Academy of Artistic Thinking

Academy of Artistic Thinking (AAT) was a three-year project funded by the Kone Foundation and organized by Cirko – Center for New Circus in Helsinki, Finland. AAT aims to develop dramaturgical and critical thinking and brings artists from different disciplines of performative arts to learn together and from each other in a creative, constructive, dialogical, and relaxed atmosphere. The project consists of a two-year educational program offered during academic years 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 in collaboration with the Open Campus of the University of the Arts Helsinki followed by performance production.

There were almost 30 artists from theater, dance, contemporary circus, and music participating in AAT. During the educational program, we had eight periods for one week, during which we spent every day together and followed different performances from the fields of theater, circus, music or dance and had discussions about each performance both before to set focus on certain aspects, and after to discuss how did they put them it into practice.

Naturally, we discussed a lot also without any connection to certain performance. We handled topics like the relationship between presentation and representation, locationality, essayism on stage, intertextuality, corporeality, opening images behind the artwork, etc. Many of these concepts were at first quite strange – or even useless – for me as a composer, but they were, after all, quite close to the same topics which are often handled also when composing, so it’s mainly the terminology that is different, not the contents itself. But dealing with different usages which they had within other arts, they also gave lots of new ideas to think within my own work.

The influence of those conceptions of other arts was quite strong. After the first period it took quite a long time before I could continue my own composing. There were several aspects to consider concerning form or dramaturgy, or even influence over aesthetics, although maybe not so strong. Anyway, several works have already been composed after that, and there are still few ideas waiting to be realized.

For an occasional passerby, our work might have looked quite peculiar: we were sitting on the floor in a circle and just discussed – but we certainly had fun! But those group discussions were maybe the most fruitful parts of this project. When there are people with different backgrounds – not only different disciplines of art, but also there was both sound and lighting designer and even freediver (as her second skill), aerialists, etc. – they all had a different point of view to follow a certain performance or different details on which they focused. Thus we had a large database of knowledge, which could be used by all of us and also gave us many ideas, which would hardly been possible only within one discipline of art.

Few times we also visited Vallisaari, an old military island in front of Helsinki, where the first fortifications were built already in the 16th century, but which has now been in its natural state for years. In those old fortresses and other military buildings, we made several short demos – also in places where tourists normally have no admittance. But many of occasional tourists often joined us as audience and were quite impressed about what they expressed, for example when the Alexander Battery – one of the best known, and largest fortress of Vallisaari – seemed to come to life or our freediver disappeared under the surface.

Not only Vallisaari, but we also visited several festivals and other cultural institutions like Baltic Circle-festival, City Theaters of Helsinki or Espoo, National Theater, National Ballet, etc. On every period we had also an external visitor telling about his/her area, and at the last period in spring 2020 we were supposed to have Frantic Assembly from Great Britain to guide us, but the corona situation forced that visit to be canceled.

During the latter half of that educational program, we already started to plan our performance, which will have its premiere at the end of January 2021. The actual work to build the performance happened between latter half of October and the latter half of November 2020. At the end of summer, we had decided the name of it – KIERROT, which refers to plant Convolvulus. We were divided into four groups, three making the actual performance and one moving freely between other groups and join them together. The schedule was quite tight for composing, so I started that work already much earlier. But how to compose suitable music for a performance that doesn’t exist yet?

I started to write music with three different atmospheres. They included lots of improvisatory elements and were rhythmically quite free, and my idea was to split them into pieces and mix them together to meet the demands of performance when it’s ready, and those freedoms and improvisation built-in them could be used to make it fit properly. It seemed to work quite well, and about one month after starting to build the performance we already had the first run-through with it. 

Anyway, at the end of November – after our production period – new corona restrictions were announced, and it became obvious that performing our show is not possible in that form. Between the end of November and the middle of January we planned (remotely) a new way to realize our ideas. We prepared some videos and combined them with live-action for several shorter performances. Each group had their freedom to make two performances that used the material and ideas created in the production period, and during the performance period starting in the middle of January 2021 we still had some time to put everything together again. My music was recorded as it is for those recorded videos – whenever that particular group found it suitable for them. All performances took place according to the original schedule but without an audience, for the audience the production was carried out as online festival between the 27th of January and the 6th of February.

As a whole, this project has influenced a lot on my composing even without this performance project at the end of it. Many ideas have emerged from our discussions but also from literature and articles which we read during the educational program. Those ideas have influenced both formal ideas, but also the way how to handle the musical material. During this whole AAT, I’ve for example written the work nicht, sondern… for guitarist Kai Nieminen, the work is based on Bertolt Brecht’s ideas on dramaturgy.

Another work written during AAT is one of my main works, Sandbox of Almach for solo piano, which is based on Roger Caillois’s description of different types of play – Agon, Alea, Mimicry, and Ilinx. It was composed for pianist Eriko Takahashi, who also gave a great first performance to the piece in Vienna in October 2020. This was remarkably fruitful co-operation for me, when discussing the piece during the composition process with her and thus testing different compositional ideas already before writing them down – a little bit same kind of way to work than we did with AAT. Sandbox of Almach is also dedicated to her.

A great value of AAT has been also a possibility to get to know many great artists of different disciplines of art. These connections may be worth a lot in the future, but worth how much – that will be revealed in the future – and might in due course be a topic for another writing.

Ari Romppanen 01/2021