Group of Four Puts New Face On Modern Dance
Modern dance and performance art may be some people’s worst nightmare, but the sharp humor of Gruppen Fyra melts even the worst sceptics’ hearts. In 1998, four young women, Pia Tavela, Sanna Koskela, Jenni Laitinen and Vera Nevanlinna, had finished their studies in dance. They created their own dance ensemble, Gruppen Fyra, meaning Group Four in Swedish, and brought dance out into the public eye. Street curbs, Christmas parties, fairs, openings, department stores and trams became impromptu stages and soon clients were asking for more.
”We started out trying to pay the bills,” explains Sanna. ”Perhaps our daring was also due to our fear of unemployment, but we soon found that we were onto something,” continues Jenni.
Although Gruppen Fyra has its own trademark style, they adapt their presentations to suit the occasion and the employer. One show features the ticket checkers of the Helsinki public transportation service.
Because the dance situations are taken out of everyday life, Sanna feels that, ”everyone understands what we are presenting, the message gets across”. Earlier this spring, the group performed a dance tribute to the city maintenance workers. ”We appreciate the work of city maintenance and we pictured their work in a dance. Street sweepers became visible again,” says Pia. The city has commissioned forty such works to take place through the coming summer and fall.
Vera, choreographer of most of the group’s work, is excited about the possibilities that outdoor work provides. ”It’s wonderful not to have to be confined to a small stage, performing only for other dancers and a few faithful fans.”
Politics and Donald Duck in Finland
Donald Duck was born in the USA, one of many characters created by Walt Disney. While Mickey continues to reign over the Disney world in America, Donald has become a clear favorite in Finland.
A comic book series about Donald Duck’s adventures continues to sell 270 000 copies a year in Finland, even though the comic was discontinued in the US a year and a half ago. ”You can’t even buy comic books at the theme parks. They never sold them there,” says Jukka Heiskanen, Sub Editor for Helsinki Media, producers of the Donald comics for the last fifty years.
The images in Aku Ankka, as Donald Duck is known in Finland, are created in Denmark by a licensed company, Egmont. ”We can’t touch the pictures when they come to us,” explains Heiskanen. ”We can maybe leave some out or order more. But we can translate very freely. No one speaks Finnish at Egmont.” Three editors first decide on the gist of the translation and primary vocabulary, after which a group of ten freelancer translators finish the text.
It is perhaps just this ability to shape the comic story line that explains the longevity of the Donald Duck comic in Finland. The use of the Finnish language is delightfully creative and the links to Finnish life make it personal.
Last winter, Heiskanen created a story about a mayoral election in Duckburg. The candidates, as drawn by the Finnish illustrator Kari Korhonen, who works for Egmont in Denmark, all looked suspiciously like the Finnish presidential candidates. ”We try to leave the opinions under the surface. If scripts are extreme in one way or another, we try to water them down,” says Heiskanen.
When Finland linked its currency to the Euro, Aku Ankka was featured in an Euro-edition. When the money is introduced for use, they plan to do another. Heiskanen comments, ”We noticed that all of the information about the Euro was directed to adults. Kids use money, too.” Other recent Aku themes have been a ”Kalevala-Ankka” take on the Finnish epic and a ”bittiankka” comic about computers and Internet use.
School of Hard Knocks
Rami is 23. He is serving a term of four years and eight months for robbery and assault in the Kerava juvenile detention facility. He is what they call a cell prisoner: while the rest of the inmates go off to work at the metal works or the garage in the morning, he is confined to his cell.
Rami made it through primary school and took one year of technical school, before losing control to intoxicants, including alcohol, pills and injections. ”I went crazy,” he says. ”I had to pay off our drug debts and although I tried to work something out, I couldn’t convince the dealer to let me pay later. I was drunk and high and I robbed and beat him, because I had to get some money.”
Although he is not a juvenile, he serves his time in Kerava, during its transition to a prison. Because this is his first conviction, he will be released half way into his term, next year in June.
Rami is studying towards his high school matriculation degree. He has taken five courses in history, biology and religion. There is one English teacher, but the rest Rami must learn from his textbooks. ”I can’t read everyday, sometimes I just take a day off. The tests are arranged ahead of time. Math and physics are things I can’t teach myself.”
Although he started off with poor grades, he is improving. ”Maybe I’ll continue in night school when I am released, but first I have to get my financial situation sorted out.”
Only 16 convicted felons in Finland are completing any kind of university studies. Three graduated last year with university degrees. Anni Herrala, Study Advisor for the Kerava prison says that most young people are in jail for such a short time that they cannot finish a high school degree. Kirsti Kuivajärvi of the Ministry of Justice in Finland knows of one prisoner that finished his PhD.
Of the 2 800 prisoners currently serving time in Finland, 1 555 are studying something while they are incarcerated. 300 were studying daily. The Finnish law dictates that all prisoners must either work or study while they are held.
by Pamela Kaskinen