concert” is my first piece, that I made in collaboration with the vibraphonist Arttu Takalo. I call my pieces dance concerts since in them the music and the dance are created together and they live through each other. For “The Neglected dance concert” we worked with the Youth Crisis Center to workshop experiences of neglect into art. We took the real experiences and put them on stage as they were told to us and performed the reality we had experienced through the survivors of neglect.
“Jazz & Dance” concept was created when I got cold in the Koko Jazz Club’s glass lobby selling tickets and decided to warm up with a jazz dance improvisation. I started dancing and when the set was finished people had gathered outside the box and woke me up from my dance trance with applauds.
That is when I went to the director and told him we need to create a performance series where I improvise the performance with a guest star dancer and a jazz quartet to make the audience dance with us. I am interested in how dance can break down barriers between people so with this performance I wanted to break down the wall between the audience and the performer by making the whole space a playground. Jazz music is based on improvisation, so I think jazz dancing should respect that by turning your body into an instrument and letting the rhythm take over. I often give performances with live musicians and I love it, because then the two art forms become a song you can see and hear.
Your latest dance performance is the “Geisha Dance Concert” for which you worked together with the Finnish singer Emma Salokoski? Your project has also been supported by the Finnish Cultural Foundation and the city of Helsinki. What is the message behind it?
My inspiration for my second piece “The Geisha dance concert” came from profound frustration of feeling like nothing more than a tea room entertainer in a man’s world. I got tired of being treated like a young girl in professional context. I got sick of making coffee for people who want to abuse my skills and benefit from my talent. I just couldn’t take another meeting, where I needed to tolerate comments about my ass, before we could start an actual conversation about work.
I started feeling like I was the geisha of my own life. This is why I mirror todays perception of women with the geisha myth. That is how I have felt throughout my career – you better aim to please. I want to speak up for equality. I started by drawing out these geisha figures in all of the positions I no longer wanted to be put it – silenced, subordinate and objectified. I have been researching human rights violations against women and I let my knowledge inspire me to name the geisha pictures accordingly.
(VIDEO: Wilma-Emilia Kuosa): The Geisha Dance Concert
The Geisha Photo Exhibition for equal human rights for women is the setting for “The Geisha dance concert” piece, where we have woken the captivated geisha-figures and empower them to break free. I have made the piece in collaboration with the singer Emma Salokoski, who wanted to give her voice to women, so she composed the whole piece by only using her voice as an instrument. As a statement against today’s beauty pressures I wanted to be body-painted as a geisha for the performances to show people what a real woman looks like, when she has to curl under power structures. The body paintings and our look is created by the Finnish makeup artist Maaren Heiskanen, who I am proud to call my little sister.
In the piece we create a safe space for people to think about human violations in an immersive art cradle and speak up for humanity.
Let us talk a bit about women’s rights and women in modern Finnish Society. Finland was the first country in Europe, that has given women the right to vote and to stand as a candidate in political elections in 1906. Finnish Woman have been independent from men really early in comparison to women in other European countries and countries in the rest of the world. How are gender things discussed in Finland right now?
I do not care for labeling, so I find it hard to categorize how young women are today. What I can say is I have the privilege to work with women who think beyond gender roles and inspire past generations to evolve with them. With strong women who unapologetically stand for what they believe in and are tired of hushing for patriarchy. I wish we did not have to push each other to be more courageous against old-fashioned power structures. We live in an endless information stream and still we must accept, that men who are doing the same job, but with less education can be payed triple for it just because they don’t wear skirts. That is not modern enough for me.
I love the hashtag “#thefutureisfemale” and for me it means that in the future I should not have to fight for the same position the opposite sex is given for granted just because they talk smack behind the sauna. Business conversations should be had in broad day light and in respect to all parties involved. I want to live in a world, where the days of the boy’s club are over – it is time for unisex development.
You are also teaching jazz dance workshops and developing jazz dance choreography for junior and professional dance schools and companies. What do you like about working with young people? And with which dancing schools have you already collaborated with?
I have been working with dance schools in Finland and France and my most significant collaboration is with the Helsinki Dance Academy/Helsingin tanssiopisto. I have had the honor to work with them since I turned 18. I still give a workshop there every chance I get to be back in Helsinki! I also travel around giving workshops in all things regarding jazz dance or choreography as well as judge in dance events to give a voice to jazz dance.
Teaching is an important tool for me to create. In whatever I am doing I aim to connect with the heart and dance that through the body. Bodies don’t lie. When a whole group of people surrender to the same purpose and melt into one choreography I can see their stories come alive. It’s very humbling to share the opportunity to express yourself with others.
When new material starts communicating through the interpretation of different personalities I can really see its full potential and mend it to dress the person in question. I am all about positive vibes and being able to direct the energy of people into a reflection of their feelings in a safe environment is a blessing. Either it is teaching workshops or choreographing I aim to bring the group together and communicate to deliver a message. Happiness is only real when shared.
I heard, that you also created choreography for the French-Finnish movie production “Le Café de mes souvenirs (Finnish: Muistojeni kahvila). Just tell me more about that! What is the film about? When will it come out in Finland and France? How did you become a part of this film production?
The film Le Café de mes souvenirs (Finnish: Muistojeni kahvila) is currently in production and we have created a big dance scene for it. I can’t tell you too much about the scene before the movie comes out… But I can tell you we have created something new and colorful with 25 dancers and elevators!
The film is a charming love story between Emilie and Philippe, who has moved to Finland. Rising star Eveliina Kauhanen plays Emilie, who is working at her mother’s (Irina Björklund) cafeteria and then fall in love with Philippe (Lionel Nakache). The story combines love with burnout, becoming an accurate reflection of the trouble of our times.
The story moves forward through different songs, which are about the power love in a world, which is turning harder and colder. When the surrounding environment is getting more fragmented, people’s lives are getting tougher. Philippe is one of those casualties, and he decides to survive through love.
I fell in love with the script by Valto Baltzar as soon as I got my hands on – it almost two years ago. I’d just made a number called “BurnOut” for my RAW jazz dance collective and the story was perfect to emerge to the choreographic concept. The movie will come out internationally this year, exiting times!
Thank you very much Wilma-Emilia for this interesting insight of your working life as a jazz dance artist and choreographer. Do you have some shows coming up soon?
Thank you, I always enjoy an opportunity to put my work into words. We are currently working with the Geisha dance concert concept with upcoming shows. I am doing the photo exhibition with some feminist poetry that I have been painting this week at the Gallery of Stoa in Helsinki. We open the new 2nd Geisha Photo Exhibition: Female Empowerment from the 28th of January until the 17th of February. The next Geisha Dance Concerts are on the 15th to 17th of February 2019 in the cultural center of Stoa in Helsinki.
The new exhibition is all about female empowerment since the geisha has grown stronger throughout this creative process for equal human rights for women. All of the Geisha pictures and info about my shows and upcoming workshops are available on my website www.wilma-emiliakuosa.com, so please reach me through there to become a part of the #danceyourheartoutsessions.
(VIDEO: Wilma-Emilia Kuosa) About the Geisha Photo Exhibition “Female Empowerment”
Great, I will have a look on your website and when travel to Helsinki for the next time, I will let you know. It would be great to see you live on stage with your jazz dance performances then!
Tervetuloa! Whenever you will be in Helsinki or South of France, please let me know, so that I can invite you!
About the Finnish jazz-dance artist Wilma-Emilia Kuosa
Wilma-Emilia Kuosa is born in Helsinki/Finland. She studied dance and singing at the OFFJAZZ Dance Center in Nice/France. Moreover, she spent time at the famous Salzburg Experimental Academy of Dance (SEAD), at the Munich “Dance Station”, the Dance Studio Harmonic in Paris as well as at the popular dance school Pineapple Dance Studios in London. Wilma-Emilia is living in Nice and Helsinki. She is giving jazz dance workshops and choreographing in both countries.
She is open for charity performances for the elderly and she has created three own dance performances like “The Geisha Dance Concert”, “Jazz & Dance” and the “The Neglected Dance Concert”. So far, she has performed her “Jazz &Dance”-concept with amazing dancers from Finland, like Sami Siekkinen, Virpi Juntti, Sami Vallius, Jarkko Lehmus, Meeri Altmets, Iiro Näkki, Satu Rinnetmäki, Minna Tervamäki, Sini Länsivuori, Alpo Aaltokoski, Reija Wäre, Jyrki Karttunen and Hanna Pajala-Assefa.
She is also teaching Flow Yoga (Vinyasa Yoga) for the second year now, after practicing yoga for the past ten years. Flow Yoga is a style, which combines dynamic movement sequences and relaxing breathing techniques.