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Tero Saarinen Company

'Westward Ho!', 'Wavelengths', 'Hunt'

by Carmel Morgan

March 12 , 2013 -- Eisenhower Theater, JFKCenter for the Performing Arts, Washington DC

Finnish dancer and choreographer Tero Saarinen, now age 48, performed a 2002 solo called “Hunt” to Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” as part of his namesake company’s performance at the Kennedy Center during the Nordic Cool 2013 festival, an appropriate choice in the centennial year of “Rite of Spring.” The notes warned that “Hunt,” the closing piece of the program, contained “strong strobe-lighting effects.” Yes, strong flashes of light temporarily and painfully blinded the audience now and then. And the music certainly thrummed along loudly.

Saarinen’s take on “Rite of Spring” involved a bare chest and Grecian sort of long skirt. More slight than his company’s other male dancers, Saarinen nonetheless projected strength in his movement, which was full of sharp angles and tilts, one legged jumps, lunges, and spins. The lighting by Mikki Kunttu and multimedia by Marita Liulia and Jakke Kastelli starred in a solo of its own, stunning at every turn, whether casting smoky silhouettes or projecting whirling images onto Saarinen himself, who later in the piece donned a multi-layered tutu type garment by costume designer Erika Turunen that had descended from the ceiling like a cloud. Saarinen, once in the tutu, transformed into a battle weary swan. “Hunt” was a technically challenging and weird work, with moments of pure madness. Powerful and hard to describe, it suited the music’s infamous intensity.

“Westward Ho!” my favorite of the three works on the program, was choreographed by Saarinen in 1996, the year his company was founded. I found it haunting and incredibly beautiful. Three tall men (Henrikki Heikkilä, Mikko Lampinen, and Pekka Louhio) wore long wide white pants with a black square apron at the front (Saarinen designed the costumes, which were reminiscent of Japanese hakama, perhaps inspired by the time he spent in Japan studying Butoh). At first in silence, the dancers seesawed back and forth on their legs and repeatedly gave a salute of sorts with one hand. You could hear their feet swish against the floor as they moved slowly forward and back in unison. Finally, one dancer stopped, and a voice crackled in a recording singing “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet.” The dancing came across as somewhat cold and mechanical, and yet it was also terribly moving. A distant sadness permeated this complex work. Amidst the seriousness, the men did some silly moves, wobbling back and forth like overstuffed teddy bears in a children’s musical. I felt like applauding long before the piece was over.

In the middle of the program was “Wavelengths,” a male/female duet choreographed by Saarinen in 2000 and danced by Henrikki Heikkilä and Maria Nurmela. “Wavelengths” seemed to draw even more heavily on Japanese influences. It also began in silence and featured inky wide legged pants. The lighting by Mikki Kunttu made a second duet with shadows, which grew and shrunk and appeared in all sort of places. Nurmela reversed roles and became a shadow by dancing behind a scrim. I somehow saw sorcerers in the dance. As time went on, the dancers became much more intimate with each others, finally holding hands and grasping each others’ bodies.

Tero Saarinen’s company was riveting, and his choreography intriguing. I hope to see them again sometime without having to make a trip to Finland!

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