When seven dancers and six musicians take possession of the City Theatre’s main stage in a concept uniting modern dance, live classical music and fashion, we are served an event that does not belong to the everyday. Kenneth Kvarnström’s (play) is a joint production in the largest format between his own company, the Helsinki Dance Company and NorrlandsOperan and after three performances in Helsinki it is being put on in Umeå twice before going on tour in Germany next year.
The title of the work is descriptive. Play and playfulness permeate the entire piece as well as the details. It also characterises the narration in the individual scenes that mirror various outcomes and meanings of the term play. Play does not mean they have saved on the quality or ambition. On the contrary, it is just this playful meeting between the seriously designed and performed individual elements that is the whole point. Without the play, the meeting between classical music from five centuries and the movement-orientated modern dance could easily have been both bombastic and introspective.
The work is structured into nine scenes, each featuring its own music by composers such as Bach, Chopin, Vivaldi and Shostakovich. The series also includes more rarely heard music such as baroque music for the theorbo -lute, in itself a visually peculiar instrument.
The individual scenes could stand as works in themselves but of course they are tied together sequentially by the same musicians and dancers featuring in them in different combinations. Another unifying factor is Jens Sethzman’s scenography – a white background element and two luminous mobile elements that act as benches.
The aspect most obviously tying together the scenes and concretising the playful concept in the work is the dancers’ short illuminating speeches to the public between the scenes. One of these is a recording of the dancers’ comments during a rehearsal situation. This in particular gets the audience laughing heartily.
The movement vocabulary in all of the scenes consists of material characteristic for Kenneth Kvarnström. Individual dancers rise or fall in groups as well as other formations that come together and dissolve in an unbroken flow that we recognise again. Likewise the carefully structured pair scenes, which here mirror the awareness and congeniality rather than submission and dominance as many times before. Overall, the movement material is characterised by maturity and trust without any need to prove or achieve something. This has also been snapped up by the dancers, who emphasise this in their performance. Everyone is well aware of the aesthetics, as well as the material, to which they clearly take their own approach.
The suite includes zippy comedy, rather á la Carmen?! from the 1990s, when Kai Lähdesmäki, Janne Marja-aho and Valtteri Raekallio in kilts put on a peepshow with drive. In a brilliantly coloured scene, to Bach’s Goldberg Variations with masked groups in fanciful red and black dresses, the play bursts into flower with visualisation and movement to become afterwards more minimalistic and stylised in the scene accompanied by music of Glass and Kasberger. A crystal clear duet for Kenneth Bruun Carlson and Cilla Olsen etches itself in the memory not just for the interpretation but also for the material’s sake. The finale’s mask game and caricatured rhythmical material to Shostakovich’s hectic tempos brings to mind Asiatic drama as well as commedia dell’arte.
The playfulness makes the whole piece entertaining and finally it turns into a functioning entry into this scenic matter.
(Translation: Multiprint Oy / Multidoc)