Open Your Heart: Taneli Törma Brings Joy Back to Dancing
This weekend Dansverstæðið opens its doors to be part of the Reykjavík Fringe Festival, where Finnish choreographer Taneli Törmä brings his performance Open Your Heart. In it, he and Norwegian dancer Hilde I. Sandvold will perform with four Icelandic youths, aged 10-20, bringing forth joy and abandon through disco dancing. We had the chance to sit down with them before their shows to hear more about them. It's been a long time for the pair since they last opened their hearts, as their 10 city-20 performance tour fell victim to the year of Covid, and they are feeling nervous on the cusp of these performances, but they are brimming with positivity and excitement.
What is the concept and what does it mean for you to open your heart?
T: So it's trying to find or question the joy of dance. When we feel comfortable to dance, when we feel good to dance, when we don't feel comfortable to dance. It's also to learn to break between professional dancers and hobby dancers and how younger dancers can teach us. So it's somehow to break who can dance and to challenge everybody—us as professionals, but also the kids and the audience.
Why the choice to work with young people aged 10-20?
T: It has been my interest in how our dreams and how our understanding of them changes when we grow up. When you are a kid, like 10-13, you understand what is offered for you and you have a much more romantic idea of what dance is and what you can do. When we become teenagers there's coming the pressure, how I look, or how people say that dancers should look like this, or what kind of dance you should do, or can you be a professional artist. Then as an adult—well, we are still young—the change is how we can keep learning new stuff and to keep challenging and get back this joy like you were a kid just dancing in your living room. This way it's nice to mix these age groups.
How has it been working with them?
T: It has been really nice. The youngest are 10 years old and the oldest are 20, so it's quite a wide gap. What has been interesting, and also a little bit challenging for us because we haven't done the piece for a few years so we need to remember what it is. But it has been nice and it's going to be interesting to see how the performance is.
What is each of your roles in the piece?
H: In the process it's been very clear that Taneli is the choreographer, I am the dancer, so in that way it's really Taneli's idea and his work and his movement. Most of the show is a solo for me, then we have a duet and then the kids join. Kind of the dramaturgy or the story line is going from searching for the movements, like trying silly simple things in a way, and then trying to dance with him. Then we have some kind of peak where we try to do our version of freestyle disco and kind of competition numbers. And then the young people come and kind of help the energy when we are like, dying [laughs], and then often do it better than us somehow. From there we sort of dissolve it into a social dancing situation. In his process Taneli has also been talking about the history of disco, which is kind of something that has happened with several dance styles. It starts as a social phenomenon—like it started in the US especially in the black community—and then it came to Europe and now what is "freestyle disco" is hardcore competition. Like, sports dance. And then it becomes a super white thing. And the best dancers are maybe 20-22.
T: They're younger ones, I think. Normally you do the competitions when you're 18-20 and then you will stop competing. Where it was originally coming from was in the clubs. It's really interesting to see where it came from and where it is now. I was following competitions a little bit when I was 15-16, and how it's changed in fifteen years, it's amazing what they can do. They are like machines. It's so weird that all our life what we see on TV is just talent-talent-talent, and what we lose is the joy and that it's not important to win.
That it's not always important to have technique but to just enjoy and do it.
H: I guess that's a little bit how I understand it where I come in, because I have never done disco. I've not even done much commercial dance. But I am a professional dancer so it's kind of placing a professional dancer into something where I am a beginner and see if I can survive that situation. Can I enjoy that or manage to put myself there. I am professional but I somehow really can't do that style.
T: And I think the most important thing is how to use the knowledge to jump to the new style. And the same when we are working with the young kids, 10 years old and 20 years old, it's really clear how different they are in the room and how they are dancing and how they are learning the material. It's so amazing to see the 10 year olds. They just do it. They don't think how they look or something, they're just doing it. I really try to learn from them, not to think, okay I need to be perfect.