Love, Respect and Trust – Jarkko Mandelin’s Kinetic Orchestra celebrates its 10th anniversary with a new festival
Choreographer, dancer and teacher Jarkko Mandelin makes use of every possible technique in his works, where the dancers fly with a dog and dangle from the tops of tall poles. In March 2019 the Union of Dance and Circus Artists in Finland awarded Mandelin and his company Kinetic Orchestra for their dedication and ambition towards movement exploration. In the end May 2019 Kinetic Orchestra celebrates its 10th anniversary with a five day Spring Break festival.
In the end of August 2019 Jarkko Mandelin and Kinetic Orchestra will be seen in the demo program of Performing HEL – a showcase dedicated to finest Finnish performing arts. Read more about the showcase >
Journalist and dance critic Raisa Rauhamaa interviewed Mandelin for Finnish Dance in Focus magazine in 2017.
Passion that pushes boundaries
Mandelin mixes and combines styles from circus acrobatics to breakdancing and from classical ballet to contemporary dance. His style could be called masculine, because the strenuous holds and unrelenting pace demand tough physical fitness and a fearless disposition.
Mandelin denies any pursuit of bro-energy. “I teach aggressive movement that requires strength, but gender itself doesn’t interest me one bit.” When the slight-framed dancer Anni Koskinen throws the heavier Mandelin over her shoulder and spins him to the ground, it’s about equality—a physical meeting that doesn’t highlight their separate sexes.
Nevertheless, Mandelin is known specifically as a teacher who inspires boys. It’s easy to understand that his high-speed and relaxed approach speak particularly to boys interested in dance. “I taught my first hip-hop dance classes when I was just 15 and I’ve taught thousands of amateurs and professionals.” Instead of setting down rules, guarding the aesthetic of each type of dance, or polishing the technique, he wants to encourage his students to experience how the movements feel in their own bodies, and how far they can take them.
“I teach the students large motor skills in a wrestling hall, on tatami mats. The kids can be really clever and ferocious. I want to bring a carnal, sort of silent knowledge into dance. I don’t demonstrate the movements for the kids, I just give them a push and watch to see where we end up, without saying anything about the right trajectory of movement or the mechanics of it. Some of them will be able to adopt more styles while others will find the movement within themselves. Either way is good, as long as the aesthetic doesn’t get in the way of the kinetic experience.”
It’s important to Mandelin to be able to create an honest spirit and a community of mutual trust in his teaching. “For the students, and all of us, it’s ultimately important to be seen as we are and to be accepted. It builds professional self-esteem, gives dancers the wings they need in dance. The skills will come eventually if the psyche can be brought along to help in achieving the skills.”
From Ballet to Chinese Pole
Jarkko Mandelin’s own road to his profession led through amateur theater. “When I was thirteen we were required to take ballet lessons and I also started practicing break dancing.” His enthusiasm for dance was immediate. It was so intense, in fact, that for the next six months he trained in beginning ballet with classes of 6 and 7-year-old girls!. From training at the Finnish National Ballet School he moved on to contemporary dance classes at the University of Arts and graduated with a Masters Degree in choreography in 2009.
In Mandelin’s method, choreographic work and teaching are seamlessly interwoven. “Teaching is a good way to stay in the mix, to investigate the possibilities of movement.” In his teaching he searches for the internal logic of the movements themselves.
Building choreography and developing a series of movements is like solving a jigsaw puzzle.
“But the most important thing isn’t what happens over the course of an hour on stage. In my work what’s more important are all the things we’ve investigated and discovered over the year as a group. The performances are mileposts of those discoveries.”
Mandelin’s piece, Animals (2016), explores human distance and closenessow momentum is created, how far a dancer can throw a partner, how high they can leap over a partner, what ways they can use to lift a partner by the leg as quickly as possible. The movements can be dangerous, but a dancer can’t afford to panic. It’s a fierce kind of dance that demands primitive instincts and animal-like motor functions.
In Animals Mandelin also explored the physical principles of the lever. The Chinese pole, familiar from the circus, was a source of inspiration when the dancers practiced climbing and moving atop a 2.5 meter pole for the piece. “I wanted to simulate climbing a tree and moving from tree to tree.” Climbing the poles raised the dancers into a new sphere. “At first the constant falls were tough on the ankles and staying up at an angle felt quite impossible.”
A Flying Child and a Dancing Alaskan Malamute
Mandelin’s aim is to never do two dance pieces alike. “I make an effort to always understand my own instrument in a new way and I want to use everything I’ve learned about moving in my choreographed pieces.”
Rohkeat (The Brave, 2015) was a work for the whole family that featured Mandelin’s six-year-old son, superhero acrobat Oiva, who has been dancing since he was three, and charmed the audience with his stage charisma. “The father-and-son paired acrobatics were seamless. It was a little scary sometimes, too, when the boy went whizzing through the air like a human cannonball.” (Helsingin Sanomat newspaper, Feb. 13, 2015)
Myrskyjä vesilasissa (Storm in a water glass, 2014), a piece with two men and one “laconic woman gardener”, drew its ideas from Japanese samurai and kabuki traditions.
Mandelin’s popular 2013 piece Wolfpack attracted a lot of media attention because it featured his magnificent sled dog Ansa. In Wolfpack Ansa, an Alaskan malamute, howled like a wolf, sprinted on stage for the running scenes, and tussled with her master. When the dancers lay down on the floor, Ansa threw herself down to lie on her side, too, content to wait for the next running scene, when she could play and wrestle with abandon again. In Wolfpack, Mandelin wanted to examine the boundaries of group behavior, suss out the shared rules of the pack, and make visible the tensions between individual and group.
On Family and Love
Juggling a busy life with four children and two dogs, Mandelin says that the whirl of activity sometimes steers him to ideas for his work. Even Ansa initially came onstage by accident, when Mandelin got a solo gig on short notice and had nowhere to leave the dog. “When I got there I realized that I could bring her on stage with me.”
The meaning of family is a repeating theme in interviews with Mandelin. The reason may be in his childhood, when his parents unconditionally supported his stubborn, passionate interest in dance classes.
Mandelin stresses that the dancers committed to his own performance group, Kinetic Orchestra, are the most important thing in his work. “If a dancer doesn’t want what I want, I feel like I’ve failed.”
Practicing and performing together, the group is like an extended family that’s also able to make interesting work together. “There can be moments in the group when a dancer’s personal problems effect things in such a way that for a week we can’t get much done. When that happens, you have to give it time, because what seems like a period of idleness will always give something back.
The most important thing is love, respect, and trust for your workmates. Even if you fail, that connection won’t let you down. It carries you and warms you.”
The Fast Eat the Slow
When Mandelin became a choreographer and founded Kinetic Orchestra, he realized that he couldn’t compete with the wages of larger dance groups. The field of Finnish contemporary dance is bustling and the best dancers are in high demand. “In this field, networking with the right people is the bottom line. You can’t waste any time after graduation.”
Although the silent shared regard of the field is something rarely spoken aloud, a reputation as a sought-after choreographer, or a less interesting one, can spread rapidly.
“I want to show my colleagues that my community is the place to be. To be in it demands athletic abilities and intelligent content that values dancers. You also have to be able to scent the spirit of the time before it happens.”
“I have to prove that I can act as the leader of the group without forcing them. There should be good ideas and fairness.”
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