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Nasty employs black humour and innocent beauty as an antidote to fear

Susanna Leinonen’s latest choreography challenges our inclination to see violence as a simple and straightforward one-way act.

AT THE BEGINNING, you are immediately confronted with an onslaught of violent noise and vision altering red lights.

The sounds and colours of unadulterated rage continue to define the experience to the end. Nasty, the title of Susanna Leinonen Company’s latest production, is an apposite one, perfectly chosen to reflect its unpleasant, difficult, troubling content. After all, any woman who refuses to accommodate and conform will invariably be branded, not insightful or visionary but difficult.

What Nasty is interested in is exploring the pressures that society brings to bear on the female body. These are thematic underpinnings that are important and well worthy of consideration but also require a freshness of vision to prevent them from being reduced to tired and empty sloganeering.

SUSANNA Leinonen Company’s Nasty kicks off with an extended movement phrase that delivers a detailed and forensic investigation into the anatomy of a dancer. The combination of extreme athleticism and delicate movement turns the moment into a cool-eyed and distant examination of the female body. Relentlessly and meticulously, it takes in every detail. The dancer is aware of the gaze of the onlookers, and strongly present in the moment, and yet somehow remains at a distance. Gradually, small groups of dancers begin to come together on stage, their movement used to both fuse the individuals together and highlight their individual characteristics.

The new choreography contains a number of elements that are familiar from Susanna Leinonen’s previous works. The ambivalence, the deep-seated emotional charge and the gravity-defyingly amazing choreography stand in almost perfect contrast to the forces surrounding the stage.

During the course of the performance, real life examples of the sort of profanities and abuse women are subjected to in the online world are projected on to the stage. The dancers ignore them as they, utterly rapt, turn their attention instead to Arvo Pärt’s soaring and profound musical score as it reaches towards for the divine.

The piece is alternately limitless in its freedom and mechanistically confined. The circular movements begin and end, the dancers’ bodies acting as a conduit for energy flowing from an invisible source.

Sudden pauses, angular, defiant postures, facial grimaces and muscular bodies, their form sharply accentuated through a careful use of light, are deftly employed to encapsulate the immense power present on stage.

Particularly striking are the scenes that come alive with a raw sexual energy and an extended representation of orgasm, all of them serving as a powerful reminder that it is the audience themselves that are responsible for the direction their thoughts take.

“Is she begging for it?” comes the question from the stage. The dancer shakes her head in response. But what now? Should she be rewarded? Punished? Hidden from our gaze? Or could she be left, in peace, to be just who she is?

The costume designs by Sari Nuttunen leave the women looking stripped, their barely there garments hinting at a corset here and a skirt there. The dancers dress and undress on stage, the manner in which they claim and assume their roles becoming a key aspect of the choreography.

THE FACT that the female body is so loaded with meaning is not the fault of the female body itself. On stage, that female body is stripped of the need to respond to or even acknowledge the societal expectations foisted upon it.

Nasty is an opportunity for the dancers on stage to yet again demonstrate that they are virtuosos in complete mastery of their craft. Tiia Huuskonen, Elina Häyrynen, Natasha Lommi, Elisa Tuovila and Erika Vilander set about pushing their boundaries and challenge and question all they have learned previously. Their performances contain both glimpses of the blackest humour and moments of innocent beauty.

Nasty challenges our inclination to see violence as a simple and straightforward one-way act. It is an antidote to our prevailing tendency towards oversimplistic polarisation. Nasty protects our right to keep our secrets and deftly side steps the soap box to powerfully address the issue of feminism and women’s rights. What a dead place the world would be without mystery, without darkness, without the subconscious. In an atmosphere of fearfulness, Nasty’s complexity and depth of feeling create a sense of freedom, it holds space for the audience as we find it in ourselves to face up to the unknown within.

Maria Säkö, Helsingin Sanomat 8.9.2018