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THE MIGHTY FINN.

THE MIGHTY FINN

TERO SAARINEN & COMPANY TOOTHPICK
TEATRO ALLE TESE, ARSENALE
VENICE, ITALY
JUNE 22-24, 2001
AND
QUEEN ELIZABETH HALL, SOUTH BANK CENTRE
LONDON, ENGLAND
JUNE 30 AND JULY 1, 2001


Tero Saarinen's training in classical, modem, and Japanese butoh dance has yielded a distinctive, original, kinetic signature. June was a productive month for the Finnish dancer-choreographer. Following a world premiere at the Venice Biennale, he unveiled a second brand-new work in London.

The latter, a three-person adaptation of Fokine's classic ballet Petrushka, was part of a Saarinen triple bill that closed "Race to the Finnish." This short but revelatory season of contemporary dance from Finland was organized by The Place and the South Bank Centre.

Dispensing with crowd scenes and confining the action to a square defined by bare lightbulbs, Saarinen's Petrushka focused on the triangular tangle between the Harlequin-like title character (danced by Saarinen himself) and his fellow life-sized puppets, the Ballerina (Anu Sistonen) and the Moor (Henrikki Heikkila).

Although beautifully designed, vigorously performed (Heikkila, all mincing macho monster charm, was particularly good), and studded with invention, the opening night performance was not an unqualified delight. Flecked with cartoon slapstick, the three's-a-crowd relationship took a while to gather steam and lacked an emotional payoff.

Substituting accordionists James Crabb and Geir Draugsvoll for Fokine's puppet master, however, was inspired. Sitting downstage in long black coats and wide-brimmed black hats, instruments on their laps, they looked like funereal bumpkin wizards. Their adaptation of Stravinsky's stirring score sacrificed none of its shimmering brilliance. The evening's other one-acts carried more three-dimensional resonance. In Could You Take Some Of My Weight...?, to music from Steve Reich to Rachmaninov, a dozen shell-like human figures sat indifferently on a swing above Saarinen and muscular Yuval Pick. Clad in opaque pajamas, the pair's loping strides, swoops, and flails seemed both swift and slow-motion. With their jerky grace and mirror-image magnetism, they suggested Siamese twins who'd survived the operation that separated them.

The musical core of the richly ambiguous male trio Westward Ho! is Gavin Bryars's haunting "Jesus' blood never failed me yet." Were Brynjar Bandlien, Heikkila, and Pick asylum inmates, exhausted hoofers, or something else? Their moves, enacted with madly lyrical concentration, were simple, repetitive, awkward, mechanical, sometimes comic, and heroically human. The clean whites, cool blues, and glowing sunset oranges of Mikki Kunttu's lighting design were quintessentially Finnish.

Given his grasp of how to shape clear, strong movement and assured spatial sense, Saarinen is no slouch at crafting larger pieces. Kaze, which debuted in Venice, was a full-length ensemble sensation. Responding to Japanese composer Yas-Kaz's nine musicians, Saarinen and six others produced thrillingly light, yet full-bodied, rhythmic dance. Imagine butoh with wings, or an ornithological Africanism.

Lasting more than an hour, Kaze was a satisfying whole marked by extraordinary passages. These included a superbly dramatic duet of surrender and repulsion between Megumi Nakamura (ex-Netherlands Dance Theater) and Heikkila, and an initially ecstatic, intertwining love-in that could also be read as a creepy collective trap. It all felt as if it had been organically crafted along with the extremely varied music, which, whether spectral or jazzy, always drew back to a grounding beat.

Consistently generous towards his sweat-drenched colleagues, Saarinen gave the dancers a chance to display individual commitment and skill. His choreography was a rippling, wriggling ooze out of which the cast, clad in Rachel Quarmby's flaring gossamer pajamas, erupted into liberating runs and leaps. They performed with exemplary ease and excitement. Waves of energy seemed to roll up out of the floor and pass through their bodies, producing wheeling arms and breast strokes, log rolls and atomic splits, crisscrosses and unfurling unison patterns, oneiric undulations and circle dances.

Accessible yet allusive, intelligently made and liberating to watch, Kaze was dance as a possessed but controlled jam session. Kunttu's lighting, whether lambent or muted, again displayed the sensitivity of a young master.
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Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:dancer-choreographer Tero Saarinen
Author:HUTERA, DONALD
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4E
Date:Oct 1, 2001
Words:647
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