Luganski originally got the idea for RockUrok when
listening to such bands as The Red Hot Chili Peppers
and Linkin Park.

Helsinki’s streets provide fertile ground for establishing a new dance movement for this trio of dancers.

FOR many who live in Espoo, the area of Kamppi a couple of blocks west of the shopping centre represents only a place where their bus emerges from the tunnel underpass accessing the bus terminal.

For Mishka Luganski, Justus Hartwigsen and Vadim Lilleorg, however, this location represents the beginning of something significant. Many different obstacles confront the realisation of big dreams, but, as they huddle together one Monday evening as the summer twilight stretches on, it is a group of small children who are currently standing in their way.

Situated immediately next to the bus tunnel, the newly refurbished Lastenlehto Park hosts a smattering of cuddling couples, a group of bored youths and a children’s playground, a striking sight filled with irregularly angled equipment silhouetted against the summer evening’s bright sky.

It’s here that a handful of children clamber and climb, their confidence buoyed by the rubber ground beneath their feet, which absorbs the force of any falls. But it’s after 9 pm and the children are finally showing signs of fatigue, and within minutes their parents have come to collect them.

Taking it to the streets

While many other European
cities boast a strong local street
dance scene and support for
such collectives, for the RockUrok
crew this Kamppi playground
represents only the beginning.

As the gate opens and the children and parents file out, the trio of excited dancers, joined by friends Tuan Huynh and Fedja Gasanov, soon make the space their own, lying on the spongy surface and stretching, chatting excitedly. The laughs and small talk continue as an iPod stereo appears from a nowhere and proceeds to blast out the rousing intro to Rage Against the Machine’s Killing in the Name – albeit a version dense with bigger beats and an almost techno flavour.

A few skips to either side, and suddenly Luganski is away and dancing, his limbs moving in an unpredictable yet fluid pattern. The others take their time to get going, stopping and starting as they find inspiration from the accompanying music. Luganski pauses for a moment and heads over to explain just why we are here.

“RockUrok is a new thing born in Finland. It’s something new on the street. This idea came to my head 12 years ago when I was studying dance at university and the new album from the Red Hot Chili Peppers came out. I thought, ‘Wow, how can I dance to this kind of music?’ Then Linkin Park came out, Hybrid Theory. Crazy album! The last reason was the solo album of John Frusciante, Shadows Collide With People in 2004. This album completely blew my mind; I realised that I must to dance it.”

Such unorthodox inspiration for dancing set off a chain reaction in Luganski as he set about incorporating a variety of influences. “The difference to other dancing is that we have rock moves, along with an animalistic style; some moves also imitate electric guitar. It’s a free flowing style, like Capoeira without fighting. It’s all about expressing how you feel when listening to rock music. It consists of many styles: hip-hop, breaking, housesteps. The difference is more with creeping animal moves, more curves, you know.”

(l to r) Lilleorg, Luganski and Hartwigsen. Turning the local street dance scene on its head.

Bringing dancing together

While many other European cities boast a strong local street dance scene and support for such collectives, for the RockUrok crew this Kamppi playground represents only the beginning. They are fusing their individual dancing styles to form a new method of expression previously unseen in Finland. The fact that each member of the trio was born outside of Finland influences their different approaches.

“I’m half-Finnish,” explains German-born Hartwigsen, 23, himself adept at hip-hop dancing. “I study in Porvoo. I live in Helsinki, so usually I come back around four or five in the afternoon and dance in the evening. Compared to Germany it is a much smaller scene. Each weekend in Germany there is some big event and dancers really will go anywhere, you can take a train six hours to perform. Everybody knows each other.”

“It is a very small scene here in Finland,” Luganski agrees, himself born in Russia 30 years ago. “But it doesn’t matter. Right now we are working on the RokUrok thing. We are going to make a big show for the streets and theatres. We are the only ones doing this thing.

Street smarts

– Street dance incorporates dance styles outside of the more formal moves found in dance studios, utilising available open space as streets, parks and school yards to name but a few.

– Street dance has evolved from the age-old tradition of folk dancing.

– Street dances encourage interaction and contact with spectators along with the other dancers, relying heavily on improvisation.

– There is a wide variety of street dancing styles including hip-hop style b-boying, funkstyles popping and locking and house dance.

“Finland is good in that we are in the middle of Europe and Russia, and we get inspiration for moves from both,” continues Estonian Lilleorg, 22, master of the power move. “I first came here four years ago. We started to dance here and got an audience, so I finished school in Estonia and came here because back home there is nothing to do. I’m from a small city, no opportunity. There is no one supporting this culture. Here in Finland there is a lot of information. In Estonia, the information comes so slowly as it’s an old Soviet country.”

The driving force behind RockUrok, Luganski has danced for the best part of his life. An instructor for many years, he has co-ordinated numerous workshops for both schools and companies. You also might remember his unorthodox dancing style from an Elisa television commercial a while back, although a paper Mona Lisa mask memorably obscured his face. His movements have been motion-captured by a computer-game company for the 3D animation of characters. But rock-tinged dance moves remain his true passion.

“Audiences here in Finland are very chilled when we are practising, nobody pays attention so much. We are happy with it. We don’t want to feel that we have to show off. If someone wants to join in they are welcome. For a show we like to go to a public place such as the square in front of Stockmann. We practise hard. When we are practising here we can crash – actually that is one of the cool parts when you are crashing as you are finding ways how to…”

“Sometimes when you fail, you can create new moves,” interjects Lilleorg, as a brief pause emerges between the thumping beats on the stereo.

“It’s not only about the music, it’s also about attitude,” Luganski continues. “We are more about animals, trees and water and fire – the elements. Whereas hip-hop is more about people, we are more natural, flowing. You could be moving like a fish or whatever.”

From the street to the stage

From these humble beginnings here in Kamppi, Luganski has big plans for RockUrok. As he begins to find his flow, he starts moving to emphasise the points he’s making, wide-eyed and expressive as he breaks them down.

“I have two projects in my head. The first one is for theatres, to tell small stories or fairytales for adults about animals and decorations. The second is to make it for the kids. To have funny costumes and a more educational programme, about the alphabet; to tell stories about how animals are moving, how the tree grows – a seed with power moves.”

As he reaches the height of his explanation, his movements become more intense, reaching a pinnacle before slowing down, an elated expression on his face.

“I was trying to catch the music, like sitting on the horse and riding it,” he smiles. “Just going, trying not to stop.”

With the red neon clock ticking over to 22:05 on a nearby building face, the flow of buses utilising the Kamppi tunnel has slowed to a dribble. As the troupe begins to pack up for the night Luganski offers one final thought.

“One of the main ideas of RockUrok is to show that rock music is also danceable. Many people like dancing in general but, for example, they don’t really like dance music. RockUrok is a bridge between rockers and dancers. It is something that kind of fits to this country, ’cause Finland is more rock then pop.”

In a summer that has seen the likes of Foo Fighters, Bon Jovi and countless other rock stalwarts playing to adoring crowds once again, there is some very fertile ground here, indeed.

James O’Sullivan
Photos Tomas Whitehouse