Choreography student: Looking for artistic growth through deeper understanding of my art form

Read interview with Ryan Mason who hails from California, USA.

Ryan Mason
Photographer Petri Summanen

Please tell us about yourself, and how it came about that you started studying at Uniarts Helsinki?

My name is Ryan Mason. I am from Southern California where I received my BFA in Dance from the California Institute of the Arts. I am a father and an artist. As a professional dancer, I worked throughout Europe and North America before turning to teaching and choreographing. For the past five years, I have been collaborating with my choreographic partner, Annamari Keskinen. Together we formed Thar Be Dragons, a Helsinki-based dance and theatre company where we create work together as well as independently.

I began dividing my time between Finland and Germany in 2017, creating work with my partner in Finland and developing my independent work in Germany. It became apparent that Uniarts Helsinki was a good school. In that time, I had met several graduates from the university and researched a bit online. I gathered that the program offered a broad perspective on choreography but also facilitated the individual artist’s interests. That was exactly what I was looking for.

As a choreographer, I wanted to get a better grasp of the art form, its history, and its current trajectories. After reading the curriculum, I realized that this might be a good place for artistic growth. The school is also known for being a great place to network, connect with other artists in the field, and develop a deeper understanding of the structures that support independent artists.

There are infinite approaches to what choreography can be, which I find both beautiful as well as precarious. This program offers tools to navigate and position oneself within this artistic field. These tools have helped me to pivot between changes within myself and contemporary art practices.

Please tell us one thing you remember about your entrance examination.

The entrance exam was conducted remotely, and I consider it my first lesson at Uniarts Helsinki. Several stages of writing tasks were required, ranging from reflections on my work to an analysis of a choreographer’s current work. Additionally, there were video presentations, interviews, and shared discussions. My memory of the excitement I felt when I read the first application tasks is still vivid. After 12 years of working professionally, I was not ready for formal academic questioning. Through this experience, I learned a bit more about myself, my strengths, and areas for development. The quality of education was already evident.

What has been the best thing about studying at Uniarts Helsinki and living in Helsinki?

Helsinki is a fairly user-friendly city. Studying and living here has opened my network, both socially and artistically. Studying here means hanging around some incredible artists and thinkers, which has been a privilege.

What has been your most memorable study experience?

My time at Uniarts Helsinki has offered many memorable experiences. Each lecture, study module, guest speaker, and excursion has given me something to reflect on. However, the most memorable thing about this program is not located in any specific moment. The relationships that have developed, the love and wisdom of my cohort, the artistic endeavours, and the institutional support have all rendered a complex and exciting experience.

What has been the most challenging?

An experience that holds a particularly strong intensity for me occurred during a feedback session for my first solo project with our director, Kirsi Monni. My work was examined with an honesty that I had not experienced before. It was a challenging moment. However, the care and insight that accompanied it enabled me to grow trust in myself and others. It also helped me find clarity and articulation in my approach to making art.

What do you dream of doing after you graduate?

This education is a pressure cooker – it is intense. There is an abundance of information that can be disorienting. While I have already benefited from my studies, I believe my experiences will integrate into my practices in their own time. I am excited to continue my career as an artist. I have developed a particularly strong interest in sound art and I find the field full of choreographic potential.

What preconceptions did you have about Finland? What do you think about them now?

I did not really have any preconceptions about Finland before coming here. Now, I consider Finland a home.