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Review: Susanna Leinonen Company’s stunning new contemporary dance production lays bare the aggression and demands directed at the female body

Susanna Leinonen Company: Nasty

After just a few seconds, Nasty leaves you feeling stunned. The flashing red lights and screeching sounds assail the audience as dancers, striking a series of poses, can be briefly glimpsed on stage.

The beginning then leads in two different directions. On the one hand, it signals an emergency, pointing towards the themes explored by the production. It is also a sign that this production wants us to turns our attention to issues that need to be heard that we need to make noise about. It is about the female body and the expectations placed upon it.

The choreographer Susanna Leinonen herself has cited Donald Trump’s description of Hilary Clinton as “such a nasty woman” during the 2017 presidential election as one of the inspirations behind the production.

The #metoo movement is a visible presence as the choreography explores the verbal and physical assaults, expectations and restrictions sustained and endured by the female body. Nasty asks who holds the power to define women’s bodily realities and explores the process by which external pressures become internalised within our own body image.

In the hands of these five highly talented dancers, the female body is presented as a multi-dimensional site for enquiry, pursued with intelligence and without resorting to easy answers.

Nasty brings the audience face-to-face with a cruel and hard reality, where misogynistic slurs are an ordinary feature of everyday life. In one memorable scene, some of these verbal assaults, “feminazi”, “whore”, “hag”, “slut” and “nympho” are projected onto the stage floor.

Importantly, the production is never anything less than multi-dimensional. The beauty and emotional charge of the music balance out the sheer force of the on-stage imagery.

Set against the glow of a white floor and constantly shifting lighting, Nasty is visually striking, with Sari Nuttunen’s costumes, ranging in colour from nudes to blacks and contrasting pinks, providing an excellent complement to the wider thematic explorations.

Scene by unfolding scene, Tiia Huuskonen, Elina Häyrynen, Natasha Lommi, Elisa Tuovila and Erika Vilander demonstrate their incredible power for endless creative and expressive transformation. They are at one with Leinonen’s fascinating and demanding movement language. All five are skilful martial artists, whose vocalisations carry a real sense of menace, and who later evolve into corporeal forms that observe each other and the audience with a critical, uncompromising gaze.

At times, the women dance with their faces concealed behind masks, exposing how women are reduced to anonymous, faceless beings that blend into a mass of undifferentiated sameness.

Nasty, as the title suggests, does not make for nice or comfortable viewing but neither is the reality it explores. This is an immensely impressive and thought-provoking production that confronts a series of important topical issues with an admirable intensity.

Turun Sanomat 9.9.2018