How does dance art fit into digital platforms and social media? Target Helsinki project experiments with new channels

Text: Anni Leino Translation: Fleur Jeremiah, 28.10.2020

Dancers behind the Target Helsinki project Elina Hӓyrynen and Natasha Lommi don’t believe that digitalization will ever be a full substitute for live performances, but they are interested in the value that the social media may be able to add to the dance creation, irrespective of corona crisis.

Target Helsinki © Noora Geagea

Target Helsinki – social media as a playground for dance artists

While generating ideas for Target Helsinki, an online art project, no one, including dance artists Elina Hӓyrynen and Natasha Lommi, could know what kind of exceptional spring was just round the corner in 2020. When the corona crisis then started, Hӓyrynen and Lommi had already secured funding for the project to experiment with taking dance online. In addition to videos, live transmissions and images, they were interested in the impact of social media presence on the relationship between the artist and the audience.

”Originally, we thought of examining success and associated phenomena by artistic means,” Elina Hӓyrynen explains. ”But pretty soon the corona crisis made the topic seem uninteresting, though some traces of it are discernible in the Target videos,” Natasha Lommi continues. For example, in the videos Pose and Gold Rush Hӓyrynen and Lommi strike poses and talk about money at a funder’s gala.

Lommi and Hӓyrynen have danced together since they were children at the ballet school of the Finnish National Opera. In the past ten years, the duo has danced together at Susanna Leinonen Company’s works, among other productions. ”We share a long history as company dancers, which results in a certain work pattern: a rehearsal period, performances in Finland, and gigs abroad…and this pattern is repeated over and over again,” Hӓyrynen says. ”Target was born out of a need to explore ways of creating dance from another angle. A project in which videos are issued every week and social media constitute the stage creates a very different framework for a production. You must be prepared to alter the plans mid-course, which compels you to be present and ready to react. Your relationship with the audience is also affected.”

A slice of dance history in the spring of the corona virus

Restrictions imposed by the virus forced the entire field of performing arts to experiment with the use of the online channels as the stage.”It’s pretty incredible how timely Target proved, quite by chance. We were afraid of the situation in Finland sliding into a complete lockdown, which would have had a significant impact on the filming plans,” according to Lommi.

Corona did have some effect on the Target videos. On the International Dance Day, they issued a black and white video What moves us, in which twenty-one Finnish artists dance in their own homes. Do I need other people, shot in an empty theatre, depicts the importance of touch in the middle of a period when theatres are closed and social distancing is the norm. In the video Generations, Lommi and Hӓyrynen dance duets with their mothers, also dancers. The video, which resonates beautifully with the time, reflects a deep-seated physical longing for your mother.

The stockpiling of toilet paper, one of the phenomena of the corona spring, is depicted in the video The Food Party’s Over, which takes place in a white kitchen resembling a research laboratory. Hӓyrynen and Lommi don’t believe that digitalization will ever be a full substitute for live performances, but they are interested in the value that the social media may be able to add to the dance content, irrespective of corona.

The dancer steps closer to the audience

Target Helsinki published videos, images, stories and other content on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Vimeo every week from the beginning of March till the end of May.

‘”Target demonstrated that encountering the audience through the social media can be meaningful and even more direct than the traditional discussion with the audience after a performance,” Hӓyrynen says.

Dancers in choreography-driven companies can easily remain just names on the printed programme with no real contact with the audience. Could the social media provide dancers with a channel for contacting the audience, and the other way round? The duo describes the project as a playground and a platform for different experiments and for learning from them. ”At first we were worried about how all this would be received or whether anyone would be interested. Neither of us had previously talked at any great length on Instagram or systematically produced content for different platforms. Now we’re certain that Target Helsinki will continue in some form in the future,” according Lommi.

In addition to contemporary dancers Elina Hӓyrynen and Natasha Lommi, the working group of Target Helsinki includes visual artist Noora Geagea, sound designer Janne Hast, and stylist Kaisu Hölttӓ.

The article was published in Finnish Dance in Focus in September 2020.