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Tero Saarinen

Dance that H(a)unts, Dance that Enchants

by Rosella Simonari

July 24, 2004 -- Teatro Annibal Caro, Civitanova Alta, Italy

Tero Saarinen believes in the power of an unspeakable type of dance, a body language capable of expressing what cannot be said. In his artistic journey into the manifold aspects of human nature, his approach to movement is engaging and elegant.

I met Tero Saarinen and his managing director, Iiris Autio, in the Annibal Caro Theatre, in Civitanova Alta, where he was staying to work with his Company in a joint international project funded by the European Union, between three different festivals, the Octobre en Normandie, the Civitanova Danza and the Kuopio Dance Festival. This project consisted in the creation of Saarinen's latest work, "Borrowed Light", which had its premiere on October 8th 2004 in Le Havre, France, during the Octobre en Normandie festival.

Civitanova, the town of origin of Enrico Cecchetti, hosted the Company in what used to be an ancient nunnery, now converted into the guest rooms Imperatrice Eugenia Maria. It was a very pleasant chat and I would like to thank Tero Saarinen for his kindness in answering my questions.

Rosella Simonari: First of all, I wanted to ask you about your presence here, in Civitanova. How do you find the environment?

Tero Saarinen: I think it is very inspiring. The theme of the piece we are working on is community. We are staying in an ancient nunnery, so I think it is good, it represents extra food for the project. Here it is very quiet and calm, it is very inspiring to be in this Cecchetti's house in a way, it also gives another flavour, some history, very seldom you have the possibility to reharse in this kind of places.

What about "Borrowed Light"? In what stage are you in the preparation of this new piece?

Well, actually the premiere will be in October, so this is the final stage. We started one year ago. Originally, the idea came from a religious sect called the Shakers. I have been researching on them since the 80s, I always found them very interesting…and the company I have now bears some similarities with their sense of community. In a way the Shakers represented the starting point but there are many other layers, I am not making an illustration of their hisotry.

Unlike other religious movements, the Shakers focused on dance as part of their ritual. Is it why you decided to study them for a piece?

Yes, there are many aspects that are interesting, for example the sexual equality between men and women, the importance of improvisation which testified to their urge to dance, especially at the beginning. Also the music was composed without any lyrics so as to express in crystal clear terms this urge from the body, and I can connect to this vision, I have this urge to move and express myself without words. I believe in a language that has no words. Dance can talk on other levels, most of the words in this sense would make things flat. I believe that those things that cannot be said in words are the most interesting…this is a kind of motivation for me. I think this is the best way for me to express life.

How did you choose the title "Borrowed Light"? I have read it has to do with God, but lighting in general seems to be an important aspect of your pieces.

First of all, the meaning of light has many layers in this work. In my work in general light is very important, I have been collaborating with Mikki Kuttu, our lighting designer, for more than ten years now, and what is interesting is that he treats light as an architectural space. Regarding this work, the Shakers themselves used this expression, 'borrowed light', as they used to borrow the natural light with a system of windows in the inside walls to maximise the function of light. And also, as you said, it has to do with God…

Besides other techniques, you trained as a ballet dancer and you have reworked some pieces from the classical repertoire such as "Petrouska" and "The Rite of Spring". What is your relationship with tradition?

I do not have any discrimination against any kind of dance. I think any kind of dance in education is good, the important factor is what you do with it. All the techniques are a nutrition for your body, in this way I feel priviledged because first of all I could start late, I did all kinds of activities for my body, sport and stuff…..they represent an alphabet for your physicality.

Regarding the reworking of classics, I think it is a deeper question rooted in me, it is not like I decided to do it, it is just that I always felt very strong about it. I feel respect and connection to the past and I think there is something there. Some of these pieces' music do something in the subconscious of the choreographer - seriously, my brain says 'no, do not touch them', but something inside me says 'no, you have to touch them'…that is how you make a connection, I also think some experiences I have been through, for example my staying in Japan with Kazuo Ono was very important as I undersood this connection matter. Ono used to say that he was dancing on top of his ancestors, and I was struck as I had never heard anybody who could put it in such a nice way verbally…

I saw your performance in "Hunt" and I was thunderstruck. Again the title is particularly stricking, it is very short and in a way it concentrates the idea of the piece conceived as a solo. Why did you choose this title?

Actually I was thinking for a long time about the title, I did not feel "The Rite of Spring" sounded right and then I thought that in "The Rite of Spring" there is a hunt, and that was the main point for me. I felt like a hunter and a person who is hunted in a wider sense of the word, you know in terms of expectations and things like that….

I felt strongly connected to this story and I started to work at the piece without the music, then I woke up one morning and I said to myself that I had to use Stravinsky's music, and then I thought 'Oh my God!'…It was going to be risk-taking, we have beautiful pieces on that music, I particularly like that of Pina Bausch. It feels like 'why another one?', but then I could not get rid of it in my mind I think that everything is already said in the libretto, it is the struggle of one person, the Chosen One who has been chosen from the beginning…

In "Hunt" I saw a sort of legacy costume-wise with "B12.  You seem to be fascinated by tutus. Your tutu in "Hunt" has the fabric placed in such a way as to follow vetical and parallel lines unlike the traditional raylike projections of tutus in classical ballet…

It is interesting because, for example, the costume in "B12" did not come from the beginning, I remember I was working on the steps with Jorma Uotinen, this is a piece he created for me in 1988, and I do not remember who suggested it, but there was a tutu lying on the floor and I put it on and that was it. For "Hunt" I talked about the costume with my costume designer, Erika Turunen. We agreed that it was to evoke a sense of pride as this person was ready to give himself or herself away …

The idea of sacrifice…

Yes, sacrifice ... and also we thought about the multimedia aspect. We live in an era where we are oppressed, almost obliged to deal with media. I feel it myself. So we thought 'what happened to the old truth?'I think there is unnecessary pressure. There is too much stimulation for every single person, which is a negative stimulation.  It is so easy to get lost, and that is frustrating.

I mean I am very interested in the new media, I want to be part of this world. It does not make sense for me to close myself in a nunnery for the rest of my life. So in a way we arrived at the idea of the costume as presenting screens via the rectangular shape of the tutu parts, even though I have to say that at this stage this effect is no more very clear as the costume is a bit worn out, I have danced in it in more than eighteen countries in two years.

And then there is the question of the images screened on the tutu and on me during the performance. Those are images of myself, I see it as a kind of Oscar Wildish feeling, where you have these two sides, the hunter and the hunted, they are there all the time, you just have to somehow balance them…

What about your Company? Some of the dancers are not fixed members…

Some of them are always with me, and they have been with me since the beginning like Henrikki Heikkilä. Sometimes I like to bring in new people. They create a nice challenge and a sort of possibility; it shakes our little community. As a choreographer, I do not want to start making stereotypes, that is what I was against when I was a ballet dancer, I think the roles for men are very limited. It is always some kind of caricatures, the noble prince or the monster. Now it is different but still I find it limiting….

Do you work a lot with improvisation?

That is a kind of eternal question…in the beginning I was very insecure and I prepared everything, but it was ten years ago. Now everything happens with the dancers; I am dancer among dancers, the choreographer somehow comes afterwards. I do not have this thing with authority, I do not find it interesting at all. I think it is a structure from the past, there has to be a person with a vision and clarity, but you do not have to act like that…and I am myself so much a dancer still, so in my pieces the aspect of dancing, choreographing and developing ideas with the dancers and the other collaborators are very much mingled together to make the…'succo di frutta' [fruit juice in Italian].

 

Edited by Staff.

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