On Dance

I saw the film Mr. Gaga recently, which rekindled my interest in modern dance. Soon afterwards I found myself with a free weekend. Then while I was trying to decide what to do with the weekend, Facebook decided to show me an ad about Tero Saarinen Company‘s 20th year celebratory performance. Must’ve been guidance.

The only guest I saw during the 2016 Love & Anarchy film festival was the director and writer of Mr. Gaga, Tomer Heymann. One of the audience questions was an obvious one – why make a film about Ohad Naharin. Obvious in that it is always asked – the film was well worth being made.

His answer is the reason I watch dance – “I don’t know, how one can live without dance.” There were a lot more words in the full answer, but it boils down to that. He was a 20 something country boy, who hadn’t experienced basically anything that could be called higher culture, when he moved to Tel Aviv. He didn’t know anyone except one aunt, so after some persistent pestering on the aunt’s part, Tomer ended up going to a performance by the Batsheva Dance Company and his life changed.

I wish I did remember the first modern dance performance that I saw, but I don’t. I do remember that there’s been several that have left me gasping for breath for the beauty of them. My life is enriched by the performances and often I find myself in catharsis afterwards. At some point I realized that I wanted more and more of this. I’ve often found myself wondering that at some point most of us lose the ability to move freely. Kids climb and fall and run and jump so effortlessly, while a flight of stairs is a difficult obstacle for me on a bad morning. I guess this is one point on which dancing speaks to me. Recently I’ve had less opportunities to see dance, but that doesn’t make the yearning any less.

The play of the choreography, the light hitting the glistening sweaty dancers, the music taking you someplace else, the occasional heavy breathing of the dancers taking you back there, and all the time the dance, the beauty of movement, the beauty of people dancing. I don’t know, how one can live without dance.

The works of Tero Saarinen

I’ve seen some works by Tero Saarinen previously as well and I think I have some idea about his works and style. He is perhaps the most acclaimed Finnish dancer and choreographer in the modern dance scene. In my opinion, his vocabulary is more limited than that of some others, but on the other hand, he reaches depths that I have not witnessed in other Finnish choreographers. That is, I’m slightly conflicted about his work.

His vocabulary is… Not so imaginative. Movement aims towards a controlled impression. There’s not too many surprises, especially after you’ve seen a few of his pieces. His movement does achieve a lightness. In a sense, classical dance aims towards extreme control and lightness, so these are somewhat similar. On the other hand, classical dance aims towards a very classical definition of grace that is somewhat constricting and puts a straight jacket to the lightness. Saarinen’s expression has a generosity to it, a feel of grandeur and freedom that emphasizes the lightness of movement. That is, despite similarities, he achieves something more than just a replication of the vocabulary of classical dance.

Despite the somewhat limited and predictable vocabulary, Saarinen has great aspirations in expression. Being a modernist, feelings of detachment and alienation are featured heavily in his works. Then again, that is one of the leading themes of our times. Individualism brings alienation, while it mostly doesn’t achieve any sort of individual action at all. I’ve seen pieces of modern dance, where the goal only seems to be to present something aesthetic, while Saarinen always ties his pieces to a common experience worth shining a light on.

Could you take some of my weight…?

This piece makes me think that Saarinen is well aware of the strengths and weaknesses of his vocabulary – he expresses lightness well, so why not talk about heaviness and how that can be eased. This is duet for two males. It talks about isolation and heaviness versus cooperation and lightness.

Considering Saarinen’s strengths, I’m not surprised that I found the parts about heaviness a bit lacking. He is unable to find ways to express heaviness properly. Then again, the bits about lightness lack the contrast from the heaviness. They are very nice as they are, but mirrored against the heaviness, they don’t seem that light.

That being said, I found this piece enchanting to watch. Since there’s only two performers, there’s space for the piece to breathe around them and I could concentrate on even the most minute details. The performers in question, Pekka Louhio and David Scarantino, did an admirable job. Being fully exposed for the duration of the whole piece must be exhausting, but I did not see a bit of hesitation in the performance of either. I liked Scarantino’s ability to express the ideas behind the dance better. Louhio seemed like he was on the edge of his ability and thus had to concentrate more on the technical aspects, while Scarantino seemed like he had more room to dance through the ideas of the piece.

MESH

As a contrast to Could you take…, this is an ensemble piece of nearly two dozen performers. It takes the idea of attempting to be individual and finds only alienation in that. It then shows you that the alienation is not real, since everyone else is trying to be individual in exactly the same manner. This does not bring any solace though, as dealing with your own failures in being individual bring only more alienation. A dark piece exacerbated by Mitsutake Kasai’s role as a complete stranger, who is slowly moving through the scenes in agony all the time.

I was too near to the stage for this piece. With over 20 dancers, I found it hard to form a full picture of what was going on. I found myself mostly concentrating on the dancers that were closest to me. Luckily Saarinen tends to choreograph his scenes off center and many of the highlighted scenes were happening right next to me.

The ensemble consists of Tero Saarinen Company’s regular very skilled dancers combined with students from Theatre Academy of the University of Arts Helsinki and Finnish National Ballet School and Youth Company. The solo pieces during highlights were mostly given to Saarinen’s regulars, but otherwise I was happy to realize that I couldn’t easily distinguish between the students and pros. Some promising dancers coming up the ranks.

In this piece, the limitations of Saarinen’s vocabulary and the dark themes actually form a nice contrast – it emphasizes the distinction between the best face we try to present in public versus the futility that we feel inside. Again, I found the dancing itself slightly predictable, but the piece was extremely enjoyable nevertheless, since Saarinen aspires to express.

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