Performing Arts

Interview with Pirjetta Mulari

Pirjetta Mulari, International Affairs’ Manager of Dance Info Finland has been working with internationalizing Finnish dance for over a decade. She told EARS all that’s essential in international networking and the Asian market for dance.

Why is it important to internationalize Finnish dance? Where are export aims primarily directed to?

The Finnish market for dance is really small. For dancers and choreographers, it’s natural to go and work abroad as dance is inherently international for its nature. For Finnish dance, the most likely international networks lie in other Nordic countries and the rest of Europe. We also have great relations in Asia, especially Japan, Korea and China. At the moment East is clearly the right direction; artistically we share same values such as the importance of nature and education.

In what ways does Dance Info Finland aim to internationalize Finnish dance?

We build networks for long-term collaborations through residence programs, professional visits, networking events, collaboration performances, for example. We also invest in research of demand and interest for dance on an international level. It’s necessary to know who is who, where the vibrant markets are and what are the collaboration possibilities.

Then the work is simply creating contacts and maintaining them. Building international networks is a long process and there is no easy way out. When talking about internationalizing performing arts, I would rather use the word collaboration instead of export. The codes of conduct from business don’t apply to arts as they would to some other industry. It’s all about people working together for a common goal.

Which Asian country has an especially vivid field for dance art?

I wouldn’t specify that to only one as many Asian countries are growing as new centers of dance. Newcomers such as Vietnam and Cambodia are starting to have more and more dance artists. Of course China is an enormous country with endless possibilities. South Korea has around 55 universities where one can study a masters degree in dance, that tells a lot about the country.

Is Finnish dance appreciated abroad?

Yes. We have a versatile scene and not only a single pattern of doing things. Finnish dance is firmly rooted into our original and “exotic” country, which interests people. We have our own special sense of dark humor that can be seen in performances. There is a certain melancholy and deepness about Finnish dance. The use of space is something very original, since in Finland we have lots of space around us. Bringing that feeling of space  to cities like Beijing creates an interesting confrontation. Art education in Finland also allows for instance lighting and sound design grow as their own art forms.

What are the key steps for success in international markets of dance?

Focusing on doing your own thing and believing in it , the drive for internationalizing your own art and the ability to take risks. As an artist, you cannot only rely on the producer to do the networking and build your image. It is extremely important to have the state of mind of promoting yourself. It’s not an easy path, and it takes a long time to get recognized internationally.

How would you describe the European and Asian audience for dance?

In bigger cities, the competition for target audiences is very intense. Compared to Asia, Europe has longer traditions with contemporary performing arts. Europeans grow into contemporary art as in Asia the traditional art forms are more familiar to audiences. That can make Asian audiences more conservative, but I wouldn’t generalize this either.

One can also see differences between Asian countries. My observation is that in China audiences are more restless than in Japan where the audience is filled with total silence. In some places, censorship and liberty of speech narrow down possibilities to perform acts that in Finland would not be seen as tabus.

What can Finnish dance learn for Asian professionals?

Attitude! In many countries, there is no financial support system for dance but still there are beautiful, inspiring productions made out of determination and passion.


EARS – Europe-Asia Roundtable Sessions is a platform focusing on creative industry collaboration between Europe and Asia. The next EARS event will be held in Helsinki, August 27-30, showcasing the latest developments from the fields of design, music, performing arts, literature, marketing and media.

Interview with Cheung Fai

Cheung Fai has 30 global years experience in the performing arts, cultural industry and media/marketing. At the moment he is working as an Artistic Advisor and Curator of Helsinki Festival 2015 Focus China. EARS interviewed the EARS on Helsinki 2015 speaker about his ongoing production in Helsinki.

You’re attending EARS on Helsinki for the second time in August. What has happened since we saw you the last time?

I am now working with the Helsinki Festival China focus. Inside China focus I am curating a special event with young artists called 25 x 25, standing for 25 hours of various non-stop performances by Chinese artists under the age of 25. That is my main project at the moment but I have also been doing other festivals in China during this past year.

Could you tell us how this collaboration with Helsinki Festival started?

Actually, I met Erik, the artistic director of Helsinki Festival last year during EARS. We talked about the China focus program and both thought there was a need to have different younger Chinese artists presenting what they are doing and thinking. So I curated this project with more than 12 young artists from the fields of  theatre, music, dance, visual arts and media. Some of them are not professional artists but students or they do other things at the same time. They create art in different ways than others, even professional artists in their fields. As they are so young, they have a different perspective of seeing, understanding and presenting the world through their art. They are fresh artists with new ideas. The original creativity is there, you can see the sparkle.

Who are the young artists coming to Helsinki?

Youngest of them is a dancer and choreographer, only 17 years old girl from a small village, now studying in Hong Kong. You can see the raw energy of her body and of what she wants to express.  Even when she’s not sure what she is expressing you can see the urge to move. We also have an actress/director from Beijing doing a monolog about pain. She has interviewed other girls and women from different ages about their experiences

and built a monolog based on those statements. We also have a musician interested in interactive sound art. There is also going to be two artistic groups trying to find different ways to express art; they are part of a project that can be seen as an artwork or a social study but that doesn’t change the content, the love and the interest for powerful insight. These are some of the artists performing at 25 x 25 in August.

Does the new generation and their work differ somehow from what we have seen before?

They don’t have a historical or even professional burden on their shoulders. China is comparably new to the contemporary artistic culture. In many ways the Chinese traditions and western traditions are burden to more professional artists who might be trained to think according to certain traditions. They can feel chained. Young artists don’t care about the traditions from East or West. They are trying to find the creativity from themselves, from their imagination and from their own lives, not from the academy or their teachers. They are more fresh and willing to break free from some of the definitions of different forms of art. From many artists you can not really say she is a dancer or a theater person, they cross boundaries. They have more freedom in their works and in their lives. They are more themselves as individuals and braver to take risks without being afraid of failure. I think they are the future.

What is best about EARS?

Roundtables! Talking is important to everyone; for people in business, art and media. You have to have people talking to each other before anything good can really happen between them. For the relations between Europe and Asia, talking is essential; the world is evolving and changing every day. We need people to meet each other and talk to each other face to face, have them ask questions and that way find real understanding. This form of roundtables brings different people from different countries and industries together to talk, that is the beginning of every possibility.

Interview with Tang Fu Kuen

Tang Fu Kuen is an independent Bangkok-based dramaturg, curator and producer of contemporary performance and visual fields, working in Asia and Europe. He was the sole curator of the Singapore pavilion at the 53rd Venice Biennale. Read on to learn more about Asia’s performing arts scene and its future through the eyes of Tang Fu Kuen.

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Fu Kuen, my family name is Tang. I’m an independent producer, curator and dramaturg for theater and also a visual arts. I’m originally from Singapore but I’m based in Bangkok. I often travel between Asia and Europe and also within Asia. A lot of my work is independent with individual artists in different contexts and also making artistic work, producing and advising other artists.

You have been working a lot with different performing arts festivals. What kind of intercultural collaboration have you done in that field?

As a curator for festivals, I’m mostly responsible for identifying current practices and productions in Asia that are interesting and could be transferred for festival audiences in Europe.

What kinds of trends can you see in the cultural sector in Thailand?

In Thailand, as in many other developing countries, globalization is rising. It’s very hard to identify what the audince is looking for. but there is a general trend towards entertainment and lifestyle genres. Also musicals are in rise, and films – the Thai people are really into Blockbusters.

[quote text=” The young people in Asia are very open-minded and connected via social media these days.”]

You talked about new circus at EARS on Helsinki. What kind of market is there for circus in Thailand?

Thailand doesn’t have a very big tradition in circus compared to the neighboring countries such as Vietnam and Cambodia where there are many circus troops. I think that European new circus as a genre has a lot to give to Asia. There’s also a lot of potential for collaboration – how it would look like is hard to say. Young people in Asia are very open-minded and connected via social media and all sorts of virtual experimentations these days. So it could well be an online circus for example! We’re talking about a very vibrant, dynamic young audience and creators. They are game to try many things.

What do you think about China as a market for contemporary arts?

I think that China as a case is quite specific. Since the country opened its doors for globalization, the huge population of China is exposed in a way like never before. China is a huge potential market from a cultural industry point of view. The consumers are very curious and the demographic is very broad. Even if you are a niche kind of practice, you can find your audience there because it’s such a big market. I would like to think that the Chinese market is not always mass-based. There are individuals and sectors that want something else but can’t find it.

What kinds of differences in performing artists’ training methods have you noticed between Europe and Asia?

In Asia it’s always been that the body and mind cannot be separated. So when they do their training, they do a lot of meditation and holistic exercises. It’s not just about building muscles, strength and body but also making sure that mind and body are working in a holistic way. For example yoga as a kind of maintenance and internal strength exercise, is a part of a scheme for training process. I see that this kind of body practicing is increasing in Europe as well.

Interview with Ed Peto

Ed Peto runs a music industry consultancy called Outdustry Ltd. The Beijing based firm specializes in China music market entry, record label services, producer management and market intelligence. EARS had a chat with Ed about Outdustry work in China and the future of copyright dependent industries in China.

Who you are and what do you do?

My name is Ed Peto and I run a company called Outdustry Group based in Beijing. We represent Western rights owners, labels, services and producers for market-entry into China.

Please tell us about your background and how did you end up in China?

I’m originally from London. I was working in the music industry with labels, artist management and a few other areas. I developed a reasonably good understanding of how the industry worked as a whole and I wanted to take that understanding somewhere where the industry was still to be made, essentially. So, seven years ago I took a bit of a left turn in my life and decided to go and see how the market works in China. It’s been a very odd seven years because a lot of it is sort of been making it up as you go along. The industry in China is just fascinating! As tough as it is, everyday something bizarre or interesting happens – you’ll come across some amazing stories, amazing people and it’s kind of addictive. China just a very interesting place to be at a very interesting time.

Could you tell us a bit more about your company Outdustry?

The company is really a family of five small businesses. One is a producer and composer management business (Engine Music) representing Western producers, mixing and mastering engineers and composers for work on Chinese mainstream-pop, indie albums and more recently, major film soundtracks. The second business, which we actually just set up, is a sync agency (Core Sync) representing Western catalogues pitching for film, TV and web usage. We’re also starting to work as music supervisors for Chinese drama series.

Third business is a kind of a rights management business (OD Rights). We represent Western rights owners for bringing their catalogues into China and finding ways to monetize that through digital, physical and other markets. We’re increasingly looking into areas like performing rights, which is a very interesting area at the moment in China. We’re also acquiring Chinese catalogues for international distribution.

The fourth one is a market intelligence business called China Music Business. We publish articles about how the music industry works in China and are available for market visits, report writing and market introductions. Sort of trading in information and connections essentially. Last but not least, we have a music marketing agency (S/N Agency), primarily focused on building awareness around our clients and driving consumption of their physical and digital releases.

[quote text=” Companies in China have to be there for the long run.”]

What kind of strategic decisions have you made to succeed in the Chinese market?

I think in general, the Chinese industry as a whole has progressed a lot slower than people would have liked it to and it’s still a very long play. Actually, as a recorded music market, it’s still incredibly small. It’s actually smaller than Switzerland and Thailand. That means companies in China have to be there for the long run. In terms of focusing our business, we made a decision a couple of years ago that while live music in China is incredibly exciting, it’s over-crowded and a hard area to make money in, so we focused on the record side which is even harder but there’s no one else really doing what we do – so we’ve got a good niche for ourselves. It’s strategically a very interesting area to be in but we have to keep in mind that it’s a long strategy.

Besides China, do you do business in other regions in Asia as well?

Because the industry is so small at the moment in China, there is a temptation to start doing business outside of China. However, one of the decisions I’ve made over the last couple of years is that you just got to be the best at what you do within a particular region. I think it could be a mistake to try to spread yourself out too much. China is such a complex place that it requires your full attention. Each region in Asia has its own set of issues or complexities, which require full time attention as well. For us, the most important thing is to be the best at what we do within China.

[quote text=” The market is going to be very exciting and big in the future.”]

How do you see the development in the creative industries in China?

Any of the copyright dependent industries have traditionally had a very hard run in China. But there is a recognizable copyright law in China so it’s just a question of enforcing it properly so that the creative industries can start to flourish. It’s just starting to happen now. It’s looking increasingly interesting as the businesses develop and people actually start to see rewards from copyright based goods.

If we look at the film industry in China for example, it’s going through a boom at the moment. Largely because the Chinese government sees it as kind of a soft power issue where they want to start exporting films and they’ve protected that as an industry. We’re hoping that the music industry is going to be the next area of creative goods that actually get that level of protection from the government. It looks very exciting if this will happen. But as with all things in China, these things take longer than you would imagine. We know that the market is going to be very exciting and big in the future. It’s just when that future actually comes, that’s what’s unclear.