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A dance review: Harsh dance about the toxic side of social media

Susanna Leinonen’s latest choreography TOXIC is clearly a sister work of Nasty, which dates back a couple of years. Not just on account of its themes but also of its content, approach and style. 

 Although now the focus is on social media, specifically on its negative and toxic side associated with looks and sexuality, the work still mainly applies to women and girls without underestimating the impact of social media on men and boys. 

 TOXIC is fierce and aggressive but in a cool and brazenly offhand way. The language of movement and poses, familiar from music and other social media videos, have been stripped of all sensuality and attempts at pleasing. The movements have been made repetitively mechanical with an attitude that says ‘this is what you wanted, isn’t it’. 

 The aggression of the performance is unrelenting throughout. It merely carries on in different, more or less violent, forms. Not in a belligerent way but with controlled elegance. The pain caused by internet trolling is actually only shown once: in the suicide scene performed by Tatiana Urteva. 

 The work also contains glimpses of absurd humour, but it’s coldly snide rather than funny. 

 Leinonen has often created her works exclusively for women dancers. This time, the group of five dancers includes a man, Aaron Saira.  He is simply one of the group. The sex of the dancers – it applies to the women too – isn’t emphasised at all and doesn’t affect their relationships. Everyone is treated in the same way. 

 In terms of its movement language, TOXIC is Leinonen all over. It’s detailed, physically demanding and extremely polished. The dancers perform it beautifully. They are a tight and uniformly strong group, which knows what it’s doing and is intensely present in its dancing. 

 Visually, the performance is a little starker than many of Leinonen’s earlier works. Skin-coloured outfits, sharpened with black, have the deliberate effect of diminishing the dancers’ individualities. Videos are only deployed a couple of times as effects; otherwise, the empty space is delineated occasionally with squares of light. In a way, the performance appears naked on the stage. The music is provided by a compilation which gives the overriding impression of the same cold, penetrating darkness as the whole of the rest of the performance. 

 TOXIC gives no answers or solutions, nor does it aim to, though it probably resonates with older social media users in a completely different way from young, inborn users. In any case, it’s a comment on a highly topical subject and well worth seeing by both generations.