artists with a passion for the Arctic

on dance and nature

There is always some kind of movement – even in stillness. That’s how nature dances.”   ~Anna Halprin

Last week the Skiing on Skin 2015 festival took place a bit outside Helsinki, which I joined for a week full of dancing, meditation, feldenkrais, and other movement/body-based practices.

This is a contact improvisation festival which takes place once a year. However, what sets this festival apart from other festivals is, among others, the fact that it has always taken place close to nature. This year it took place in Nuuksio National Park, close to the nature centre Haltia.

Out of personal interest, and given the connection of this to my thesis (which is about exploring the influence of being in an undomesticated natural environment on group improvisation), I ended up having very interesting conversations with a lot of the people in the festival, participants and organisers alike.

What I like about contact improvisation is that it’s something you can’t do alone. By definition you need more than one person, and this is something that I find in common with the kind of improvisation I am interested in. (In my thesis the focus is not in solo improvisation, although this is of course also interesting in itself, but in improvising with others – our modes of listening during such group improvisation, and the ways in which we related to others through sound during the improvising.)

An almost universal comment was that being in the nature (‘obviously’) affects our way of being in different ways, perceived and not. For Lauri, gatherings of this sort (of different people coming together to connect in such a way to others, through dancing, improvising, etc), need “a frame – because the frame makes the space, makes the time, it makes the bubble – the border between the outside and the inside.” Being close to nature “really is in the human psyche – when people have come to seek something -power, of themselves- they have always gone to the mountains, they always go somewhere like that. You connect to yourself, you are away from society.

For Mirva, who works with recurring shapes and spiralling patterns in different parts of the body and nature as inspiration for her dance (calling the body a “landscape” with its “valleys and hills“), it provided a useful somatic metaphor which instantly affected the way of connecting. The impact of the surroundings in one’s dance were direct: “Most of the cities are built very angular, and the architecture is quite straight […] and when you are close to the nature and you have the environment of seeing trees, different landscapes, I feel it’s closer to the dance, or the human body, the design of the human body. […] The way of being in your own body changes as well – we are breathing maybe a little bit deeper.

Saara and Annukka planned and Saara lead a workshop titled “Dance in Nature” during the festival. According to Saara, even though we might not actively/consciously seek to investigate the ways in which being close to nature affects us and “even […] most of us are not leaving the [festival] grounds very much, [being in the nature] affects us in peripheral ways which we might not be aware of.” When asked how important she thinks it is for artists to contemplate/consider their connection/relation to a larger intelligence/constellation/a larger sense of being, she replied smiling: “If you consider the state of the world today – crucial! […] Of course it’s not motivating for everyone. But still, the capacity to move your awareness in different scales and realise, somehow, what we are doing on a planet-earth-scale is very important.

Annukka said that she personally feels her “body is listening more, or somehow breathing more, when I’m close to nature. If I’m in the city there are so many impulses coming from the buildings and the environment, that I feel I’m closing a little bit my surfaces – energetically and also physically. My body feels different from inside when I am in the city. […] [Here] It’s easier to be soft, and alive, and breathing in the body, and also open up to others [when we are closer to nature.]

Again, there is the recurring theme of framing – it provides a different point of view of our relationship to a larger whole, which inevitably aids in helping us tune into thr environment, into ourselves (as a “limb of nature“, rather than a “part of nature”, as Marcus Aurelius preferred), and to each other. And again, not necessarily through an active/conscious/investigative relationship to nature, but plainly through being in it our body feels and becomes aware of different aspects of such insights. (Embodied knowledge, or “information our bodies understand without conscious thought.“)

dance 2

dancers at skiing on skin festival 2015

It has been a very inspiring week with a lot of moving, dancing, conversing, and being in nature in different ways. Barry Lopez, in the introduction to his Arctic Dreams (1986), asks “How does the land shape the imagination of the people who dwell in it?” (Lopez 1986, p.xxxiii)

I feel this sort of meetings, conversations, and questions are important, and a beautiful starting point for any investigation into why we make the choices we make, and how we put ourselves in situations to be affected by the land in our lives, as artists, and on a larger scale, humans.


Note: All interview quotes are from personal interviews conducted by Laonikos during Skiing on Skin Festival, 21-28.2.2015, in Nuuksio, Espoo. These were all people from the organising team, and have all been working with dance and movement for close to or more than ten years.

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1 Comment

  1. Phil Burns March 21, 2015

    A great piece and insight on nature, energy and its essential impact on us all. I feel in nature one is never alone, as stated I feel our souls open up and breath in the life that flows and ebbs around us. As a runner, to be in nature, sometimes barefoot, with a fellow friend running, I feel so alive and connected to both my friend and the natural world as compared to the mechanical isolation of a gym treadmill. The same distance in miles but miles apart in fulfillment.

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