Dance Performance student: Dance as a form of artistic activism

Read an interview with Maja Kalafatić who comes from Slovenia and studies in the Dance Performance master’s program at Uniarts Helsinki’s Theatre Academy.

Photo of student Maja Kalafatic.
Photo: Diana Malaj

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

I am Maja Kalafatić and I was born in Yugoslavia. I am currently a master’s student in the Dance Performance program at Uniarts Helsinki’s Theatre Academy. Dance has been a part of my life since I was three years old. I discovered contemporary dance in the Dance Forum Celje, where I started in 1988.

In 2006, I graduated from the Salzburg Experimental Academy of Dance in Austria. For the last fifteen years, I have been working in Southeast and Central Europe as a freelance artist in the field of contemporary performing practices and dance pedagogy. My work closely relates to the visual arts, theory and practice of contemporary dance, and artistic activism. I teach a workshop called ‘’Dance and act’’ where I combine dance with activism and work with various topics such as borders, precariat, social injustice, etc. The students create action in public spaces through movement or dance.

In 2015, I received my master’s degree from Hochschule für Musik und Tanz in Cologne, Germany, in the field of dance dissemination. After graduation, I started my PhD studies in Transdisciplinary Studies in Contemporary Art and Media in Belgrade, Serbia. These studies are still in progress.

I subscribe to PERFmts, a service that promotes and communicates special events, projects and activities relevant to the development of performing and performance arts worldwide. Two years ago, I heard about the Theatre Academy through that service and I intuitively knew that I had to come here. I thought the Dance Performance program was very good and suited my needs and desires. I was also fascinated by the unknown distant country, Finland.

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

The application process was very long and it consisted of various tasks. In truth, it seemed endless. I had to prepare, create and learn many different solo materials, explain my ideas and the concept I was working with. It was challenging and time consuming but at the same time very productive.

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

I am enjoying my studies at the Theatre Academy. The quality of art education is very good and the way dance is explored in our studies is very satisfying. The Theatre Academy building is amazing: the studios and other facilities are great.

When I think of my life in Finland, sauna is the best thing. I also enjoy living close to the nature. Walking in a snowstorm or taking a boat ride and visiting the islands is very enjoyable.

What has been your most memorable study experience?

It is hard to pick only one, but the solo demo project where I could see each of my peers performing and working with their own interests and fields of expertise was very valuable, because we found ways to support and connect with each other also in an artistic way. I also want to point out singing classes because they bring so much joy and provide other perspectives to my usual way of performing.

What has been the most challenging?

The bureaucracy has been the most challenging thing. It took months to get the residence permit, even if I come from an EU country. Then there is the language. Even if everybody speaks English, I still feel like an outsider since I do not speak Finnish. I am not referring to the dance context but life in general. Many social activities are very expensive in Helsinki, but at least art happenings have cheap student prices. Sometimes, I feel that I am too ‘’loud’’ and have to tone myself down.

What do you dream of doing after you graduate?

I dream about being busy with interesting projects and working with people I like, while also making a comfortable living in order to feel free of concerns and constrains. I would like to bring more dance into communities and introduce dance into the formal education system. I would like to keep learning and sharing my knowledge, to develop methods and write about them. I dream of having a big, open, bright studio and being a part of a collective who can work through friendship and shared artistic visons and dreams, where artists can challenge and inspire each other.

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

I am a big fan of Nordic Noir TV programs so I had very vivid preconceptions about Finland. I thought it would be very dark, cold, mysterious, and a bit weird with lots of snow – and it turned out to be quite true