Perhaps Walking Should Be Called Movement

By: Nadja Pärssinen

This article focuses on my artistic process as a contemporary dance choreographer and dancer. My work Landscape Escapes in a Relation to…& Dance Moments! is a multidisciplinary dance piece, whose attention focussed on the dialogue between themes of wandering, movement-as-practice, and site-specificity. The interdisciplinary solo evolved slowly and was ultimately shaped by delving deeper into questions of the wander’s potential, and how dance and performativity change with location. The short film Landscape Escapes in a Relation Too… was a prequel to these growing inquiries.

Reflecting on my creative solo projects, I challenged myself by asking “how does a video-work on roaming—which was filmed during summer 2020 when the Covid-19 restrictions were milder—interact and overlap with my live performance given in December 2020, when the government imposed harsher constraints?” The ease of being in the dance film is a notable contrast compared to the performance situation where I had to wear a mask and white clothes. I was inspired to research how these divergent times, layered and merged, could bring a kind of visibility and sensitivity to the experience of being human—examining notions of action, walking, wandering, moving, touching and sensing, in site-specific spaces and landscapes. 

Landscape Escapes in a Relation to…& Dance Moments! was recorded in Munkkiluodonkuja, a residential area in Espoo. I first showed it in Helsinki’s open university dance pedagogy studies 7.-8.12.2020. After the premiere, I continued working the solo and performed the dance piece again in the Turku City Library courtyard on 17.12.2020. The performance was part of the Christmas Dance Calendar project supported by the Western Dance Regional Center. Previously, I collaborated with video artist Alisa Javits to create the short film entitled Landscape Escapes in a Relation Too… . In the summer of 2020, we travelled to Trolltunga hiking trail in Norway to shoot on location; it took over twelve hours to get all the footage we needed. In the film—through wandering, dance, and textuality—Javits and I discuss our varying experiences of nature’s landscapes and our ongoing drive to ramble forward. The work intertwined different filming techniques that invite viewers to reflect their corporal memories of wandering. 

In her book Wanderlust: A History of Walking (2000), feminist and activist writer Rebecca Solnit examines how walking is an embodied attendance to motion; presence is at once with yourself and with your world, both inner and outer. Solnit’s idea of wandering as an active awareness of body and mind crystalize when I’m hiking, especially in the mountains, or on long routes. I first travelled to the highlands of Slovakia’s Tatrás mountain range in 2019. The tiring, 12-14 hours long, walk also brought attention to the excitement of being in continuous movement, constant in relation to the resplendent landscapes—pristine nature and hilly unsolid ground. My bodily data-input from the setting also supports Solnit’s idea that walking is no place for boredom, but rather a place for emptying your mind—refreshing and generating rhythm for body and mind. Maybe boredom is the place where movement happens too.

I presented the Landscape Escapes in a Relation Too… performance in a class zoom-meeting. My dance teacher, Pirkko Ahjo, invited me to look at the piece from the point of view of the following question: Are you a regular or a visitor of the place? I am grateful for Ahjo’s proposal. I began to adapt to the term “visitor,” which allowed me to encounter a performance space with more care and detail, such as when I was in the Turku City Library’s backyard. On that spot, I started noticing the overlapping of various points of architectural and organic spaces.  

Embracing the term “visitor” and the kinesthetic exploration in the backyard, engaged me as a performer towards my unknown edges. I became informed of the embodiment of the environment that can never be fixed entirely into something permanent. Wander-based movement—a material relation with surroundings—opened a more profound link to space and a sensation to myriad environmental textures. Researching my material about the environment, and the wandering theme, lead me to ponder the difference between walking and movement. If there is no difference, could walking be embodied as dance and vice versa? 

Solnit writes: “This history of walking is an amateur history, just as walking is an amateur act. To use a walking metaphor, it trespasses through everybody else’s field — through anatomy, anthropology, architecture, gardening, geography, political and cultural history, literature, sexuality, religious studies — and doesn’t stop in any of them on its long route.” Solnit describes how walking is indispensable for most human beings, where the wanderlust could be its own reward if we are willing to give time for it or zoom into its analysis. The Turku City Library’s backyard, and its surrounding natural environment, prompted me to acknowledge how architectural design could be very visually stimulating, powerful, even leading. However, in my performance process, I realized that bodily perception speaks and brings different information than only a sense of sight can offer. My solo work process opened new perspectives for me to reflect on the dimensions and potential of dance-art in connection to the environment and the Covid-19 outbreak. 

Choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker writes, “Considering the place of dance in our world is important these days, not only in terms of how to maintain it and keep it moving through all of the restrictions and cancellations, but also in terms of what we can learn from dance – the breath of dance, the capacity it has to be self-sufficient, and also the communal nature of dancing.” Keersmaeker describes succinctly how the prevailing limitations on art-venues, due to the Covid-19 constraints, highlight the needs for further discussions of efficacy in the field. In contemporary dance-art, breathing is essential; the current conditions make this critical need impossible. Dance is a potential where we can expressively and critically explore topical themes in our society, such as ecology, the environment, community; and most of all, connect to something. As dancer Mari Martin insists, “Living places – our place relations – are emotional states: they are the intertwining of the living body and the thinking mind, the kiasmatic symbiosis of the body and the mind. Under no circumstances are our spatial relationships merely information relations, but an associative movement of perception and cognition, in which the present, the past, and the future are constantly intertwined.”

Ultimately, I am excited to hear from the community who sees my work, continuing to build from my understanding and theirs. In Landscape Escapes in a Relation to…& Dance Moments! one audience member described her experience: “your embodiment of dance in this specific space called out the landscapes from the film to this space.” 

By: Nadja Pärssinen

Proofreading by: Dahlia El Broul


Literature sources: 

* Researcher of Uniarts Mari Martin, 2017, In dialogue with an urban environment -chapter, Extended maker – Maker -piece, performance and society -book. Available in online. 

* Researcher, activist and feminist writer Rebecca Solnit, 2001, Wanderlust – The history of walking book. 

* Choreographer and dancer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, 14.12.2020, What’s Next in the Dance Ecosystem -written speech.

Nadja Pärssinen (Fin./Rus.) is a Finnsih choreographer, performer and movement teacher based in Southern Finland. Often her works involves instant composition, text, interdisciplinary art forms and relations to the sound and movement. She is a initiator of a collaboration platform FlowWowProductions which was established in 2018.  More information: 

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