Nordic Flamenco: Northern Pulse

Show dedicated to the memory of Agustín de Cantarote 23.12.1965 – 3.2.2021.

Last weekend the (home)audience had the pleasure of attending the newest performance of the Helsinki-based Imperfecto Collective (lead by Elina Robinson), a performance called Nordic Flamenco: Northern Pulse, which was live streamed directly from Kanneltalo. This second Nordic Flamenco club featured Elina Robinson (dance), Anne Riikola-Sarkkila (dance), Anna Murtola (song), Rodrigo Gonzalez (guitar), Ricardo Padilla (percussions), Lotta-Maria Pitkänen (violin), Laura Rintamäki (palmas) and Christian Robinson (video art). As events and culture have been scarce in these times of Covid-19, it was a small miracle to get this piece on stage, even as a live stream performance and it was a delight to get to experience it through this medium.

Bailaoras Elina Robinson and Anne Riikola-Sarkkila with musicians Rodrigo Gonzalez, Anna Murtola and Laura Rintamäki in the background. Photo by Matti Sten.

The theme of the performance, ”Northern Pulse”, was strongly emphasized by Christian Robinson’s masterful video design and motion graphics throughout the performance. The video art, drawing from mythology and seasons changing, gave depth to the performance, not taking center stage from the performers on stage but adding to the mood and deepening the intensity, which reached us all the way at home. The opening number, a rhythmical serrana with night sky imagery beautifully interpreted by the whole team of performers, created a pulse that followed throughout the whole performance. The voice of Anna Murtola suited Juan Meneses’s serrana wonderfully, and the guitar of Rodrigo Gonzalez, violin of Lotta-Maria Pitkänen and percussions of Ricardo Padilla strengthened the magic. Together with Laura Rintamäki’s palmas, the musicians gave a perfect backdrop for Elina Robinson’s and Anne Riikola-Sarkkila’s interpretation of the choreography with strong footwork as well as fluid marcajes.

Serrana by Elina Robinson and Anne Riikola-Sarkkila. Photo by Matti Sten.

After the magical serrana, the mood changed to a lush green imagery and freshness of alegrias, an instrumental piece that recalled early summer nights filled with light. This fresh, airy piece gave the performers and audience alike room to breathe before yet another mood change to a somber, but in the end hopeful, tarantos performed by bailaora Anne Riikola-Sarkkila. Known for her clean lines and ability to put her soul into every performance, Riikola-Sarkkila impressed me most with her ability to break the classical lines and, furthermore, to do it, as always, elegantly without the positions seeming distorted or unappealing. This factor makes Riikola-Sarkkila’s style quintessentially her own, and this aspect was strongly present in her tarantos solo, as well.

Tarantos by Anne Riikola-Sarkkila. Photo by Matti Sten.

After Riikola-Sarkkila’s piece, yet another season change, and mood change, came with the haunting solo of cantaora Anna Murtola. The solo, featuring the singer center stage, and combining flamenco form nana (Spanish for lullaby) with traditional Finnish lullabies was simply stunning. Together with Pitkänen’s violin, Gonzalez’s guitar and Robinson’s wintery, earthy videos, the performance was at the same time delicately fragile and heart wrenchingly powerful. This beautiful piece, jointly composed by Anna Murtola and her life partner Ahmed Ali Hussein, caused strong emotions at least in this viewer bringing tears to my eyes, and left a desire to hear more.

Cantaora Anna Murtola with Ricardo Padilla, Lotta-Maria Pitkänen and Rodrigo Gonzalez accompanying. Background images by Christian Robinson. Photo by Matti Sten.

Just as the viewer thought that it could not get any better, Murtola’s nana transitioned beautifully to soleá by the singer and the multi-talented guitarist Rodrigo Gonzalez for Elina Robinson’s solo. What a jackpot and what a guitarist! Known for her magnetic stage presence and strong footwork, Elina Robinson brought to the stage a profound soleá accompanied perfectly by the band and the moonlit background created by Christian Robinson. The footwork was as strong and precise as ever, but there was a special air and peace both in the choreography and the performance. The piece had a magical depth that comes with complete confidence in oneself and perfect trust in the team. I want to give a special mention here for the grounding palmas of Laura Rintamäki that created the perfect support for the dancer.

Soleá by Anna Murtola and Elina Robinson. Photo by Matti Sten.

Another mood change followed, lightening the mood after these powerful numbers, with Lotta-Maria Pitkänen and Ricardo Padilla playing a delightful duo of polska center stage. The freshness of the violin of Pitkänen and multi-talented Padilla’s rendition with the charango set a joyful scene before the final piece of the show, an energetic tangos that brought the whole group back to stage, including both dancers. Set against a golden, flowery background, this was again a wonderful piece from the whole group and especially the bailaoras, both strong and confident in this palo full of down-to-earth femininity. This was the perfect ending with a strong pulse, which brought the performance to a full circle.

Tangos by Elina Robinson and Anne Riikola-Sarkkila. Photo by Matti Sten.

I must applaud the performers for the heart and tenacity with which they brought this performance to stage, even if it was as a live stream. I admire the dedication, talent, and mutual trust in these trying times. I also thank Apogee, responsible for the live stream, for the skillful execution. It is true that no live stream can replace the hum of the shared experience and the joy of being present and experiencing the performance with all senses as an entity, but for that moment we must wait. The show is scheduled for a live performance next Spring. I have my ticket; will you get yours?

And for those that missed the live stream, the video recording can be seen at until the 5th of April. I recommend all to go watch it.

All pictures by Matti Sten in this post are published with the permission of the Imperfecto collective and the photographer.

Origen Errante: Two Cultures, One Experience

On one fine Wednesday night in April, we experienced something wonderful in Helsinki. The well respected Spanish maestro and his musicians took the stage with Laura Rintamäki, one of our own, in Aleksanterin teatteri. My thoughts and feelings on the piece, the dancers, the musicians and the experience can now be read on Minna en el Mundo page of this blog. Flamenco unites!

Origen Errante. The official photo by Beatrix Mexi Molnar (courtesy of LR Flamenco).

Minna en el Mundo: Nordic Fire, Nordic Passion

Last Saturday was the much awaited premiere of Nordic Flamenco, the newest project of the Imperfecto Collective based in Helsinki. The evening brought together an impressive group of flamenco professionals from and working in the Nordic Countries. The sold out performance brought to the stage dancers Ann Sehlstedt (SWE), Elina Robinson (FIN), guitarist Afra Rubino (SWE), singers Hilde Karlsen (NOR), Anna Murtola (FIN), percussionists Christopher Rodulfo (AW) and dancer-singer-percussionist Rodrigo Gonzalez (MEX) and video artist Christian Robinson (GB).

My thoughts on Nordic Flamenco by the Imperfecto Collective can now be read at the Minna en el Mundo page.

Photo courtesy of Imperfecto Collective and Matti Sten Photography.

Minna en el Mundo: Flamenco in my heart

Flamenco is an endless challenge and the greatest reward that brings me strength, joy and determination. This past week has been once again a very meaningful one, as we have celebrated Helsinki XXI Flamenco Festival.

My thoughts on the challenges and rewards realized this week can be read as the first flamenco post of year 2019 on the Minna en el Mundo page of this blog.

NB! The thought of having flamenco in my heart has been borrowed from flamenco singer Anna Murtola.

Flamenco is teamwork. Duo Sal y Azucar with singer Anna Murtola, choreographer Elina Robinson and guitarist Petri Lahtinen at the backstage of the opening club of the festival. Photo by Anni af Hällström.

Minna en el Mundo: Spring is the time of recitals

This Sunday’s post is about flamenco recitals, read more under the heading Flamenco content under Minna en el Mundo. The “Cinco Años Juntos” brought together nearly 100 flamenco students and aficionado and professional musicians with an age span from 4 to 84 years to celebrate the five-year co-operation of our profes – teachers, that is –  Elina Robinson and Laura Rintamäki. What a joy to be part of this!

Flamenco is hot in Helsinki

This text can also be found on the Minna en el Mundo -page of this blog. 

The Helsinki flamenco community is an active one and it seems that this Winter and Spring have been especially buzzing with flamenco. We have enjoyed a vast array of performances varying from the very traditional to extremely contemporary. Helsinki Flamenco Festival celebrated its 20th anniversary with nine events within nine days with Compañía Rafaela Carrasco as headliner with its celebrated “Nacida Sombra“. Apart from “Nacida Sombra”, which was greeted with a standing ovation, the festival featured an Opening Club with performances from aficionados, the 8th Children and Youth flamenco biennale, dance courses by Rafaela Carrasco, an open public event of flamenco music “Flamencoa Stagella” at a central library, Finnish evening with Joonas Widenius Trio and the Décadas – Flamencon voimaa – concert, a preview of Impulso, a document of the work of Rocío Molina (showing in collaboration with Espoo Cine and Korjaamo Kino) and a Brindamos Finlandia closing club in collaboration with the Brindamos collective.

Apart from the festival, this Winter and Spring we have been able to enjoy of the traditional tablaos organized by the Brindamos collective, both Brindamos Flamenco featuring artists from Spain and Brindamos Finlandia featuring artists from Finland. On the more contemporary front, Compañía Kaari & Roni Martin premiered in March their new piece Anna Karenina with their trusted artists, the beautiful and expressive Mariana Collado as Anna Karenina and the charming and skilled Carlos Chamorro as Count Vronski , and a very interesting appearance by a Finnish contemporary dance legend, Jorma Uotinen, as Count Karenin. Kaari Martin‘s choreography, Atro Kahiluoto‘s dramaturgy and Roni Martin‘s interesting music together with the skilled dancers made for a great experience. Furthermore, the Katja Lundén Company performed the celebrated Flamenco Sauna performance this week, a piece that premiered in the 2017 edition of the Tampere Flamenco Week.

I have been fortunate as, in addition to having been a part of the production of the festival as the Chair of Helsinki Flamenco Association, I have been able to participate in many of the events produced in the Helsinki flamenco scene.  I enjoy the traditional tablao performances of the Brindamos collective whenever I can and was a delighted member of the audience of the skillful Anna Karenina with my husband and Flamenco Sauna with my mother. For this blog post I have chosen to write a bit more about Flamenco Sauna as the concept of combining the quintessential Spanish flamenco and equally quintessential Finnish sauna is quite an interesting one. The piece starts with the accordion music of Kimmo Pohjonen, entwined in a mystical feeling as the dancers Katja Lundén, Sanna Iranta, Johanna Komppa, Elina Nissinen, Laura Lahe and Laura Viding enter the stage one by one. Quite soon, however, the mood is changed to the more relaxed atmosphere of a girls’ night in a sauna, maybe in a Finnish lake scenery or in a traditional public sauna in the Kallio district of Helsinki. Each viewer can make up their mind on this. However, the feeling of friendship carries through the whole performance.

Flamenco Sauna graphic design by Laura Viding

The piece represents Katja Lundén’s a bit quirky, contemporary style with very interesting and cool rhythmic sections but also lets each dancer bring forth their own personality and strengths. It is obvious that the group is very comfortable working together and, due to this, the material flows. Katja Lundén’s mastery of her own choreographical style is beyond par, but I am also impressed especially by the relaxed, yet precise use of the body of Sanna Iranta and Elina Nissinen. One of my favorite moments in Flamenco Sauna is the juerga-style tangos where each dancer showcases their own style freely. Especially heartwarming moments are the towel tangos of Laura Viding and the bucket tangos of Elina Nissinen. Flamenco Sauna also gives room for other forms of expression and I was delighted by the slightly humorous monologues by Johanna Komppa and the beautiful singing of Laura Lahe. Overall, this is a very enjoyable piece where the black stage is accentuated with the simple linen dress of the dancers by Erika Turunen, a dress so suited to the imagery of a sauna. A dress also that stands on its own but does not take away from the intrigue of the music and choreography, producing a quite harmonious entity.

As an aficionado and student of flamenco whose aim is to constantly learn and understand more of this fascinating art form, I find it essential to see and hear different kinds of pieces and styles of flamenco. While I find traditional flamenco to be the closest to my heart – both as a dancer and a spectator – it is good to challenge myself with contemporary pieces, with different kinds of expression, to learn more. In Helsinki there is ample opportunity for this. Flamenco truly is hot in Helsinki.

Flamenco Visions @ Nukketeatteri Sampo

This is my first English language flamenco post within this blog. It will be later added to the Minna en el Mundo -page to be part of my flamenco text library. 

Only two days before the second birthday of the premiere of Imperfecto flamenco show, the Imperfecto Collective presents Flamenco Visions, a rendering of what the collective envisions that flamenco is – or can be – for them. The piece incorporates both new material and material from the Imperfecto show in the intimate, and a bit dreamy setting of the charming Nukketeatteri Sampo – a puppet theater – in downtown Helsinki.

Flamenco Visions brings to the stage a tablao setting of flamenco music, song and dance with Juho Koskimies in the guitar and composition, Anna Murtola in the vocals and Elina Robinson as dancer and choreographer. Christian Robinson is in charge of video design and together with Elina Robinson of the overall visual image. The rhythm is kept strong and clear by trusted palmeras Laura Rintamäki and Anne Riikola-Sarkkila and featuring supporting percussionist Christopher Rodulfo, a new addition the team. As is so essential to flamenco, the team works perfectly together, cheering each other on in the perfect moments and supporting each other in the fleeting moments of imperfection. It is evident to the viewer that the team enjoys working together and there is great trust between them.

visions banner final (1)
The Flamenco Visions banner by Christian Robinson

Once again I was struck with awe with the talent of this team. The compositions of Juho Koskimies are at same time strong and fragile and he seems to be at his best when he lets the moment guide him. Yesterday we heard magical duende take over in the farruca of the second half. I must confess, there were tears in my eyes. Anna Murtola has a voice that I could listen to forever with incredible power but also softness where needed. The star moment yesterday – to my mind – was the tangos also during the second half, where the singer was standing and the dancer – Elina Robinson – danced around her, also a show of complete trust for and togetherness with each other.

The show has been insightfully constructed with video and visual design that stands on its own, but also does not overtake what is going on on stage. Christian Robinson’s strong style and the Robinsons’ cooperation brings forth stunning visuality, especially in the beginning of the show, where we can see Elina Robinson dancing both on the screen and on stage. Elina Robinson’s choreography flows with strong technique and beautiful lyric moments. In the first half we see both a technically and expressionally impressive rendering of the lovely, powerful, but feminine bamberas palo, one of my personal favorites at the moment. However, my favorite moments come during the second half with the above-mentioned tangos where there is a strong connection between co-flamencas and friends Elina Robinson and Anna Murtola, a piece that has previously been a duet with the equally talented Anne Riikola-Sarkkila, but now adapted to a solo. However, for me Flamenco Visions reaches its best moment in the end with Elina Robinson’s siguiriyas solo, a piece I counted I have seen 6 or 7 times, and becomes better with each viewing. It is clear that the piece has grown with the dancer and the dancer with the piece.

Just moments before… Photo by Jaana Ollila

As I ponder on the fact that the already familiar Imperfecto material feels so much closer to my heart, I come to the realization that in flamenco it is often essential to see or hear pieces several times. With each viewing or listening, the piece is at the same time different but also comes closer to the audience. This reminds me of what the great flamenco artist and maestra María Juncal comments about her piece Quimera (as can be heard on Youtube at moment 4.53 of the linked video):

No es un traje que te puedes cambiar. Viene contigo todos los días. Y por eso creo que flamenco tiene tanta mágia, nunca estás de misma manera quando llegas a un escenario y ni siquiera a un estudio de baile. Tu sentimiento es otro. Tu corazón… tu cuerpo está revuelto de otra manera, sería…

It is not a costume that you can change into. It goes with you everyday. And this is why I think flamenco has such magic. Each time you enter the stage – or even a dance studio – is different. Your feelings are different. Your heart… your body is set up in a different way, it would be…

This is so true, I think, more in flamenco than any other art form (just my personal opinion). Flamenco is so strongly connected to the people doing it and the feelings that they are feeling, the way they body works that day, that each time on stage or in a dance studio is decidedly different. This is why I have seen Imperfecto four times and would see it again, and why for example Elina Robinson’s siguiriyas is magical the 7th time around, and will be so the 8th time, as well. As it is no secret that these artists are very close to my heart, I can only say that I am very lucky to have learned from them, from Laura Rintamäki the variation between the calm and the dynamic, from Anne Riikola-Sarkkila the importance of clean lines, from Anna Murtola the way to listen to the music, Juho Koskimies the daring to improvise and from the Robinsons the uncompromising attitude towards the visual. And Elina Robinson, my longest running flamenco teacher, well, so many things, but I think most of all, the daring to dance with your heart open. I also look forward to hearing much more from Christopher Rodulfo –  and of course to seeing Christian Robinson dance the bulerías next time around. Thank you so much Imperfecto Collective and Flamenco Visions for touching my heart.

Nukketeatteri Sampo Photo by Liisa Sarén