Thoughts prompted by the matinee performance of "Borrowed Light" on Saturday, July 22.
Like Nijinsky’s Chosen One, the celebrants in Tero Saarinen’s “Borrowed Light” seek connection with the divine. Whether stricken by dark lot or haunted by ancient sin, all dance to attract the divine force that will carry them to the sweet fields of either propitiation or atonement. The weight of their fate pulls them into the earth and rends their movement heavy and awkward. All are helpless. Yet, while the Chosen One’s beating arms are, perhaps, a want for flight, the reaching arm gestures of “Borrowed Light’s” celebrants speak of a yearning for the lightness and simplicity needed to meet life as well as the divine.
While Saarinen’s work shares features with Doris Humphrey’s “Shakers,” such as the use of Shaker music and other well- known Shaker practices, it is, however, through the rhetorical power of its gestures that “Borrowed Light” at once eclipses “Shakers” yet exemplifies the importance of gesture as expressed by Humphrey in “The Art of Making Dances.” In her book, Humphrey warns choreographers that they had better have something to say and then make it intelligible. In its 70-minute course, “Borrowed Light” runs unbroken in a stream of 20 Shaker songs and solo and various group dances. And its over-all form is, based on just one viewing, progressive; that is the work began by stating the spiritual goal expressed in the song titled “In Yonder Valley” and concluded with at least a partial fulfillment of that goal with “Holy Mother’s Protecting Chain.” More important to the charge of intelligibility, however, is the basic structure of “Borrowed Light” which follows, one thinks, the rhetorical formulae of: tell what one is going to say, say it, then tell what one just said. Appropriate to its Shaker reference, the work opens with a clear statement for female soloist of its uncluttered choreographic “argument.” As the work unfolds, the opening theme is repeated and often emphasized by various groups of dancers- the work is set on 4 each male and female dancers- performing in unison. And “Borrowed Light” ends with a return of the female soloist who in addition to telling what the work just said bids the audience to follow her. She illuminated by borrowed light – a phrase invented by the Shakers to describe the natural lighting of interiors - stands in stillness facing away from the audience. “Come with me into the world of “Borrowed Light,” her pose says, “and find by our Shaker inspired example that ethics and aesthetics are one.”