For Tero Saarinen, the internationally acclaimed Finnish choreographer, Japanese culture has become a creative touchstone. 20 years ago he spent time in Japan studying Butoh under the famous master Kazuo Ohno, immersing himself in Japanese cultural customs such as Aiki-do and traditional dance. Blended with his experience as a ballet dancer at the Finnish National Ballet, his work has since been enriched to produce an original and dynamic style of occidental and oriental dance.
The world première of Saarinen’s MESH at the Saitama Arts Theater in Japan is another beautiful product of this pursuit of dance beyond cultural boundaries. Commissioned by the Saitama Dance Association for Japanese dancers, the piece proves the harmonious triumph of art through collaboration. It is the overwhelming energy spreading over the stage here which fascinates the audience more than anything. In contrast to the recent tendency of dance to be conceptual rather than physical, Saarinen’s choreography reminds us of the essential charm of organic dance from live human bodies. Saarinen is known for precision in his choice of artistic collaboration, and here the carefully calculated lighting from Japanese designer Takeaki Iwashina gives a poetic and profound touch to the piece.
The production begins with a tall figure’s emergence to the fore, dancers in black costumes spread out over the floor. Accompanied by the deep sound of strings, then a powerful choir, a shrewd solo is danced, as if by a mystic creature. In the dim light the dancers move together, en masse, sometimes delicately intertwined. Abstract but dramatic solos and duets contrast with the powerful presence of the ensemble, creating a human tapestry of movement. The title MESH is apt – the piece suggests a metaphor for community – and with his choreography balance and off-balance meet, pushing the dancers’ energy to its limits, corresponding to the symbolic relationship between individual and society.
Shadows playing on the wall, together with a collage of Finnish music, creates a numinous atmosphere. Interestingly, Saarinen makes the mythical character at the heart of the production androgynous, rooted to the ground like the incarnation of nature. This figure (Mitsutake Kasai) appears on stage throughout the performance, at times as a shadow – but by the end Kasai’s body has gone through a baptism of sparkling light, re-born in an image tying us to our far ancestors through the generations.
This piece shows a profound vision examining the meaning of life as a cycle beyond generations and boundaries, positively presenting the idea of multiculturalism and animism and their relation to nature. The contribution of the 26 dancers is admirable; and it is my belief that this sort of artistic exchange will enrich the culture of dance in both countries.