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Jack Anderson

Tero Saarinen's Toothpick Epics

Tero Saarinen. Photo: Marita Liulia

Tero Saarinen Company
March 28-April 2, 2006
Evenings through Saturday at 8, Sunday at 2 and 7:30 p.m., $36
Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue at 19th Street, Chelsea
Tickets: (212) 242-0800 or www.joyce.org
Reviewed by Jack Anderson March 30, 2006

Tero Saarinen originally called his group Company Toothpick. He soon must have found this a frivolous name for a serious endeavor. So it's now the Tero Saarinen Company.

But during its first New York season, that old name sometimes seemed apt. Saarinen's works are as pared down as toothpicks, with never more than three people on stage at any time. Simultaneously small-scale and grand, these dances are toothpick epics. The choreography often makes people appear to be carving movements out of space, as if out of stone, and Mikki Kunttu's protean lighting designs fill empty air with a sense of mysterious presences. Although Saarinen evokes no specific locales, it's easy to believe that his company's home is Finland, a beautiful, yet often stern, realm of rocks, forests, and water.

The blues of Kunttu's lighting for "Westward Ho!" suggest seas and skies. At the curtain's rise, three men (Henrikki Heikkila, Carl Knif, and Heikki Vienola) resemble eternal voyagers repetitively swaying to Gavin Bryars's "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet," which later gives way to Moondog's "The Message." The hypnotic repetitions are occasionally shattered when men step out of unison. And abrupt hops seem like kinetic stuttering. When someone falls, his companions may abandon him. They also may rescue him. These men could be struggling with the elements or, like other figures in Saarinen dances, with aspects of their own selves. In any case, they persevere, perhaps with a dogged faith like that expressed in Bryars's title.

Wavelengths unites a man (Heikkila) and a woman (Sini Lansivuori) who are soon revealed to be lovers. The wariness with they regard each other implies that this is not headlong love at first sight, and the way they touch or recoil from touching indicates they are uncertain about continuing their relationship. When the woman temporarily leaves, her shadow appears on the backdrop, as if it represents her lover's memory or fantasy. After she returns, the two confront each other, only to withdraw, then embrace. Or are they really wrestling? Saarinen's choreography to a rattling score by Riku Niemi communicates strong feelings without lapsing into hysterics.

In "Hunt," Saarinen's solo for himself to Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring," Kunttu's lighting is united with multimedia designs by Marita Liulia. At times resembling both hunter and prey, Saarinen is first seen moving very carefully with his back to the audience. Despite Stravinsky's tumult, he resists the temptation to do nothing but throb and thrash: his choreography has ominous pauses, as well as paroxysms.

He is eventually engulfed by an enormous tutu-like costume which Liulia floods with images of fragmented bodies. Holding his arms like swan's wings, Saarinen staggers in panic while images snake up and down his back like marauding spirits come to haunt him. Jumping and collapsing amid explosions of strobe lighting in a visual cacophony that matches Stravinsky's music, Saarinen's character is now hunted both by technology from the outside and by interior demons. This dying swan surely heeds Dylan Thomas's famous message and does not "go gentle into that good night."

Saarinen's troupe was a refreshing discovery, for it had come here only once before, in a single work in 1998. Since then, this choreographer from a nation many American dancegoers who are not themselves Scandinavians may seldom think about has been admired across Europe. His program is a salutary reminder that we can never know enough about the dance world's riches.


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