A Few Dances

Modern dance is a passion of mine. I don’t understand much of the theory behind modern dance, but I immensely enjoy myself every time I see dance pieces. One of things I enjoy about modern dance is the range of expressive possibilities. Here’s three completely different pieces. Even though the last two pieces share considerable thematic and even methodical territory, they arrive at pieces that have very little to do with each other and that offer completely different experiences to the viewer.

Urbotek

urbotek.jpg

The piece starts with a Mexican day-of-the-dead macabre pantomime-like episode, which put my hopes up, but is soon replaced by circus acts with a modern twist, which, although entertaining to watch, loses most artistic value. The piece is closer to modern circus than to modern dance, but I’m going to review this here in any case, since I saw it as a double bill that also featured Nasty by Susanna Leinonen company, which most certainly is dance.

The opening act evokes raw and primitive imagery that is sprinkled by brutality that seems almost accidental. It is so short, that I couldn’t really catch on to any ideas behind the segment, but I was very intrigued.

Sadly, the promising opening is followed by circus without much artistic value. There are elements meant to be artistic, but they are at best thinly connected to the opening scene and in any case sprinkled so sparsely that following the ideas is near impossible.

The circus acts are impressive. Not Cirque du Soleil impressive, but impressive nevertheless. The costumes and behavior of the performers suggests that these were the guys, who always had juggling balls with them at the park, who were always at the park, and who drank a bit too much and a bit too often and started to slip to drugs. Everything about them seems like they are self taught. Maybe they cut back on the drink and took the juggling seriously and actually put in the (meager) money and (self-guided) effort to get good. They are good. There were some slips, but not too many. They obviously don’t have a big budget, but they are imaginative with the gear they do have.

Not quite what I was expecting to see, but I was entertained and the opening act was even more than that.

  • Title: Urbotek
  • Producer: Race Horse Company
  • 10th Jan 2019

Nasty

nasty

Susanna Leinonen Company is known for beautiful, almost ethereal pieces, where even if themes are light or exclusively related to the movement of the dancers, you are always left with a feeling of having seen something extraordinarily aesthetically moving.

Nasty is not like that. It’s abrasive, brutal, in your face. The movements are jagged, the themes are very readable and socially aware, they are explored through repetition to the point of exhaustion, the dancers are openly out of breath, openly hurt, openly touched by their piece.

The theme, of course, is feminism. Or rather the oppression and objectification experienced by women every day, and rising against that. Giving a big finger to everyone, who came to see beautiful dancers as objects of their desire. The dancers are beautiful and the piece is important, but the FU is so major, that it should go through the thickest skull and make it known, that these are people – extremely talented and professional people, who are not to be oppressed and who are not to be objectified, and that extends to all women.

An important piece and I’m extremely happy about the attention that the piece has gained. An important part of the #metoo movement and it most certainly is doing its part in raising women to be the equals of anyone else.

  • Title: Nasty
  • Producer: Susanna Leinonen Company
  • 10th Jan 2019

Vieras – Främling – Stranger

I wasn’t aware of Sanna Kekäläinen and her dancing company before this piece. I mostly went to see it, because the performance was at an opportune time and the warm up act was stand up comedy by Jamie MacDonald, whom I’ve been meaning to see for a while. Jamie wove his comedy through his experiences in transforming him from female to male, and it was excellent. It was thoughtful and socially aware and heartwarming.

The dance was completely different from anything I’ve seen before. Sanna Kekäläinen herself, is a veteran. She studied dance in the early 80ies, which puts her at late 50something or maybe even 60something of age. The piece was heavily feminist and humanist. The reason I mention the age, is that the dance included themes of feeling estranged from your body due to the body failing you. This is explored through involuntary stuttering, involuntary shakiness of the body, feelings of loneliness due to being discarded as a useful human being due to age.

The piece is aggressive and vulnerable, it takes highly delicate subjects and smashes them into the viewer’s being with power that does not subtract from the subjects. Sanna Kekäläinen is the star of the show. She let’s her age show, she let’s it be known, that this is also about her, that this is personal.

The piece left me thinking for a long while afterwards. The closest relative to the piece thematically, is the film Under the Skin. Both take this feeling of being estranged in your own body. Vieras handles the theme more through your own body failing you. Under the Skin handles it through a setup, where your body is completely alien to you regardless of any external conditions. Both include heavy tones of objectification. Both left me sleepless.

  • Title: Vieras – Främling – Stranger
  • Producer: Kekäläinen & Company
  • 15th Mar 2019

 

Advertisements

Rakkautta & Anarkiaa 2017 – part I

rakkautta_ja_anarkiaa_2017

As per my usual festival postings, I’ve divided these posts according to my day of attendance. This year I managed to attend on 4 days for a total of 11 films. My haul was excellent overall, with only a couple of mediocre films and no actually bad films.

Personal Shopper [2016]

personal_shopper

The film tells a story of a personal assistant – mostly shopper – Maureen (Kristen Stewart), who loathes her client, a fashion superstar Kyra. It also tells the story of a Maureen the medium, who is looking for a sign of her dead twin brother Lewis, who died of a heart condition that affects Maureen also. Maureen and Lewis had a deal that whoever goes first gives a sign to the one left behind. There are signs, but the movie leaves answers about the supernatural bits intentionally unclear.

The film blurs the line between the realistic and the supernatural. Some events are clearly supernatural, but they are not given an explanation. Some events look at first like they might be supernatural, but turn out to be natural, and then are mixed up with more supernatural events again. And the final resolution, Maureen making contact with something and finally getting some answers, eventually leaves everything even more open for interpretation.

There are two things I would like to point out about the film.

First of all, it plays with our genre expectations. The whole film is shot in a very realistic manner, which plays havoc with our expected interpretations of events, when the supernatural enters the picture without the usual genre trappings.

Second, and I never thought I would utter this out loud, Kristen Stewart, who occupies almost every shot of the film, is absolutely magnificent. Most of the time she is apathetic bordering on depressed – all ennui and detachment – but there are scenes, where she is touched one way or the other, and you buy it every time. Truly a magnificent performance.

  • Director: Olivier Assayas
  • Watched on: 16th Sep 2017
  • Watched at: Kinopalatsi 2
  • 4.5/5

On the Beach at Night Alone [2017]

on_the_beach_at_night_alone

The film is divided into two halves that seem to depict two possible outcomes of a painful personal event. Young-hee (Kim Min-hee) is an actress, whose career is in decline, and who has just had an affair with a married film director, who is now somewhere else. In the first half of the film, it seems like Young-hee has escaped the scandal to Hamburg. She is living with a friend there, who doesn’t seem to be that close. Otherwise she is surrounded by strangers and is intensely alone with her feelings. In the second half Young-hee is back in South Korea with her friends and family. There are endless soju soaked dinners and she seems to be more happy with the familiar faces around her, but in the end, the loneliness is there – just in a slightly different form.

Hong and Kim admitted to a similar situation – a relationship between the actress Kim and the married director Hong – prior to this film. Many critics have looked at the film as a confession, but I’m going to leave that bit alone and let the film stand on its own merits.

The film is very much worth seeing for a couple of reasons:

Kim Min-hee is spectacular in her role as Young-hee. You can feel the raw nerve endings when she is isolated, and you can see them when there are happily drunken people everywhere. Young-hee clearly has feelings for the director and she is conflicted by the current situation – is it good that the affair happened and how is the director feeling about it? Kim’s sorrow and confusion are palpable and powerful.

The director, Hong Sang-soo, is great at composing confusion. Everything feels as uncertain as Young-hee’s feelings are. Hong has toned down his usual gimmicky style slightly and there are only a few explicitly weird elements to the film. This time around he builds the confusion more by making it feel like someone else is telling the story and getting some of the details completely wrong, or like someone is remembering the events after a drunken night and not getting everything right.

Hong uses extended shots throughout the film. This lends the film and the events in it a gravity and realism that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. It highlights the performance of Kim in that it is carried through the long shots without flaws. It also contributes to the overall atmosphere of reflection of Young-hee’s feelings.

The parts of the film combine to strengthen each other and build up to a whole that feels unified. It is a touching story of loneliness that is supported and intensified by the mise-en-scéne and the acting.

  • Director: Sang-soo Hong
  • Original Title: Bamui haebyun-eoseo honja
  • Watched on: 16th Sep 2017
  • Watched at: Korjaamo Kino
  • 4/5

Bobbi Jene [2017]

bobbi_jene

A documentary about the modern dancer Bobbi Jene Smith and her leaving Ohad Naharin’s world famous Israeli Batsheva Dance Company in order to follow her personal career ambitions.

The documentary’s subject matter combines Bobbi’s very ordinary personal problems – can her relationship work, when her lover is 10 years her younger, should she put her career ambitions over her love life and her current comfortable life situation, her parents don’t understand her life choices that seem to exclude procreation – and her very extraordinary career as a an extraordinary dancer in probably the most extraordinary dancing company in the world currently.

The personal side is interesting. The dancing side is the reason I went to see the film. The film has been criticized for this very duality, but I see a strength in it. It let’s us see an artist, who pours everything in herself into her art, and lets the viewer in on her more personal moments as well, which shows us the everything she is pouring into the art.

The documentary quite uniquely manages to capture a time period in Bobbi’s life, that forms a full circle – it contains Bobbi’s last moments in Batsheva, her choreographing and practicing her first solo piece, and finally the first public performance of that piece, that is born out of the episode of leaving the company.

Although I see a strength in the personal being mixed up with the art, the personal takes too much space from the art. Although the film depicts an interesting piece in the life of an artist, the execution lacks ambition. But these problems are not big ones and the result is a unique look into the birth of a wonderful piece of art.

  • Director: Elvira Lind
  • Watched on: 16th Sep 2017
  • Watched at: Korjaamo Kino
  • 3.5/5

Wet Woman in the Wind [2016]

wet_woman_in_the_wind

For the 45th anniversary of the Japanese Nikkatsu studio’s Roman Porno series of films, the studio launched a reboot. The Roman Porno films gave unusual amounts of freedom and a small budget to the directors with just the expectation of some amounts of nudity. The results were energetic and artistic films, with some amounts of nudity. If this film is used as a measuring stick, the reboot is producing similar results.

In the film’s center is Kosuke (Tasuku Nagaoka), who is trying to isolate himself from everything after his marriage was ruined by an affair that ruined another marriage as well. The isolation is ruined by a sexual whirlwind, Shiori (Yuki Mamiya), who drives a motorcycle off the pier, where Kosuke is reading a book, and within minutes of getting out of the water, is nude and is wriggling her way into Kosuke’s life. Ghosts of Kosuke’s past keep reappearing despite his best efforts and the situations are complicated by Shiori trying to get into Kosuke’s pants by complicating the situations with the ghosts.

The result is an enjoyable, energetic, surprising slapstick with some amounts of nudity (mostly from the waist above). The film has a sort of B film feel to it in that anything can happen and often at least some of it is such intellectually surprising content that it rises above the soft core porn starting point into a film of real merit. Based on this, I will try to find more of the Roman Porno films, original and reboot.

  • Director: Akihiko Shiota
  • Original Title: Kaze ni nureta onna
  • Watched on: 16th Sep 2017
  • Watched at: Kino Engel 1
  • 3.5/5

Rakkautta & Anarkiaa 2016 – part III

RA_2016_2.png

The second Friday of the festival and my second to last day in it. Had a four day break before this day, which refreshed me nicely for the final two days.

Mr. Gaga [2015]

mr_gaga

Again we circle back to the importance of art and how I can appreciate art more, when I know enough context for it. This is a documentary about Ohad Naharin, a choreographer and dancer, who changed the language of modern dance for ever with his Gaga style. I haven’t seen any dance pieces by Naharin live, but I think I’ve seen something in the TV without realizing it, since his language of dance is quite distinctive.

This is a pretty straight forward documentary, so nothing revolutionary there. I guess this is the first one that was produced with extensive access to the Batsheva Dance Company’s film archives, which allows the film to show things from beyond the 8-year filming period of this film.

The director Tomer Heymann, was with us watching the film and answering questions afterwards, and what I gathered from him was, that he was pretty much like me – an uncultured person taking steps into his life as an independent adult and encountering art forcibly for the first time… and realizing that life without art is pretty much meaningless.

This shows from the documentary – Naharin is placed on a pedestal and kept there. There’s a few moments, where some cracks are shown. Then again, it doesn’t really matter. This is not an opinion piece on an important political topic or the like. This is about dance, and about how that dance was born. We see enough dancing and enough context to learn to appreciate Naharin’s flavor of dance and that’s enough for me.

Seems like I’ve was at quite a tender state during the festival, but this was yet another film that made me cry – for the beauty of dance this time.

  • Director: Tomer Heymann
  • Watched on: 23rd Sep 2016
  • Watched at: Orion
  • 4/5

Swiss Army Man [2016]

swiss_army_man

For all the elating films I saw during the festival, this was a nice balancing act. Some people have called this Harry Potter 8, since it has Daniel Radcliffe playing Manny, a dead and decaying body. My inner Harry Potter died a little during the film…

Hank (played by Paul Dano) is a depressed man stranded on a desert island. One morning a body drifts ashore and Hank loots the belt from its pants to hang himself with… But then the corpse starts to fart and it seems like it is trying to tell Hank something. They end up taking a jet ski ride out from the island with the body acting as the jet ski powered by the farts… From there it doesn’t get much better.

In my books, this is usually recipe for disaster. I don’t like the comedies, where the joke is the first one that comes to mind. Some real thought has been put into this one. The jokes are stupid but surprising. The plot is non-existent, but you find yourself rooting for Hank and Manny to kiss… and only when they do, realize what you were rooting for.

Really a magnificent effort considering that the premise is a dead body that farts and talks a lot for being dead…

  • Director: Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
  • Watched on: 23rd Sep 2016
  • Watched at: Savoy
  • 3.5/5

This was again a good day. An elating documentary on dance and a less elating film on farts. Not your everyday combination.

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.