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Tero Saarinen Company

‘Westward Ho!’, ‘Wavelengths’, ‘Hunt’

by Rosella Simonari

July 16, 2004 -- Civitanova Danza, Teatro Rossini, Civitanova Marche

”Tero Saarinen's dance is refined and elegant”, said dance critic Valentina Bonelli in the event organised to present Saarinen's work. Finnish dance is little known in Italy and her remarks provided the attentive audience important information such as the high standard and long tradition of the Finnish National Ballet. Saarinen himself was trained at the Finnish National Ballet and only after dancing as a soloist did he decide to turn to contemporary dance. It was a hot afternoon in Civitanova Marche and Valentina Bonelli also showed some videos of Saarinen's dance pieces, among them the solo that has become his signature work, “B12”, choreographed by Jorma Uotinen, where the dancer jumps, frantically moves and lies down wearing a white tutu and being bare chested. “In B12 Saarinen interprets a fragmented personality: an androgynous figure (…) struggling in the hiatus between past and future, between peace of mind and insanity” is written in the Finnish Dance database and these words summarise well Saarinen's choreographic approach.

Apart from his strong classical background, Saarinen has traveled to Japan to study butoh and has long worked in Europe with Carolyn Carlson who has choreographed some solo pieces for him. Interesting in this sense, is “A Man in a Room” which I saw more than a year ago in Macerata. Saarinen plays with a tennis ball and moves in a nervous manner, while a voice in the background explains the tricks of the game of poker. The climax of this piece is when he begins to paint himself, his chest, his arms with different colours. Carolyn Carlson described the piece in the programme as follows: “the internal part of a line. The inward perception of a man with respect to the architectural concept of what represents a void towards a point in space, inside and outside”.

Carlson seems to have influenced Saarinen's own work as his poetic and powerful performance showed soon after Bonelli's presentation. The evening opened with an important piece, “Westward Ho!” which brought Saarinen international fame especially after it was performed at The Place in London in 1997. Three men, among them Saarinen himself, move in unison waving good-bye. They first move from back to front stage and vice versa. Their costumes are all the same: white trousers and long sleeved t-shirts with a black square shaped extremity on the front. At first sight it actually looks like an apron or a bag and it emerges as a part of the t-shirt only after a more attentive look. The lights contribute to the icy atmosphere with light blue effects. The trio will follow different patterns, moving diagonally, in a linear manner and in a circle.

After a brief interval, a pas de deux of diverse quality. It is “Wavelengths” whose music by Riku Niemi is characterised by the reworking of Ravel's “Bolero” according to 'an archaic key' and through the employment of unusual wood musical instruments. The whitish atmosphere of the previous piece is replaced by an initial darkness from which a man and a woman emerge. Their dance movements sharply contrast with those of the three men in “Westward Ho!” They were extensively using space, while in this case the woman, dressed in a grey top that leaves her back almost naked, and a pair of trousers, moves her torso in undulating manner rather than moving along the stage. The man's movements are not at all in unison with hers. They sometimes caress each other's bodies but they barely touch. Particularly effective is the final part when they are together embraced by a cone of smoke and light from above.

A neverending interval followed. There was a lot happening onstage and, in spite of the concealing curtain, the audience became aware that the next piece would present a totally changed atmosphere. And that is precisely what happened. Again, darkness introduces the piece, it is called “Hunt” and is an astonishing solo choreographed and performed by Saarinen, a highly original re-interpretation of the “Rite of Spring”. Again we have a skirted costume and a bare chest. A weak light mid-stage reveals Saarinen's figure, he is facing it with open arms, his back facing the audience. He performs very slow movements and once the stage is fully lighted its transformation is totally exposed: the back and the two sides are completely closed with huge black cloths. On stage on the right a series of lights are disposed in a circle to create that sacred space where 'the Chosen One' will be sacrificed. His skirt is asymmetrical, shorter in the front and longer in the back. It has a black line running vertically from one side to the other. Saarinen's taste for costume is always very refined and rich in exquisite details! As it has previously noted, some arm and hand movements resemble those of the dying swan and there is that melancholic turn in his approach.

Then, mid-way through the piece, the multimedia shift! Saarinen stands centre stage and from above a cloud of white layered skirt, a post-modern tutu I would say, appears to be ritualistically inserted over his waiting body. A body which becomes the receptacle of a series of violent and quick images. This abrupt shooting transforms his body into its own mirror image, infinitesimally reproduced via the computerised ability of mutimedia artist Marita Liulia. In the programme notes to this piece there are some clues to this moment. It is about the overdetermined role information plays upon people's lives.

“Are we sacrificing our bodies, our senses, our memories and our knowledge for a huge amount of information? The starting point is the fact that the choice has already been made”.

That is why, perhaps, Saarinen stops moving when the computerised projections surf his body until it is transmuted into a kind of cybernetic entity, completely dominated by those circuits. That is the sacrifice; that is the rite sophisticatedly reworked in a contemporary, fresh and committed frame. Overall his movements, mainly done via the articulation of the upper body, are frantic and ecstatic, and then slowly paced and tender, till the end, when thunders begin to alter the visibility of the dance, and Saarinen starts performing a series of jumps, the final extreme, energetic gesture towards resistance. Beautiful, overwhelming, poetic!

Edited by Jeff.

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