Contemporary dance studio in downtown Tampere. Novice dancer is making her first steps. Hesitant and insecure, she seems to have just taken control of her body and nailed that difficult move. The weird feeling of unexpected discovery is followed by a cautious smile.
“It’s a huge moment when you see someone get to know their body,” says Anniina Kumpuniemi, professional dance teacher, choreographer, and managing director of Dance Theatre MD.
Anniina knows that for a fact. Throughout her career, she’s helped hundreds of dance novices discover their hidden potential.
“Every time a person gets to dance like herself, it changes the world and the people. It opens up something new,” her eyes lit up as she’s saying these words.
Anniina’s been a dancer-choreographer and a dance teacher for over 20 years now. And yet, whenever she sees someone realize they can move, she relives the newfound enjoyment of moving.
“It’s a feeling of discovery. You are more surprised than happy. When I see someone experience this for the first time, I can come back to this feeling again.”
From a young age, Anniina suspected that dance would become her lifework. She vividly recalls that moment when as a nine-year-old she was passionately teaching a friend to dance. It was back then that her parents found out about the big dream to become a dance teacher.
At the age of thirteen, she started to train vigorously—several dance classes a day, six days a week. She kept insisting that her future was about dance. But of course, the adults knew best.
“They told me to do something else. ‘You can’t only live by dancing,’ they said. But I already knew that dance chose me. I didn’t choose dance.”
At university, where she was studying English and French, she skipped all the lectures and took every chance to attend dance classes. It’s no wonder that she dropped out of university, and enrolled at the Theatre Academy to study contemporary dance and choreography.
In 1997, fresh out of the Theatre Academy, Anniina joins the recently formed Dance Theatre MD, the only professional dance theatre in Tampere to this day.
“I was really lucky to graduate at the same time that they opened a position at MD. It was like winning a lottery.”
That same spring, Anniina proposes organizing the first-ever Tampere Dance Current Contemporary Dance Festival.
“I thought that there were so many voices to be seen. I wanted the audience in Tampere to have the opportunity to see more. There were so many great performances happening elsewhere. And we were missing out on most of them.”
She comes up with the name and the focus of the festival and invites friends and colleagues from the Theatre Academy to join the ride.
“In the beginning, it was a small festival. We didn’t have any extra funding. We performed a collection of dance pieces in a very frugal way. But people loved it, and the plans for the second festival were already set.”
In the late 90s, contemporary dance was still a marginal art in Tampere, even though the predecessors of Dance Theater MD laid a good foundation. The two dance companies working in town since the 70s and the 80s had their loyal spectators, but it was a small crowd, and the variety of performances did not match the size of the city.
“Our predecessors had good networks in place, but not the monthly salary and the possibility to make it all foster in the long run. At MD, we got better resources and a bigger group to make a real difference. ”
Anniina and the team set out to change the contemporary dance landscape of Tampere. With better structure and funding, Dance Theater MD becomes a contemporary dance pioneer and disrupter. Over time, it grows and gets spin-offs. These days, MD produces around 80 shows a year on its home stage and 20 more on tour. MD also hosts the annual Tampere Dance Current Festival.
Thanks to the work that Anniina and her colleagues started 20 years ago, contemporary dance has become a more familiar phenomenon in Tampere.
“Now more professional dancers are living and working in the city. There are many voices. There are not one or two trends. The techniques were few, and these days we have many techniques, many styles, and many voices. Contemporary dance has become more known to everyday people.”
The hard work and dedication don’t go unnoticed—the people of Tampere are responding in a friendly and accepting manner.
“The audience in Tampere is really warm. They are passionate and curious spectators who are not afraid to show their interest. The city officials are also supportive of arts and culture and the meaningfulness of people. I know that the value of contemporary dance is appreciated here.”
Anniina admits that she’s happy to be living and working in Tampere. She intends to continue changing the atmosphere and everyday life of the city by exposing people to contemporary dance.
As a choreographer and a dancer with a huge passion for movement, Anniina wants to help people discover the energy and joy of contemporary dance, even though sometimes they might feel intimidated.
Probably, for this reason, Dance Theater MD throws surprise street performances.
“Several times a year, we go under people’s skin. If you don’t dare to get inside, we take dance to the streets. We often get a very positive response from the streets. They are fascinated. They are interested. That is so much fun! That really makes my day.”
In her own words, Anniina and the team are giving Tampere a little bit more Vitamin D.
The “D” stands for dance, of course 🙂
Photo credits: Dance Theatre MD, Harri Hinkka & Ville Konttinen
Text: Grigory Kharitidis