Morphing the masculine: Morphed by Tero Saarinen Company

Royal Festival Hall, London
(part of the Nordic Matters Festival at the Southbank Centre)
August 10, 2017

Maggie Foyer

In Morphed, Finnish choreographer, Tero Saarinen, investigates the sensitive side of the male dancer with a cohort of seven men that demolish the stereotypical image of a dancer, looking rather as though they could take on the All Blacks. Each man has his own story to tell, related in expressive choreography that embraces the compassionate to the brutal and all shades between.

The trajectory follows a predictable route: beginning with a gloomy group in black hoodies following social norms, bonded by accepted rules but with no real contact and ending bare chested and tingling with emotion. Individuals rebel against the uniformity and the structure eases as each asserts his distinctiveness.

The company are indicative of the inclusivity of new dance as the dancers bring a range of skills from their very different backgrounds. Energy pulses through the work as the mix of body types bring fresh elements to generate innovative choreography.

Tero Saarinen Company in MorphedPhoto Heikki Tuuli
Tero Saarinen Company in Morphed
Photo Heikki Tuuli

The duets are an exploration of boundaries: sometimes aggressive and rough and at other times teasing and tender. For David Scarantino and Ima Iduozee, agile, fluid and physically well matched, Saarinen created an unconventional and very engaging duet where dance expanded to unconventional moves with spellbinding intensity. Each dancer had something to offer: notably the wild exuberance in Pekka Louhio’s solo, gentler sinewy movements from Iduozee and Jarkko Lehmus’ powerful presence.

Lighting designer, Mikki Kunttu, who understands the dancing body so well, complements the changing mood. Initially low level lighting catches just the bare feet as dark bodies pace purposefully in square patterns, later a luminous backdrop silhouettes the dancers before the floor itself glows with an optimistic uplighter. Kunttu is also responsible for the set; the stage area marked out in black and white rectangles bounded by a double curtain of hanging ropes that have a life of their own. They form a liminal boundary as dancers pull the ropes apart, bundle them into braids or violently thrust them aside to create a surround of super-charged energy. The costuming also plays its part. Teemu Muurimäki’s hoodie jackets neatly fragment as each man strips down to find his own style in a monochrome scheme of casual clothes.

The all-Finnish creative team included a compilation of works by Esa-Pekka Salonen, better known to London audiences as a conductor. His music, particularly the rich orchestral colour and vibrancy of the Violin Concerto, was an inspiration. Tero Saarinen skilfully plays with the elements of movement, sound and light in a constant dynamic of ebb and flow to create an organic work, both minimal and multi-layered.

Nordic Matters continues at the Southbank Centre.
Next circus and dance events are Cirkus Cirkör (August 13-16) and Icelandic Dance Company in Sacrifice (August 18-20).