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Dancer Virpi Pahkinen: I’m a servant of the dance God”

Pahkinen is known mostly as a solo dancer. Solitude is her friend Dancing takes Virpi ­Pahkinen to higher ground. Photo: Karl NordlundAs a kid and a teenager I played piano, sang in a choir, did gymnastics and figure skated.

Spirituality has always been important to me. When I was a teenager I was afraid of God and had dark teenage thoughts about life and the world, but I forgot all that when I did gymnastics. I sweat out the anxiety and I danced to forget God.

I saw a note about modern dance on my high school wall and I went to try it out. The dance lessons took place in a Mormon church, with high ceilings and large windows. Usually the rehearsal studios are underground and dark, with fluorescent lighting. So that was special. 

These days, being physical takes me closer to spirituality. The circle has closed, and I get a more definite connection with God when I dance.

I used to love to clear a small area on a pond and skate on my own, late at night, in the moonlight. I started to find meaning when I repeated the same figures over and over again. Being alone was a big part of the experience. Often I had to wait until the hockey players had left.

I enrolled in university to study Romance languages, but I didn’t really study, I just enjoyed the student benefits. I also studied piano at the Helsinki Conservatory, but I knew all along that it wasn’t my thing. Then a dance teacher suggested I apply to the University College of Dance in Stockholm.

I hadn’t played the piano in over twenty years when I picked it up again. Now I love doing those long scales. Sometimes taking a really long break is great.

Born: Jyväskylä, Finland
Career: Her work as a dancer and a choreo­grapher has been met with critical acclaim in over 45 countries, including Australia, Mexico, South Africa, Lebanon, and the US. In 2011, she was awarded Sweden’s Litteris et Artibus for her outstanding artistic contributions. In 2014, she received the Cullberg Prize, given to a person who “has put Stockholm on the international dance map.”

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I’m not one of those dancers who just does things and improvises. There are those who ooze with energy but to me that’s like taking a shower: it’s nice when you’re in it, but there’s no deeper meaning to it. I’d love to share some meaningful secrets that audience members can decipher for themselves. The best things are those you can’t explain. The entire universe consists of dark energy and dark matter, and we know little about it.

Choreography is a very physical experience to me. I go to the studio and start to move in silence. The whole piece is in my muscle memory. The key is the accumulated energy and inspiration that channels through my nervous system that is sensitive and tuned for dance.

I do the choreography first and the rest follows. For example, I don’t think about a particular piece of music. I don’t move towards music – music comes to my dance. The movement will find its way in the space and then a little later will meet music and light.

In my latest production I have six dancers, the youngest being ten years old. His mother attended a workshop of mine eleven years ago while pregnant. That boy was dancing with me even before he was born!

I got really hooked on ashtanga vinyasa yoga, and developed into a really advanced practitioner of it, to the point where I had to make a decision as to whether I wanted to be a yogi or a dancer. I did scale back the yoga then. Was I lazy or smart? I’d like to think smart.

If I wanted to be a private person, I’d probably wear my hair in a different way, but I’ve accepted the fact that I’m an artist, and that my life is my work. I’m a servant of the dance god.

Whenever I’m traveling I always try to see the nightlife. In Mexico, I knocked on one black door, simply because I heard some music coming from behind it. It turned out to be a secret club.

It’s not always easy to combine the need for ­discipline with the artist’s will to improvise. Dancing does that for me. I have to get the steps just right, by repetition, but I also have to be open to new influences all the time.

Am I Finnish? Swedish? When I perform outside Scandinavia, I get introduced as both. I’d say, though, that Sweden has no problem saying I’m both, the Finns would like to say I’m Finnish. I guess I’m a Finnish-born dancer who works in Sweden.

I am happy to have gone through school in Finland. There was a sense of discipline to it.


By Risto Pakarinen 

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