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Susanna Leinonen’s iconoclastic Nasty is as fierce as it is powerful

Susanna Leinonen’s choreographies are defined by their uncompromising approach to movement, their physicality and the high level of technical skill required of the performers. Impossible though it seems, with Nasty, Leinonen has again taken things to a whole new level.

The dancers’ bodies are like machines that they operate unsparingly, executing one breathtakingly complex sequence after another, to the point of near total exhaustion.

Despite the exquisite skill, the displays of truly incredible physical prowess and the wealth of precisely observed detail, it is not the choreography that is the point here. What really matters is the defiance with which the dancers confront the audience as they gaze towards them, unflinching, brows lowered. Their attitude stands as a challenge and as a demand, questioning everything.

“This is what you came here for, isn’t it? Go ahead, keep looking, but don’t forget, you alone are responsible for where your imagination takes you from here. Our bodies belong to us and we can use them to do anything we please and, just so you’re aware, that doesn’t necessarily mean what you might think it means.”

An alternative title for the show might be “mean”, “horrible” or even “difficult”. These are adjectives we often use to describe women who know what they want and refuse to comply with the demands and desires placed upon them by other people, particularly men.

This production is about the female body and the demands, meanings and even insults imposed upon it. But as always with Leinonen’s work, the message is conveyed with subtlety through highly abstract movement. Firmly outside of any recognisable comfort zone, it is hammered home with a harsh, raw, almost violent energy and expression.

On stage, dance virtuosos, and Leinonen regulars, Tiia Huuskonen, Elina Häyrynen, Natasha Lommi, Elisa Tuovila and Erika Vilander take a ruthless approach to their own bodies and those of their colleagues. Yet, the entire experience is defined by a strong sense of camaraderie with occasional glimpses of genuine warmth.

Sari Nuttunen’s costumes continue along the same uncompromising line. Reminiscent of torn underwear, they symbolise the sexual demands brought to bear on the female body. Zero attempt is made to achieve beauty, no concession is made to the demands of style but the outfits certainly are eye catching.

The lighting designed by Harri Peltonen is harsh and revealing. The intensely pulsating red light directed at the audience during the opening scenes and the misogynistic slurs and insults projected on to the floor towards the end are an intentional irritant.

The musical score, comprising pieces by a number of different composers, is equally aggressive and uncompromising. A highlight is the music by Arvo Pärt, which brings a depth and a spiritual dimension to the soundscape.

Susanna Leinonen’s Nasty may not be a comfortable experience but it is utterly brilliant and undoubtedly one of the finest contributions to the debate on women’s right to self-determination.

Annikki Alku, Demokraatti, 10.9.2018