Netflix has released its first ever Finnish series to premiere globally. Dance Brothers was filmed in Helsinki and tells the story of two brothers struggling to make it as professional dancers. To help them with housing and income, they set up their own dance club, which proves popular, until artistic differences and relationship clashes threaten their success.
We found the series fresh and original, full of drama, cool dance routines, and a great cast of diverse talent. We spoke to the actors who play the two brothers – Roderick Kabanga who plays Roni and Samuel Kujaja who plays Sakari.
Nordic Watchlist: Tell us about your characters in Dance Brothers
Samuel Kujala: I play Sakari and he is the younger one of the brothers. He’s a nice guy to start with, like a social butterfly, who really enjoys being around people. Just a social dude who is enjoying life and dancing – particularly the social aspects of dance.
It is interesting to see how his nice guy characteristics begin to make him very tough on himself. He enters into this internal conflict, and on top of that is his dynamic with his brother Roni and how that affects their relationship.
Roderick Kabanga: I play Roni and when I read the script, the first thing that came into my mind was like, okay, he sort of likes to think that he is the Kanye West of dance. He has all the answers and there’s no one that can say anything to him about dance because he’s the the most visionary guy ever.
He thinks he is the Michelangelo or the Shakespeare of dance. That was the first vibe that I got from Roni and that’s how I approached him.
When I delved even deeper into Roni’s psyche, I found out that he’s actually very vulnerable. He’s very protective of his brother and he doesn’t let people get close to him.
His brother and his mother are the only people that actually know what he is going through, yet he doesn’t let anyone see his weakness. You understand why he wants the things that he wants. And you kind of understand why he’s so protective of himself and of his brother. There is stuff that maybe has happened to him in the past that we don’t know about. It was very interesting to dive into this character’s world.
NW: What was it like working with the director, Taito Kawata?
SK: We got to know each other and something of our style and taste during the pre-production, as it was a pretty lengthy process. Every day on set, especially in the beginning, is about learning and reading; trying to grasp what is the aesthetics and vibe we’re looking for together.
Taito did a great job, and listened to us while we were rehearsing the choreographies and the dance technique. So a lot of the character’s essence started to form and I think Taito was interested in taking that into account and showing that in the scenes and shots.
Taito was very particular with the visual and I think it shows in the series; it’s really high quality. I do my job to embody the character and the dancing and how it flows. I could trust that Taito’s eyes were so sharp and on point which really helped. And after seeing what they’ve done in post-production, I felt really honored to be a part of it, because I felt Taito had seen what I was playing into or offering during shooting.
NW: How much work did you have to put in to keep yourself in physical shape for the role?
SK: It was a lot of hard work. Not in a bad way, it was still very pleasurable because I love to dance and I love physical activity. It makes me feel good.
You really need to give 100%, but also to be able to recover from all the physical stress that you’re going through. For me, I think I started rehearsing in the summer of 2021 with some tricks and the techniques for the foundation.
And then during the spring 2022 we had January, February, March which was very full on. For me, every day during the week I did 4 to 5 or sometimes even six hours of dancing. So that was really, really hardcore. And during the weekend I would do some conditioning – or just rest and recover.
But I took so much pleasure in it, and the production team took great care of us, providing physio and massage to help us cope with the amount of physical activity.
RK: We started to practice the choreography back in December 2021 and we trained through to March. So there was four months of intensive training and dancing. We were doing all these physical drills like push ups and focusing on keeping our physique.
I didn’t have a background in dance but I know how to move. I associate that with my father who is from Congo. So ever since I was a kid, I’ve seen how my dad moves and then I grew up with Michael Jackson, Backstreet Boys and stuff like that. So every time I was watching MTV, I just started to to mimic everything that I saw. So that’s how I sort of learned how to dance!Roderick Kabanga
NW: If I was to visit Helsinki, what would be the number one club you think I need to visit?
SK: I like to look out for when there is a great DJ or DJs playing. Then I go wherever they’re playing, in fact I have to namedrop one of the choreographers, Ima Iduozee, he isn’t just a great choreographer but a great DJ too. Ima and DJ Smokey play a great set together.
I go to Mellow Yellow Collective where they have great sets of DJs.
RK: Siltanen is very good.
NW: What song is guaranteed to get you on the dance floor?
SK: I am ALWAYs on the dance floor! Let’s think of it this way, if I am really tired and feeling down then it would have to be ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’ by Snoop Dogg or ‘I’m a Slave 4 U’ by Britney Spears.
NW: Finally, what is one of your favourite dance sequences from a film?
SK: I just recently rewatched Black Swan and that has to be one of my favourites. For me that ending and climax, it is just so intense. I like how the camera is so intensely part of the motion, that’s giving me goosebumps right now just thinking about it.
RK: The Joker, when Joaquin Phoenix does the bathroom scene. I was just blown away because I had never seen Phoenix dance for a start, but the way he moved was incredible and every emotion felt spot on.
Dance Brothers is a co-production between Netflix and Yle, and is created and produced by Max Malka at Banijay’s Endemol Shine Finland – the series is OUT NOW on Netflix
Interview by Alex Minnis
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