Kuopio Singing and Dancing
Kuopio is a famous city on the world map of dance art. That is largely because the festival of music and dance held there each summer has an amazing ability to attract artistes and groups that are rarely seen outside their home countries. An example in summer 1996 was the first performance abroad of a Chinese opera dating from the 13th century. Also on the programme was the royal Thai dance group that performed at the opening ceremony of the Atlanta Olympics.
"After nearly thirty years of festivals, we're beginning to have a certain credibility problem," quips Tanja Rasi, who was Festival Director until summer 1996. "Influential figures in the field wonder how a small city close to the Arctic Circle consistently manages to attract the top performers."
The high standard of the festivals and their great popularity are the result of hard, trailblazing work, expertise and a large network of personal contacts. All performing groups and artistes are contacted directly, without middlemen. "They fly in, perform and then fly back home," says Rasi. "Our festival is not just one stop on a long tour"
The Kuopio Festival also stands out because Finland does not otherwise have a particularly strong reputation for dance art. Therefore it is Finland as a whole and not just Kuopio that raises its recognition profile in this discipline of the arts and strengthens its reputation for being supportive of culture in general.
Building the Kuopio Festival up into a mass event has never been an aim. In Rasi's view, there are quite enough of these on the Finnish summer programme. "A festival that lets discerning people enjoy top performers can be economically healthy when one works hard enough at it," she says.
Although making the festival a mass event is ruled out, Kuopio is nevertheless trying to lower the threshold that being branded as elitist can raise. "We are trying all the time to add dimensions to our dance art programme," says Rasi. She also emphasises that by means of the courses associated with the festival - everything from children's classical ballet to flamenco - the amateur circles involved can be expanded.
As she puts it, the joy of dancing belongs to all, irrespective of so-called talent or looks or age or whatever."
Hot Rhythms in Cool Kuopio
One description that can certainly not be applied to the 1998 festival is "elitist". Thanks for that are due to Latin American dance groups from Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela and Cuba, which brought the flair of a folk festival to Kuopio.
They included the National Ballet of Cuba under the leadership of its legendary founder Alicia Alonso, Balé Folclorico da Bahia, the tango group Tangokinesis, Grupo Corpo, Utopia Danza-Teatro, the Danzahoy Troupe and Finland's own Afro-Cuban Jazz-Orchestra.
The energetic, acrobatic performances of Balé Folclorico da Bahia went down especially well in Kuopio. The Brazilian group performed to full houses every time, and indeed nearly all of the other events were likewise sold out.
"The festival has been able to further strengthen its position this year," says Anna Pitkänen, who succeeded Tanja Rasi in charge of the festival in1996. "In my view, only 1995 with its brilliant flamenco performances can rival this summer's Latin American programme."
Once again, several famous dance troupes were on the programme for 1999, among them Israel's Contemporary Dance Company led by Rami Be'er, Ricardo Franco's Flamenco-Ensemble and the ballet company of the "Finnische Oper am Rhein", as die Deutsche Oper am Rhein is sometimes jokingly called because of the large number of Finnish singers who make guest appearances with it.
The group Rimpparemmi from Rovaniemi in Lapland provided the closing highlights. Its repertoire consists of traditional folk dances, for which artistic director Petri Kauppinen has created modern choreographies.
The theme for the year 2000 is British dance theatre. It includes groups not only from the UK itself, but also from parts of the former colonies.