Faith, hope and love – Myrskyryhmä creates three dance films with the elderly

text: Anni Leino / translation: Claire Dickenson, 9.11.2018

Outside the windows of Myllypuro Comprehensive Service Centre, the tops of trees can be seen swaying in the fierce grip of an autumn storm. The furniture in the lounge area on the Centre’s third floor has been moved aside, and a number of the Centre’s residents are now sat in the middle of the room in their wheelchairs. A black and white Finnish film is playing on the TV.

Raili and Elli are dancing together in Myrkyryhmä’s short dance film Rakkaus ©Myrskyryhmä

Elli Isokoski, of Myrskyryhmä (a collective whose name translate as ‘the storm group’) has invited the Centre’s staff and residents to a joint dance session and to hear about the Tanssivat kädet (Dancing hands) dance film project that began in early August. Isokoski has been working at the Centre with dance filmmaker Kati Kallio since August 2018.

The final result of the Dancing hands project was three short dance films which were created in collaboration with three service centre residents.

Films born of shared encounters

The Centre’s lounge is full of residents and staff. Elli shows the audience photographs of the different stages of the project. The photographs and short videos reveal how the camera picks up even subtlest movements of the project’s elderly stars.

‘Through dance we’ve been able to awaken the body within the limits of what feels right for each individual. Dance doesn’t even necessarily have to be visible on the outside. Connections, contact, or simply a mutually established direction of movement are enough,’ explains Isokoski. There were no specific targets set for the project’s films, with the participants instead relying purely on encounters and mutual trust built up over the course of the project.

The first film presented at the showing is Toivo (entitled ‘Hope is a waking dream’ in English), created jointly with Reino, and complemented by tango playing in the background. In the minute-long film, a mysterious dancer in heels steps into the room where Reino is sat waiting. Elli is keen to praise how open-mindedly Reino embraced the project. The impact of the music on Reino and his movements is clear to see.

In Rakkaus (entitled ‘Embrace’ in English), filmed with Raili, the warmth and vulnerability shown cannot fail to touch the viewer through the camera lens. The hands of the younger dancer and the older woman explore each other. The viewer doesn’t need to see the performers’ faces to understand the situation. The dance of the hands manages to be fumbling, lingeringly contemplative, and appreciative, all at the same time. Elli explains that the dancers used improvisation to explore resistance, leading and free movement.

The final instalment in the trilogy, Usko (entitled ‘A sight for sore eyes’ in English), depicts Elli dancing in an empty hospital corridor in a pink dress. The film was inspired by a moment of dance shared with Service Centre resident Hilkka.

Being seen and encountered through dance

‘We wanted to create a little storm, to allow people to see everyday life just a bit differently in its wake,’ explains Elli Isokoski, talking about the creation of Myrskyryhmä (a collective whose name translate as ‘the storm group’).

The Myrskyryhmä dance group founded by Isokoski and dance artist Pauliina Laukkanen has been taking dance to care institutes and service centres since 2002. The group has provided elderly members of society with dance performances and workshops, as well as organising dance training for the nurses working at the service centres. Residences, in turn, have allowed the group to work at service centres for longer periods.

‘After seeing dance films for the first time at the Loikka dance film festival, I realised the opportunities the format could offer for the work we do with the elderly. Through film, we can broach topics that might easily fall to the wayside otherwise. We can convey feelings and moods through even the subtlest of movements,’ says Isokoski.

The Myrskyryhmä group’s work offers the elderly a means through which to be seen and encountered in way that differs from everyday life at the service centre. Encounters between dance artists and the elderly bring about a whole array of feelings, and in places also uncertainty on both sides. However, encounters and spending time together always form the heart of work with the elderly. ‘Experience has taught us that new ideas lie hidden in those very encounters,’ says Isokoski.

Dancing hands project is supported by the City of Helsinki.