URB festival is an urban festival with inner conflicts, which raises questions, evades definition, remains open to influences, and keeps abreast of the times. The Festival is a window into the richness and plurality of the city and it has always been breathing freely in and out, challenging the audiences and art makers to alter and reconsider the definitions and limits of art and culture, and self-expression. The festival reinvents itself every year, it lives a life of its own, and the future that is here and now.
URB is a festival of urban dance, with the aim of using living city culture and the wealth of urban arts to create a space that is free of preconceived values and definitions. From the start, the central idea has been the visibility of urban art and culture in the urban space. Throughout its existence, there has been an ideological and public debate about the definition and control of urban space, the limits of art and self-expression, freedom of speech and expression, and the creativity of art and its potential in the city environment.
The seed of URB was sown with the outdoor stage programme for Kiasma’s opening celebrations in 1998. Dancer-choreographer Renny Harris and his Puremovement hip-hop group were then performing and teaching at Tanssivintti dance school and on the Kiasma stage. The sheer energy of the group, as well as the artistic level of their performance, combined popular dance, culture and music in the context of art. The artistic idiom of the performance was founded in street and club dance styles, and was full of joy and energy, but also expressed social and political thinking. It paid homage to the roots of dance, from African war dance to jazz and capoeira.
The first URB festival was held in 2000 and was built on the theme of history, taking a journey through time, from jazz to hop-hop. It also explored the impact that different forms of low and popular cultures have had on higher arts. How street dance had influenced the idiom of dance art, ballet and contemporary dance, how rhythm is perceived differently in different varieties of dance, and how hip hop, born here and now, enriches art. The theme sought the roots of dance. The key objective for the Festival was to celebrate urban dance culture and dance styles that have evolved around it. The programme included different styles – rap, street, hip hop, jazz and break. The Festival brought to the fore urban culture in a positive light and with new vitality and through free happenings embraced the richness and strength of the urban milieu.
In 2001, the theme was new moves and new forms of doing. The Festival featured hip hop groups from the Nordic countries. In addition to performances, the groups participated and taught in workshops. A unique sample of the potency and diversity of low culture was seen in the American Bill Shannon, a disabled artist and activist.
URB’s theme – text, rhythm, rhyme – has carried through in a range of different forms. In 2002, the focus was on the union between word and movement, word and music, music and movement, the urban speech. URB02 looked at the city as an energetic, diverse space full of potential, in which being different and tolerating difference is part of the richness of urban culture. The rhymes and poems composed by the people of the city were compiled through text messages in love rhyme competition.
The Festival has also given life to the suburban project subURB, in which young people have written, photographed, and worked on images of themselves and their environment. The significance of the subURB project was clear from the start: the workshops want to encourage the young to do things themselves, try out different forms of urban art – dance, painting, writing. The idea behind subURB has been to combine art and social interaction in the young people’s own multicultural environment and among different identities.
URB03 concentrates on urban stories and legends, the new modern Europe and multiculturalism.
Virve Sutinen & Mikael Aaltonen
Producers of URB festival