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Living dance legend celebrates

By Sara Nyberg, September 2010, updated October 2010

Photo: Sakari Viika
"Ballet Pathéthique," which premiered in the late 1980s, formed one of three pieces on the programme when Jorma Uotinen's impressive career hit the 40-year mark.

Grand maître of Finnish dance Jorma Uotinen turned 60 in summer 2010 and celebrated his 40-year dance and choreography career with a triple bill at the Finnish National Opera House.

A legend among Finnish artists, Jorma Uotinen possesses an ego that reaches as high as Burj Khalifa and lips that rival Mick Jagger's. He acts big and looks the part.

With an ever-present huge scarf wrapped around his neck, he could be a Parisian artist from a bygone era. A true creative artist who is always renewing himself, he's had another performing career, parallel to dance, for a decade now: He entertains audiences in concert halls and restaurants as a singer.

Naturally, Uotinen took the stage to celebrate 40 years onstage, dancing a solo piece aptly named La Diva. "I will dance La Diva as long as I can lift up the chairs," he says, referring to the props used in the piece. The Opera House celebration also included Ballet Pathétique and his latest work, Black Water.

Ballet biography

Photo: Sakari Viika
Click to enlarge the picture
Jorma Uotinen acts big and looks the part.

After joining the Finnish National Ballet in autumn 1970, his first-ever appearance was in Swan Lake. In the first act he played a horn and in the third he carried a tray. But with a talent like his, things soon started happening.

American dancer and choreographer Carolyn Carlson invited Uotinen to join her contemporary company, an experimental dance group within the Paris Opera. He worked for her in Paris and in Venice for five years, then returned to Finland to take artistic directorship of Helsinki City Theatre Dance Company. He stayed there for ten years, and after that, another decade passed as the artistic director of Finnish National Ballet.

In both the contemporary City Theatre and the classical National Ballet, he was the main choreographer. And he choreographed a lot.

His Ballet Pathétique featured Tero Saarinen, who now has his own well-known company, dancing the lead. The all-male cast was clad in traditional ballerina tutus. Another dancer who has since become a successful choreographer, Jyrki Karttunen, performed the main role in Petrushka, in Uotinen's staging of the famous ballet for three dancers.

In the early 21st century Uotinen branched out. He found a singer inside himself, but he also took over as artistic director of Kuopio Dance Festival, a title he still holds. He has extended the festival, garnering more international recognition for the event, and still finds time to choreograph.

The magic of movement

Photo: Sakari Viika
Click to enlarge the picture
"Colours," a Jorma Uotinen choreography from 2006, is another of the many creations that Finnish dance fans have enjoyed at the National Opera House over the years.

Minna Tervamäki, a principal dancer at the National Ballet, danced with Uotinen for many years. "The magic of movement is what I learned from Jorma," she says. She was 14 years old when she first saw Uotinen on stage. "The magic struck me. He flicked his hand, and that was it. It was a simple motion that could have gone unnoticed if someone else had done it. But Uotinen made it larger than life."

Today Uotinen says he sees art as reflection of present times. He is a regular judge in dance competitions and still knows everyone in dance field. "I do not want to rank today's generation. I think art reflects the world and the society we live in, and everyone in it. That is the mission."

Later in autumn 2010 Uotinen is back singing with his band: a set of French chansons, songs by the band members – music he likes. The precious summer there was a concert with Vaasa Symphony Orchestra. Experienced though he is, the opportunity thrilled him. "With a big orchestra like that, I was devastated," he laughs.


Jorma Uotinen's website

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