YLE Kulttuuriykkönen recently published a podcast and article about contemporary dance that contained many controversial claims, perhaps intentional provocations, by journalists Jenny Jägerhorn and Liisa Vihmanen. The headline itself was quite sensational: “Contemporary dance has turned inwards and there is no longer interest for internationalization”.

(Kulttuuriykkönen 29.11.2023: https://arenan.yle.fi/poddar/1-66752100)

Contemporary dance curator and artistic director Kerstin Schroth (Moving in November) and producer-manager Outi Järvinen (Arts Management Helsinki) started a dialogue prompted by the article and podcast.


There is very little airtime or media space given to contemporary dance by YLE, so it feels quite horrible to read these outdated claims when dance is finally discussed in the national media. Are we in a time machine, did we just go back twenty years? There is so much to unpack, but let’s focus on the claim that Finnish choreographers do not want to reach out, or that they are not visible in the international context. This does not reflect the reality that I know, and the field that I work in. I am very fortunate to work with a number of Finnish choreographers and dance artists, and many do create or present their work internationally. Not as a brand like Tero Saarinen Company that was mentioned by the journalists, and not in the opera houses for those kinds of brands, of course. But in contemporary dance and performance contexts.

What is this idea of “international success” anyway? I guess it is linked to the idea of a cultural canon, the desire for Big Names, the desire for Heroes. Do the journalists, and perhaps our society in general, still long for some mythical Artistic Genius that returns triumphantly from foreign lands? Not only is this totally lame, but it also really angers me. Our understanding of the Artistic Genius has culturally always been closely linked to masculinity, so the most desired heroic Choreographers are also ‘naturally’ presumed male. This was blatantly obvious in the names that the YLE journalists could come up with, but also a serious problem in our arts funding, media space, perceptions, and public recognition. Thanks, patriarchy.

Kerstin, you are a curator and you follow the international dance scene, or better said, you are part of the international dance scene. What is your take on this?


I am as angered as you are about the content of the article. I perceive it as narrowminded. Claiming an ‘expert-ship’ and narrative, that seems outdated and far from reality of many, audience, contemporary choreographers and performing arts institutions. It also reads limited on real expertise, profound research and curiosity. My first question when reading this article was, what’s the purpose of it? My second who is addressed?

When thinking about nowadays, first of all, we need to acknowledge and take into account that we are living in a dispersed world. That there can’t be assumed anymore one storyline, one common sense, hence one direction to think and do things. Stating that the contemporary dance scene is turning inwards and that there is not enough movement to be seen in dance pieces anymore (especially the last claim) is a discussion that seems so extremely outdated – from beginning of the 2000s – I don’t even know where to start with my response. Why do I read so much resistance in the article towards a contemporary dance scene that evolves, develops and changes its way of thinking, working, moving, researching and creating pieces? Artists that have a different take on choreography, that want to address and engage a potential audience in a different way than via big worldwide tourable dance pieces.

In my experience the so-called audience is often more intelligent than that. I have an enormous problem with general assumptions regarding audience, what they might think, relate to or like to see. I experience this as an infantilization of audience, that appears in this storytelling as a grey mass. In the end, we speak about singular people that have a brain, a taste and come with their own stories, backgrounds and lived life into our cultural spaces. They might enjoy seeing different proposals on stage, purely movement-based pieces, but at the same time they might be more than moved by looking at highly contemporary works that ask them to activate their brain and involve their emotions or senses to unpack them.

Why is it that one and the other can’t exist alongside each other, in the narrative of the article, pure dance pieces and contemporary works, that expand the notion of choreography and what dance can be and provoke in our society nowadays?

Looking at and to an international scene, there is simply both and I think this is amazing! Also on the level of arts education. In France I see e.g. schools visiting with their students highly contemporary exhibitions and performing art works, as well more historic works.

Indeed, as you write the take on the big stars… stardom is not gone… but changing and not only directed towards necessary big shots anymore. I think and observe that stardom can take other and different forms today. During Moving in November, we had a group of students that asked each of our contemporary choreographers for their autograph. Does this not say a lot about younger generations? The search for something else, namely, the experience, the connection, the non-hierarchical, the personal, inspiration and knowledge from different and various storylines, and not only from a white, male, cis-normative point of view?

Outi, what do you think? Can I ask you to write more about your thoughts in relation to the Finnish choreographers you are working with, when it comes to the notion of the international? And the urge or non-urge to present abroad?


As you pointed out, we are living in a dispersed world. This is true to the contexts that the choreographers work in as well, and their artistic aims. There are choreographers who work inherently in an international setting, often because they have studied abroad and created their professional networks outside of Finland. Some feel that they connect more to communities and audiences outside of our national borders, and for some working abroad is a necessity, as there are limited production possibilities in Finland. On the other hand, as professor Kirsi Monni pointed out in the Yle podcast, not everyone wants or is able to a live a nomadic lifestyle and tour around the world.

From all of this, the claim that choreographers want to turn inwards is incomprehensible. Such a generalization. But if I were to generalize anything, I would say that the choreographers I work with are not trying to make themselves stand out as the Big Shot, the Chosen One. They know that this is an interconnected world, that they are part of a larger artistic community and field. That does not equal to hiding yourself or not taking your platform. Artists want to have their work seen, to connect, to make a mark and shed light on their chosen topics and artistic voice. But this is very far from the egotistical, old-fashioned Hero cliché. I just wish the media would stop perpetuating the old narrative, which is of course also fed by the dance field itself. Who is this serving? I think it creates a lot of damage.

The old narrative is fitting to the economic talk of today. Where are the export revenues, why is art funding going to operators that are not raking in the money etc. It seems that this economic talk is used as a tool by some artists and companies themselves, in an effort to stand out and secure their own spotlight.


Yes, indeed the context of the dispersed world is also counting for the choreographers you/ we are working with and their artistic aims.

I think that the initiators of the article are actually confusing a dispersed, differentiated, diverse performing arts field that grew its various branches over the past 20 years, as turning inwards, rather than seeing a quality in variation and the beauty in different scales, formats, intentions and aesthetics. A contemporary performing arts field that is able to reach various and different communities and needs, and does not try to create one workable model for everyone, not for artists nor audiences.

What is wrong with niche culture that is only for a few, that can identify with it and are nourished and encouraged by it? I am saying the obvious here and am not trying to be cynical, but are big dance houses or opera houses that are showing largescale works in the end not also only for a few?

My experience with the artists presenting in Moving in November is that they are all interested to show their works and share their thinking in different countries, but not only! Touring the world and being a nomad is not necessarily the main occupation anymore. So many of the artists I know also invest in education and projects that are grounded on a local level and not thought for touring. Again, there is not only one narrative, also here.

I would for example recommend that the journalists of the article look into the work that deufert&plischke do at the moment with spinnereischwelm in Germany, a space for art and society. What might look at an ‘inwards turned bubble’ addresses and involves a whole community of a small city. A visionary project of two artists that are anything than interested in creating performing arts only for themselves and their colleagues, but are eager to offer a space for experience, exchange and encounter through the lens of artistic thinking.


The beauty in different scales, formats, intentions and aesthetics – well said! I think that is exactly how dance reaches various audiences and becomes more relevant in people’s lives.

But what about the finances, how to cope with that? As we are writing this, the Finnish government has announced more cuts to the public arts funding. We already knew that times will be tough, but the bad news just keep coming.

I am afraid that we will have a stronger polarization in the arts field. Those that have better funding will get more, and those with very little will be left with nothing. There is a false assumption that ‘mainstream’ performances in big theatres are the best, or perhaps only, financially viable option. All this feeds into the old narrative. Whenever someone argues that public money should only be geared towards ‘big sellers’, I reach for my calculator… but then again, I don’t want to fall into the trap of neoliberalist money talk.  Calculations of the real cost structures might win the argument, but in the end everyone loses. Real value does not equal money, and real value does not lie in money.

In this gloomy political situation, how can we build structures that serve the forward-thinking artists of today and tomorrow? What are the building blocks of a thriving dance ecosystem?

To quote the British journalist Paul Mason: “In order to un-cancel the future, we need to revive our reflexes for utopian thinking.” My utopia is a world where arts organizations and funders use their administrative staff, spaces and resources to serve the artists, not burden or exploit them, and where journalists use their skills and curiosity to create new knowledge, not perpetuate old clichés.

What is your utopia?


I mirror your utopia and strangely, or rather sadly enough, I kind of always believed that it’s not an utopia, but common sense.

I would like to live in a world in which art is recognized fully as a driving force to reflect and enhance change in societies, to bring people together. Seen as creating alternatives towards old structures and habits. In a world where art and artist are exempt again from market logics, allowed to drive into different temporalities and we with them, plunging into a parallel world.

I read once somewhere that the state of a society can been seen by the way the artists are treated. What do you think about that?


The European Parliament’s recent resolution this November urges the Member States to improve the social and working conditions of artists, among other things. I think this is a positive signal, and I see hope on a European level. Too bad our current national policy points to the opposite. There is such a dark cloud or even hopelessness hanging in the air. Our cultural minister has already announced that our cultural budget will not reach the desired 1% of the state budget in this whole decade. However, policies and politicians change – I refuse to accept this gloomy view of the future.

Back to the idea of our dispersed and diverse world. Maybe, instead of clinging to old clichés and looking for ‘easily understandable’ content, we should look even more for what dance can be and provoke in our society? If audiences are baffled by difficult texts, as some claim, then we should have MORE of those texts, not less. If audiences are becoming more conservative, then we should present MORE art that shakes them. We should fill the largest stages with the most experimental and outrageous works. Or perhaps with the most intimate and small-scale. Flip the narrative.

Anything but lukewarm crowd-pleasers.


Well yes, I fully agree with you and that’s what we are doing with Moving in November. I am actually convinced that the people taking ‘audience’ as an excuse to present lukewarm crowd pleasers, as you call them, talk about themselves and their own limitations. I experience spectators rather as open and ready to see works that propose other narratives, expand the notion of choreography and are not just confirming what they anyhow know already or have seen, but provide experiences they might not have had yet, that enrich their universe, stimulate and are nourishing.

Of course, it needs mediation and a careful and open communication bringing pieces with more difficult texts or aesthetics that the so-called audience is apparently not used to and might be scared off. I see it as my work as curator to share with an audience, what moves and challenges and surprises myself. I am the one that travels and sees all these different works and has the opportunity to present a selection in a country where not that many international works pass. Building a bridge to the invited works and also educate the audience in a certain way, or better sharpen their gaze. I see my responsibility in not only bring works that confirm what our audience already knows, or feels comfortable with.

Someone said to me, after this year’s festival opening with the piece “Bacchae – prelude to a purge” by Marlene Monteiro Freitas: “That was a bold opening.” Was it? We had two nights a full house with standing ovations.


Moving in November has clearly demonstrated that audiences are open to new, unfamiliar and stimulating experiences. And the way you present local artists side by side with international artists, and involve locals in the adaptations of international works, I think it all proves that our contemporary dance is not turned inwards.

And there is interest towards international work among dance artists, and many already work internationally. Out of all the 50 wonderful artists at Arts Management Helsinki, there are many choreographers who are visible in the international scene: Anna Maria Häkkinen just created a new commission last month for the Performa Biennial in New York, Elina Pirinen has collaborated with such companies as Iceland Dance Company and Carte Blanche (Norway), Maija Hirvanen had a world premiere at Tanz im August (Berlin) last year, Sonja Jokiniemi’s work has been supported by such venues as STUK (Leuven), MDT (Stockholm) and BUDA Kunstcentrum (Kortrijk), Samira Elagoz was the winner of the Silver Lion at the Venice Biennale last year, Annamari Keskinen has created commissioned choreographies for Staatstheater Kassel, Staatstheater Braunschweig, SEAD etc… just to name a few. Not to mention all the international residencies, collaborations and other works by many more. We manage the international performing engagements for some artists, and the international invoicing this year alone has been 100.000 euro. The scope of international activities of Finnish dance artists is not meaningless.

But more than money, awards, or international recognition, it is really the quality of the work, the depth of artistic thinking, and the sharing of unique moments with various audiences that really counts. It all starts with making the work of artists possible.


Thank you, Outi for bringing this up. Always so very good to read facts and indeed, all starts with making the work of artists possible, we can’t say it loud enough!

It would be nice to leave the last word to an artist, to choreographer and dance artist Elina Pirinen, who said this after having been invited to the reception of the Finnish President at this year’s Independence Day celebration:

“It is touching and wonderful that dance art is celebrating through my body on our Independence Day at the presidential castle. Often behind a great man is as big and often bigger a woman or something else. The freely associative, affective and feminist dance art that I represent and its perspectives hopefully carry on through this.

The world has fallen apart and artists can therefore experience incapability and a lack of faith in connection and comfort in their art. That is why I myself intend to work even harder than before, defying the external and internal regressive forces of the industry, to shake the way to the audience and help new generations to do the same in their own ways.”


Photo: Kerstin Schroth