Minna Tervamäki – the rhythm is always present

Dancer étoile Minna Tervamäki is part of several pieces at the upcoming Tampere Chamber Music Festival. She is known for her three-decade long position as the dancer étoile of Finnish National Ballet and has performed nearly all the most distinguished leading roles of classical ballet and in works by several significant modern choreographers. Since her retirement from the Finnish National Ballet in 2012 her activities have emphasized more and more cross-artistic collaboration. We asked Minna what she thought about the upcoming festival in February and about one of its themes – rhythm.


‘’Rhythm is one of the ruling factors of life. It’s everywhere and affects us strongly through seasons, weeks, days, individual moments of our lives and our body. The rhythm can be very even – a day changing from Monday to Tuesday. On the other hand, life can also be hectic and especially as an entrepreneur, a freelancer and a dancer, I have been able to experience also the change brought on by different productions. Different kinds of rhythms are emerging through age.


As a dancer, I recognize the bodily and primitive aspect of the rhythm. The rhythm affects the movement and with movement you can affect the rhythm. Heartbeat and pulse have their own rhythms.  Rhythm has been a tool for communication even when there wasn’t verbal expression.  People can create rhythm with their bodies and instruments, by singing and moving. Already in womb the fetus senses heartbeats and the rhythm is there from the beginning of a person’s life.  I believe that is why it speaks to us strongly even if we don’t fully understand it.


A person reacts to rhythm strongly. A certain kind of rhythm creates sensations in people even if we are not fully aware of it.

 Photo: KIm Laine


When dancing the rhythm is vitally important whatever the music may be. Even when dancing without music I sense or hear a kind of rhythm. Sometimes I playfully say that every movement has their own sound. I might work on a choreography by hearing internally different rhythms and sounds that describe movement. Some movement may sound fast-paced, sighing, soft or more aggressive.


When making dance pieces, the relationship between motion and rhythm can be utilized in different ways. Either the pieces are made one-to-one with the rhythm or the choreographer can act against it. If intense rhythm is mixed with slow motion, it brings a strange tension to the piece which is very fascinating. This creates new kinds of interpretations.


For myself as a listener, the rhythm of music is very essential and it has a strong influence on me. When doing relaxation exercises, I utilize music with a very gentle and slow rhythm. If I go to the gym to ride the exercise bike I make sure that the rhythm activates me. A person begins to naturally follow the rhythm he is hearing and it affects our activity. My acquaintances who run have told me that if the music is conflicting with running it might make you miss a step.


Photo: Natalia Gromova


As a choreographer and a dancer, I use very versatile music that I wouldn’t necessarily listen to on my free time. What I want to express in a dance piece is the union of music and dance. Movement on its own creates a certain image whereas movement and music combined create another. Sometimes adding dance to a piece of music has affected the way the musicians play it when they see a new kind of interpretation of the music they know. Therefore, the whole visuality, costumes and color scheme of the piece may create a wholly new result. In an always living piece where several art forms unite, the entirety is formed of their relationship with each other and not of what they are individually. The entirety is also not only formed of how the art forms support each other but also of possible conflicts and tensions. It’s extremely interesting.


Listening to music creates strong alterations of energy levels or feelings in me. It usually also sets the imagination in motion. When this happens, it can even be a visual experience – I see the music as body language. Ideas and creativity start happening. Music has a very strong effect on me – rhythm and tempo are a very central part of it.’’


Tampere Chamber Music Festival’s permanent theme is ‘’music and wellbeing play together’’. Besides the art performances, during the festival there are also lectures available where the theme is approached from the perspective of science. We asked Minna to tell about her own expectations and thoughts concerning the festival.


‘’ There are also many studies that have proven how strongly music affects a person’s wellbeing. In the age of resource coaching and wellbeing advice it sometimes feels like music is considered a too easy a solution. This would be simple to add to your own wellbeing palette. Music has an enormous impact on emotional level, also for stress. Most essential is to find exactly the kind of music that gives you pleasure.


Besides performances, lectures and concerts at Tampere Chamber Music Festival, the program includes for example the wellbeing of a musician. The work load of musicians is very hard and taking care of your own wellbeing requires attention. Maintaining your physical condition is important because a musician uses their body while playing an instrument. If you are in good condition it’s easier to perform well while playing and handle the strain. With an open and flexible body, playing is certainly very different than with a tight and unrecovered one. At the festival, I’m having a Minna’s methods workshop where the goal is to open your body and find the right lines.  We also try to find an internal support for the body to function both strong and relaxed.


Minna’s Methods are built of the tools I use to take care of my own wellbeing. The methods include lots of different tools and I hope that everyone would form a tool set as wide as possible to support their wellbeing. My own tool set includes for example relaxation exercises, music, various body rehearsals, physiotherapy, massage, thinking skills, attitude and exercises improving mobility, openness and flexibility. These demonstrate well how many ways there are to support wellbeing and reach top performance.


Photo: Minna Hatinen


It’s a pleasure and an honor to be part of the upcoming festival as a performer and run my own workshop. The finest thing about Tampere Chamber Music is the ensemble that the artistic director Heini Kärkkäinen has designed. The event is very versatile and all the themes are connected. I recommend seeing the whole festival as a very exceptional experience. From the previous festival, I remember especially the lectures that included art. A magnificent combination of science and art.


I especially look forward to performing a Steve Reich guitar concerto with guitar artist Ismo Eskelinen at the upcoming festival. Our collaboration is interesting and we have already performed the piece together a few times. The union of rhythm and movement is strongly present in this piece. Moods are changing magnificently. Also, visuality and light play a great role. The other performances will be premieres. I’ll be making choreographies for these during Christmas and after the new year.


It’s also amazing that the flamenco dancer Kaari Martin is performing at the festival. In her pieces if ever, the rhythm is granted. It’s fantastic to see how she handles the rhythm! I’ve collaborated with Kaari before and learned a lot from her about how to use the body as an instrument and how to handle the rhythm. During the festival, we might end up on the stage together. ‘’