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Tero Saarinen Company

Open Rehearsal: 'Borrowed Light'

by Rosella Simonari

July 28, 2004 – Teatro Annibal Caro, Civitanova Alta, Italy

It is rare to see an artist at work. And it is ever rarer to have an artist who shows an unfinished work to an audience, it is like exposing one's own bare body to unpredictable atmospheric changes. When this chance is given, though, the air gets filled with special energy that materialises in a profound bond between the moving bodies and those who watch them.

This is what happened in Civitanova Alta, in the small Annibal Caro Theatre, where the Tero Saarinen Company presented an open rehearsal of Saarinen's new work “Borrowed Light”, to be premiered in Le Havre in France in October on the occasion of the Octobre en Normandie festival, one of the three joined festivals to have contributed to this production, the other two being the Kuopio Dance Festival in Finland and Civitanova Danza in Italy. It is also a production supported by the European Union, the Education et Culture, Culture 2000, the Ministry of Education in Finland and the Florence Gould Foundation.

”Borrowed Light” is a choral piece which features eight dancers engaged in group phrases, duets and solo pieces. It is an articulated work that promises to be of great visual and spiritual impact. It draws its inspiration from a Protestant movement called the Shakers, formed in England in the 18th century and then flourished in North-America during the 19th century.

The evening opens with the greetings from Gilberto Santini, the Artistic Director of Civitanova Danza, followed by Tero Saarinen's introduction to the whole idea behind the piece. As Saarinen's translator for the Italian audience, I take part in first person. This role transmutes my usual concentration and adds a slant perspective on the event. Slant both in a literal and metaphorical sense. In fact I remain on stage all the time sitting in a corner behind the scenes during the rehearsal and on stage with Tero Saarinen to translate his explanations between one dance fragment and the other. My direct involvement definitely has produced a different perception of the piece under construction.

What drew Saarinen to the Shakers was the profound sense of community they shared, a sense that he feels within his own company. The Shakers were a kind of religious sect and they tended to be very strict in their sexual behaviour. They also thought that dance could play a major role in their rituals. “Borrowed Light” is not an illustration of the history of the Shakers, but rather a non-narrative account of the sense of belonging and spirituality within a community. Saarinen approached them with a critical perspective, thus reworking some aspects in his own terms.

The dancers, Saarinen included, are wearing dark clothes, some black some brown. The costumes are still in an experimental phase, through them he intends to create a sense of heaviness, that is why some of the dancers are trying on bulky round and long skirts, created out of coats. In deep contrast to the costumes is the stage – both the floor and the back are covered with a carpet of an almost blinding type of white, very neatly arranged. The work is going to be divided into two parts, one where the community is presented, joy and bondage being its main characteristics, the other where different members of the community will engage in discussions and potential conflicts.

The first part features the group in a choral piece with a horizontal use of space. The movements resemble a walk done uphill, characterised by the effort of every single step as well as by the stamina and endurance of its reiterated movement in different directions. The second part presents a pas de deux between a man and a woman, Heikki Vienola and Maria Nurmela, where the equality and difference in viewpoint is expressed via interesting diagonal intersection of their bodies. In some instances she carries his weight, in some other he does it. Two other couples appear towards the end but Saarinen is not sure what this section will lead to. The second duet is between two women, Maria Nurmela and Satu Haluttunen and a particularly ironic approach seem to have feeded this choreographic phrase. They repeatedly shake their heads while facing each other with their arms knot together. The third duet features an old and a young man, performed by Henrikki Heikkilä and Heikki Vienola. Their different vision of things is interestingly presented through the wise stability of the former and the rebellious attitude of the latter.

In “Borrowed Light” the music is going to play an active role on stage. More specifically, it is going to be a matter of singing more than anything else. In the first approaches to their hymns the Shakers did not use lyrics but just the singing. In this respect Tero Saarinen has begun a collaboration with the Boston Camerata who has researched and recorded some of the original Shakers' songs. On stage there will be a choir singing live and possibly moving a bit to keep the dynamics of the whole dance event.

It is time for questions and a lady asks about the “light”, with respect to the title and to the work presented. Saarinen specifies that what they have focussed on in Civitanova is mainly movement. The term 'borrowed light' was specifically used by the Shakers themselves to maximise the natural light via a series of windows constructed in the internal walls of their houses. During their residency the company rehearsed in the Annibal Caro Theatre and they were able to borrow the natural light for the presence of windows on the sides and back of the stage. Light, Saarinen adds answering to another question, is very important for Finns because of the particular climatic conditions of the country. Furthermore, his light designer, Mikki Kunttu, one of his long collaborators, has a kind of architectural approach to the use of light. That is why in this piece Saarinen is thinking of using very simple, but very effective lights. The rehearsal is over, it has been a magical moment of exchange, of giving and taking, the audience leave, the dancers go and the theatre remains empty, just the air holds this precious experience a bit longer ...

Edited by Jeff.

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