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A contemporary ballet masterpiece inspired by Finland’s national epic poem Kalevala
Through the language of contemporary dance, Alpo Aaltokoski Company interprets and brings to life a forgotten Finnish ballet masterpiece composed by Uuno Klami and Kalevi Aho.
Alpo Aaltokoski has created a contemporary choreography for twelve dancers to the classical music piece Whirls that tells the story of the forging of the mythical Sampo. Whirls contains both mythology from Finland’s national epic poem Kalevala and contemporary questions about people’s search for happiness and a better life.
For her work in Whirls, costume designer Marja Uusitalo was selected in the top three of costume design category at World Stage Design exhibition in Cardiff in September 2013.
Choreography: Alpo Aaltokoski
Music: Whirls (composed by Uuno Klami/Kalevi Aho) recorded by Lahti Symphony Orchestra
Dance (2011, 2014): Janne Aspvik, Johanna Ikola, Ahto Koskitalo, Kaisa Launis, Arttu Lindroth, Jouni Majaniemi, Tuovi Rantanen, Samuli Riik, Jussi Suomalainen, Esete Sutinen, Heidi Tiainen, Terhi Vaimala, Jussi Väänänen, Satu Rekola, Jonna Eiskonen, Jere Jääskeläinen, Elias Berglund, Jack Traylen, Antero Lehtonen
Dance (2022): Tuovi Rantanen, Jussi Väänänen, Jonna Eiskonen, Elias Berglund, Jack Traylen, Satu Rekola, Heidi Tiainen, Jouni Majaniemi, Johanna Ikola, Terhi Vaimala, Janne Aspvik, Jere Jääskeläinen, Antero Lehtonen (Tampereen Konservatorio)
Scenography and projections: Alisha Davidow
Lighting design: Matti Jykylä
Lighting technican: Jere Mönkkönen
Costume design: Marja Uusitalo
Make-up design: Terhi Kalliola
Graphic design: Kirsti Maula / Marko Mäkinen
Photos: Marko Mäkinen
Duration 1 h 45 min + 2 intervals
Premiere: August 25 2011, Alexander Theatre, Helsinki
It’s been a long wait but it’s finally here – the great Finnish ballet! Whirls, composed by Uuno Klami and complemented by Kalevi Aho, finally made it to the stage it was made for in the 1950s.The tension in the Alexander Theatre was electric as the audience waited for the lights to go down and Alpo Aaltokoski’s contemporary choreography to begin – but boy was it worth waiting for!
It is a rare thing indeed to experience a dance piece in three parts, with intervals in between, and one couldn’t avoid the feeling that one had seen three different works. The first part presented the movement theme, based on whirling circles, creating shadows that bring to mind Matisse’s famous painting The Dance. It is characterized above all by fine dance and is comprised of fabulously polished and precisely considered movement.
Klami’s dramatic and evocative music receives a worthy reply from the movement. It swirls and undulates, but the individuals always return to join the collective whirling ring. Individuals like Esete Sutinen, the creator of energy, and Ahto Koskitalo, who shows the way, emerge from the group. Tuovi Rantanen’s furious presence as the Hag of the North is nothing less than terrifying.[..]
Marja Uusitalo’s fantastic costume steals the show in the second scene. The designer has let her imagination roam absolutely free, and it feels like this has inspired the dance. It brings to mind the futuristic stage experiments from the beginning of last century as choreographer Aaltokoski style-consciously tosses together pastiches of dance history. All the classical ballet conventions are there, from the toy soldiers of the Nutcracker Suite to 1970s disco!
[..] The third part is very effective, with its continuous lines and diagonals through faded stained glass and mirrors, and we return once again to the theme of whirls. The work as a whole is an intoxicating audiovisual experience, a total artwork that has been delivered partly from beyond the grave.
This multi-artistic ballet work is a festival of music and dance. Aaltokoski’s 12 dancers interpret the choreographer’s ideas about the forging of the mythological Sampo mill from Finnish folklore and the modern-day search for happiness. The dancers move between the past and the present day in a relentless pursuit of money and material goods: Uuno Klami and Kalevi Aho’s music brings to mind nature and the importance of small things, but people no longer hold these in high regard. The work as a whole is resounding, visual and imaginative.
The whole work is comprised of three parts, which are punctuated by intervals. The scenes carry the same story forwards although they can also stand on their own, and the music and movement constitute a huge party. The cornucopia that Aaltokoski, Klami and Aho have generated also owes a debt from the spectator’s point of view to Alisha Davidow’s scenography and projections and Marja Uusitalo’s outrageous costumes, which have been fashioned from recycled material. The first scene is created by a living organism comprised of 12 dancers, from which individuals are born and define themselves.
The second scene is a wild game, a feast for the eyes as classical ballet clichés are twisted into contemporary dance, and there is great humour in the movement and the colourful costumes and accessories. The junkyard costumes are made from swimming rings, crocs, beach toys, plastic flowers and Barbie dolls: lots of the material is recycled and the playfulness is an important factor – this hasn’t been made by overly serious people. The intention, however, is not to joke with the audience and make them laugh – except when the comedy of the modern world makes it impossible not to.
Aaltokoski gives the music free rein, but the movement doesn’t illustrate the composition. The dance works with the music to create something new. Who would have believed that Klami could be translated into disco dance? It is immediately clear when Kalevi Aho’s music begins that we are moving back into the present day: it comes from a tape by the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Osmo Vänskä, and has the same elements; the continuum endures. Aho also gets the fairy to fly, but the movement becomes more linear than before. The dancers hurry somewhere in buff-coloured clothes as part of a machine, and if they were wearing suits they would be somewhat reminiscent of EU bureaucrats.[..]
Rarely has a dance work in Finland had such a long and convoluted background as Whirls, which has finally been choreographed by Alpo Aaltokoski to music by Uuno Klami and Kalevi Aho. A heady mix of history, expectation and pressure was in the air when it received its first premiere in the Alexandra Theatre, and the performance as a whole was unique because the presentation of a full-evening dance work in three parts was something that had never been attempted before in Finnish contemporary dance.
Klami’s composition was originally known as natural ballet in the 1940s and ’50s because modern or contemporary dance did not exist at that time, especially not in the modern meaning of the terms. Aaltokoski’s work is however a contemporary dance work, specifically in the way that so many dance styles and types of movement language are linked together in the choreography. Aaltokoski also dares to play with ballet vocabulary and traditions. The starting points for the content of Whirls are the myth of the forging of the Sampo (a central part of the Finnish national epic Kalevala) and what it means for people today. The work is mainly abstract, however, and based on movement, so no knowledge of the Kalevala is necessary to appreciate the performance.
Choreographically, Whirls is mainly a group work, with the 12 dancers sharing the lead role. There are only a few times when attention is focused clearly on an individual, and real duet parts are very rare. One part that really sticks in the mind is the end of the first part, which is dominated by Tuovi Rantanen’s black-and-white outfit, a creation of large knitted loops that make her look like a mystically threatening leader in a red helmet, ostensibly the Hag of the North, but it could just as easily be any other dictatorial autarch.
The three parts of the performance are so different that each could be a work in its own right. The theme of the first scene is the birth of some kind of person – or even community – and finding oneself. In terms of movement, the focus of this restrained and precisely danced scene is, in keeping with the title, whirls, spirals and circling movement, which continues in larger and smaller measures throughout. The dancers’ light skin-coloured costumes also carry the same theme of circles that look like a targets or archaic drawings of an eye.
The second scene really goes for it! It is a carnivalesque explosion with regards to both the dance and the costumes, and as a whole it brings to mind a surreal king and queen in their court. Marja Uusitalo’s costumes are a hysterical and imaginatively colourful recycled mix of a tablemat, inflatable ring and children’s plastic toys. This kitsch use of plastic continues with the way that the ceiling is made of empty plastic bottles. And if the first scene was softly lit and even quite dim, the second scene almost hurts the eyes – the lights are so bright that everything is visible and clearly defined.
Also with regards to the movement nothing is forbidden and anything goes, from disco patterns to court dances from ballet works. Intelligent, fun dance which contains a cutting edge is directed straight at the drive to possess material objects that is symptomatic of the modern world. The third scene sees a return to the simplicity of early modern dance with neutral, beige costumes. The use of mirrored walls can be interpreted symbolically as a person looking at his own reflection, but above all the diagonal movement that moves across the stage in different directions leaves a lasting impression. It is in conscious conflict with the full-on and almost aggressive music that Aho has composed for the scene.
Aaltokoski’s choreography gives space to the music throughout and adapts the phrasing of the movement to the rhythm and dynamics. The movement language breathes at the same rate both figuratively and concretely. Whirls is a multi-layered work which reveals different aspects of itself on different occasions, not only visually but also with regards to the movement and the music. It is also clearly a total artwork in which the parts are intrinsically bound to one another. It is our good fortune that it has finally graced the stage.
Premiere: 25 August 2011, Alexander Theatre, Helsinki
24, 26, 27, 28, 30, 31 August 2011 Alexander Theatre, Helsinki (7)
22-23 March 2012, Madetojasali, Oulu Music Festival, Oulu (2)
3-6 of April 2014 Alexander Theatre, Helsinki (4)
Coming to the Erkko Hall of the Dance House!
Premiere 20.10. at 7 pm
Other performances: 21.10. at 7 pm | 22.10. at 2 pm
Alpo aaltokoski company finally premieres the ballet Whirls at The Alexander Theatre, fifty years later than planned. The piece was left unfinished by Uuno Klami and completed by Kalevi Aho. The choreography tells the story of the forging of the mythical Sampo through contemporary dance.
What does the search for the Sampo, which lays golden eggs, mean in this day and age? Whirls contains both mythology from Finland’s national epic poem Kalevala and contemporary questions about people’s search for happiness and a better life.
The piano score in the first scene in Whirls won the Wihuri foundation’s ballet and opera composition competition in 1958. The first premiere was planned for the National Opera season 1958–1959, but the work was not completed on time and the premiere had to be postponed. When Klami died in 1961 the work was still unfinished. Kalevi Aho composed Whirls’ third and final act after a request by the National Opera in 2001. The work did not however become part of the repertoire, and the National Opera’s rights to the first premiere expired. The three acts of music have never yet been performed together. The pieces will now be heard as a whole for the first time in conjunction with the fantastic contemporary dance choreography.
Dance artist-choreographer Alpo Aaltokoski has created the choreography for 12 dancers. Whirls was modern in its own time, and Aaltokoski’s choreography strives to capture the same spirit. As a contemporary dance choreographer, Aaltokoski honours Klami’s intention that the final work be up-to-date.
The mise-en-scene, like the music that Kalevi Aho composed for the third act, has been brought up-to-date, respecting the work’s history and nuances. The narrative elements of the set design have been realised with the help of digital technology. The content of the work is comprised of compact dialogue between the scenography, music and choreography.
Whirls brings Kalevala themes up-to-date. What are the equivalents of the golden egg-laying Sampo in the contemporary, global world. What does people’s search for happiness and a better life mean in a world full of migration, conflict and catastrophes? How is climate change and people’s influence on it entwined with the understanding of nature in the Kalevala? The themes of the work enable mythology, the traditional imagery of the Kalevala and contemporary 21st century issues to exist side by side.