Nope. Tero Saarinen is actually one of Finland’s well-established national cultural treasures: a dancer/choreographer whose contribution to the artform has been recognized with the Pro Finlandia medal (2005), the most prestigious recognition given to artists in Finland; the International Movimentos Dance Prize for Best Male Performer in Germany (2004); and the title of Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (2004) by the French Ministry of Culture. Founded in 1996, the Tero Saarinen Company espouses the artistic mission “to promote a humane worldview and basic human values through the language of dance, while also increasing people’s understanding of their own physicality and its significance for a good life.”
The Company has appeared in nearly 40 countries and collaborates with other prominent dance groups; the Nederlands Dans Theater, the Batsheva Dance Company, Lyon Opéra Ballet and the Finnish National Ballet have featured Saarinen’s works in their repertoires. As a choreographer, Saarinen is known for his unique movement language that plays with balance and off-balance. His choreographic style reflects influences ranging from Butoh and martial arts to classical ballet and Western contemporary dance.
Saarinen’s creations are characteristically “total artworks” that combine unique choreography, strong performers, striking visuals and often live music. For more than a decade now, he has collaborated with lighting designer Mikki Kunttu, whose influence will be unmistakable in the program planned for Bard. “We Finns live with the extremities of light and dark,” Saarinen says, “from the Midnight Sun in the summer to the darkness outdoors and artificial light indoors that is everyday life in the winter.” The program, which earned critical raves when last performed in New York in 2006, is titled “Triple Bill,” and consists of three works that plumb themes of friendship, love and death.
Inspired by a Laurie Anderson lyric, Westward Ho! (1996), the first of Saarinen’s creations for his company, functions today as the group’s calling card. This humorous but melancholy portrayal of friendships marred by selfishness and betrayal presents three male dancers engaged in a stoic struggle, set to music by England’s Gavin Bryars and American eccentric Moondog – you know, that strange guy in the Viking helmet who used to play blues and recite poetry on the streets of midtown Manhattan. The French magazine Les Saisons de la Danse termed Westward Ho! “a real poem danced in a light of Aurora Borealis.”
At the center of “Triple Bill,” the impassioned duet Wavelengths (2000) depicts two strong personalities in an established partnership trying to avoid monotony within their long-term relationship. This theme serves also as a metaphor for Saarinen’s creative process: In its organic movements, the piece seeks to reinvent the traditional pas de deux to express the dynamics of contemporary, equal partnerships. Originally conceived as a setting of Bolero, Wavelengths features new music inspired by Ravel’s orchestral classic by Finnish composer Riku Niemi.
“Triple Bill” closes with Saarinen’s signature solo, HUNT (2002), a multimedia masterpiece of imbalanced movement set to The Rite of Spring, which Saarinen calls “the cruelest and most powerful of Stravinsky’s works…above all, music of the unconscious. It lures out humanity’s brutish, animal sides, just at the time when they are seeking to achieve a sacred state…In HUNT, I wanted to dive into the mind and inner conflicts of a person being sacrificed – and of the person who offers himself as sacrifice.” The New York Times selected the piece for its 2006 Ten Best List, and the Toronto Star lauded it as “truly a tour de force.”
These three pieces are frequently performed together by the Company. According to the Toronto Globe and Mail, “The build, from one dance to the next in terms of mood and impact, is architectural perfection.” So as it turns out, old Eero would probably be proud to have his name confused with such an evening of artful movement. And it should serve well to kick off this year’s SummerScape and Bard Music Festival celebration of the cultural legacy of the Finns, “Jean Sibelius and His World.”
The Tero Saarinen Company will perform “Triple Bill” in the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts on the Bard College campus in Annandale at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, July 7, 8 and 9, and at 3 p.m. on Sunday, July 10. Tickets go for $25, $40, $45 and $55, except for the July 9 performance, which is part of the Festival’s Gala Benefit and includes dinner before the show and a post-performance party with the dance company afterwards – both in the festive Spiegeltent. For tickets and further information, call the Fisher Center box office at (845) 758-7900 or visit www.fishercenter.bard.edu.