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Susanna Leinonen’s brazen dance work TOXIC resembles a series of surrealistic paintings that have come to life

Toxic lives up to its name: it’s poisonous. It’s not one of those works that vanish from your memory the moment you step out of the theatre. It seeps into the unsuspecting spectator’s mind and carries on troubling him or her, demanding an explanation and a personal opinion. 

Choreographer Susanna Leinonen is dealing with the social media, which surrounds us in devious ways and permeates more and more people’s everyday lives imperceptibly. That imperceptibility is, ultimately, an illusion. Social media is addictive. The comments shape our actions, in reality and in the online world. But what does a manipulated self-image do to our minds? Will a lie become the truth or is an individual crushed by it? 

Toxic gives rise to mental images. It jumps from one subject to another like a stream of images in social media. The narrative isn’t linear or complete. Toxic postulates and argues, leaving the task of interpreting to the spectator. The impact is clear, but there are no solutions on offer. Toxic resembles a series of surrealistic paintings that have come to life. 

 CORPOREALITY is strongly present throughout. Leinonen makes excellent use of the movement language of popular culture. The language of imagery and movement has been taken apart and carefully mixed with the movement vocabulary of contemporary dance that is characteristic of Leinonen. The end result amounts to movement that demands a meticulously digested and skilful control of the body. 

 We’ve come to expect physically uncompromising and precise work from the dancers of Leinonen’s productions. Emmi Hakala, Camilla KeihäsElina Lindfors, Aaron Saira and Tatiana Urteva control the space superbly with their bodies. Leinonen’s deep pliés, sharp hands and fluid, oily quality of movement with the abrupt stops are controlled with care. Each dancer is strong both on his or her own and as part of the group. 

 There’s no room for smiles or warmth in Toxic. Arrogance, superciliousness and a lack of feeling define human relationships although the partner and group scenes involving physical contact seem painstakingly rehearsed rather than actually violent. A sense of danger is missing. 

LIKE in Leinonen’s two previous works (Nasty in 2018 and Dreams of Replay in 2017), Toxic  also deploys masks that cover the face completely. The masks, wigs and costumes of the work were created by Sari Nuttunen, who was also involved in Nasty. 

Even though facial images come to the fore in social media, the partial facelessness of Toxic reinforces its theme. On one hand it creates a mental image of an individual who keeps recreating his or her face to comply with the wishes of their surroundings, on the other hand, it evokes an anonymous mass spouting malicious comments. We hear nasty remarks, apparently real quotes from social media, as part of the work, mainly in English. Heard in a long stream, they feel random and strangely superimposed – the same applies to the list of diet programmes that are heard in the dark. 

 Leinonen and Nuttunen share the responsibility for the lighting design of the work. Although the other visual aspects are well thought out, the lighting design with its timing would benefit from a rethink. 

 Susanna Leinonen’s undeniable strength lies in the creation of interesting movement and the group’s strength lies in bringing the movement to life. It’s worth the company putting its trust in that and occasionally cut out superfluous frills.