Saturday, January 24, 2015

On Dance

Please note: I was invited to see a preview performance of Tanssiteatteri ERI's new production Zirkkeli for free.

When I was twelve years old, my mother took me to see a modern dance performance by Tero Saarinen Company.

Tero Saarinen Company, in case you are not familiar with it, is a really famous Finnish dance group. Tours all around the globe, glowing reviews, sold-out performances... Naturally, mom was excited to see them perform, and she saw it as a chance to educate me about the arts, too. We dressed up in our finest and headed to the theatre.

It wasn't my first time in a fine arts performance, but it was different from most of my previous experiences. It wasn't like the ballet or the opera, with big sets and glittering costumes. Instead, I remember the performance as dark, confusing and dull. And while I'm sure the Q&A session with the performers after the show delighted my mother, it bored the 12-year-old me out of her skull.

Next day, mom asked me how I liked the dance performance. Arrogantly, I told her it was awful.

Mom flipped out. She swore that since I was such an ungrateful child and didn't appreciate the chance I had been given, getting to see the finest dance performance out there, she would never ever take me see modern dance again.

To this day, mom has kept her word. We haven't been to a modern dance performance since.

A moment from Petrushka, the piece we saw.

Let's be fair here. My mom hasn't actively held a dance-related grudge against me for the past nine years. I'm sure she would have taken me to see dance again, had I apologised and expressed some interest towards the art form again. I'm afraid I didn't.

I don't understand dance, and so far, I have to admit I haven't had interest in changing that.

I appreciate the immense training and skills it takes to be a dancer. However, I don't appreciate them on the same emotional level I appreciate for example singers' talents. Music makes me feel things and I'm able to enjoy it without much questioning it. Dance makes me confused. What should I look at? How should I interpret this, or shouldn't I try interpreting it at all? I have no idea.

As a huge musical fan, I of course often see dancing onstage. I just don't tend to give it as much attention as I give singing and acting. It's nice, and some musicals wouldn't feel whole without dance. Often, it's fun to watch the ensemble move. But even so, I can't name any musical choreographies I especially like.

I do know what I don't like, though. For example, Malmö Opera's production of Les Misérables was heavily choreographed. Too heavily, if you ask me. While the miserable moves looked impressive in their own way, I sorely missed watching my favourite actors act during group scenes. It's not really fun having your favourite play Drunk #4 if he has exactly the same steps as Drunks #1, #2 and #3.

Dance dance revolution.

I'm thinking about all this now because this week, I was invited to a dance theatre. I saw a preview performance of Tanssiteatteri ERI's new production Zirkkeli – a show that, in their own words, "dives into the circus of life, where humor is wild and twisted, joy fragile and fleeting".

I didn't understand much.

For me, the easiest-to-approach part of this performance was the live music. The show included songs sung by Jouko Enkelnotko. But, whereas in musicals the singing is usually the most important thing and the dancing more like an added bonus, here the tables were of course turned. Enkelnotko had a couple of solos, but the dancing was obviously in the leading role.

And the dancing... I don't really know what went on there. Don't get me wrong. The performance was fun to watch, I didn't feel bored like I felt nine years ago. But just like back then, I felt confused. I suppose all of the scenes had their own story to tell, but I only understood what was going on in a handful of them. Rest of the time, I just watched the dancers move.

The aucience's reactions were interesting to follow. They laughed out loud at things that caused no reaction in me. After the show, I chatted with an older lady. She told me that she felt laughter mixing with tears during the performance. She obviously saw something in the dancing I didn't. I didn't know when to laugh and have no idea where the tears were supposed to come in.

The show ended with the audience getting a chance to dance onstage too. That's when me and my friend – also a newbie to the world of dancing – sneaked out. Watching something new is one thing, but taking part in it... There is no way on earth I could have done that.

A moment from Zirkkeli.

All in all, visiting a dance theatre was a nice new experience. But my perspective on this subject is, obviously, still really limited. I don't know if I'll ever enjoy dance like I enjoy music, but I'd like to learn a little more.

So, dear readers, let me know: how do you enjoy dance, or do you enjoy it at all? Share your thoughts with me, in English or in Finnish!

Photos by Sakari Viika, Malin Arnesson and Matti Kivekäs. As always, hover over them for info.
Author's note: I danced to ABBA Live at Wembley Arena while writing this review.


  1. I know the feeling, dance feels like a foreign language to me. I see the forms and the movements and I appreciate the skill that it takes to create them, but I have no ability to actually understand them. I'm sure that if I trained my eye, I'd learn to read movement like I read words, but so far I haven't really had the interest to plunge into that world. I'm probably going to see Zirkkeli a bit later, and after your review I'm curious to see how much I get out of it.

    1. Please write a Zirkkeli review after you've seen it, curious to hear your thoughts!

  2. I've seen one dance show, and I'm much like you. I didn't really get it and thought the music was the best part. It was Movin' Out, and Wikipedia says it's a musical, but no... it was dance. There was a band suspended above the stage and one man on piano who sang all of the songs (all Billy Joel songs) while a story was acted out through dance on the stage. And... I didn't get it. None of my friends got it. We were all pretty confused. I like Billy Joel, though, so as a sort of Billy Joel tribute concert, it was nice. So yeah... I suppose I'm much more into music. Although I do appreciate it as an art form and can get mesmerized watching someone dance, it's really hard for me to get a story that's told through dance.