Dreams of Replay

It's been three years since I last saw Susanna Leinonen Company on stage. It was at the Kuopio Dance Festival, and the company performed Leinonen's work Touch of Gravity to a sold-out theatre of discerning viewers. It was a strong performance, innovative, intense, captivating. I still have a strong visual memory of scenes that were near genius in their minimalism and apparent simplicity: Six dancers jumping in place, in parallel position, up and down, repeated until a simple step took on new weight and meaning... The piece as a whole was exciting, from the stage scenery to costumes to lighting. All in all, one of my favorites of Kuopio Dance 2015. Which is why my expectations for Leinonen's latest creation were sky high.

I did not read the introduction to Dreams of Replay beforehand, other than to check the names of the creative talent and dancers. I prefer to see a piece without explanation, unless it's a choreographic adaptation of a novel or play that I haven't read (you kind of want to know what's going on). As for abstract pieces, whether neoclassical or contemporary, every viewer's interpretation is valid. One person's yawn can be another person's breath taken away. It's impossible to view, experience, and interpret any given work with a blank slate of mind. What I see on stage is filtered through every past experience, previous ballets, critiques I've read, people I've talked to, dance classes I've taken... Not to mention personal preferences, matters of taste, preconceptions, or expectations. My point is that reviews cannot be absolute truths or guarantees, whether they are favorable or not.

Ramblings aside. There were many exceptional details and moments in Dreams of Replay. A figure of a dancer, sitting in a golden stream of light, her back facing the audience, close to the edge, downstage left. Her back arching until only the top of her head touches the floor. Arms resting on elbows, reaching upwards, with palms open and bent, she moves in a way that feels more humanoid than human, even arachnoid. As she ripples her fingers to a sudden and menacing sound, I'm transfixed by this sci-fi creature. In another scene, we have two dancers walking onto the stage with forward thrusted hips and backs almost parallel to the floor. They have opaque white stockings pulled over their heads, obscuring features and amplifying the alien effect. As they move across the scene, in a way that is completely unnatural to the human body, almost cybernetic, I am utterly mesmerized. It would have been beyond interesting to see Leinonen take this theme and run with it. The rest of the choreography seems standard in comparison. By no means is it bad, or poorly danced (all dancers have a strong presence and precision of execution), just not as exciting.

Some vivid details aside, Dreams of Replay remains oddly fragmented, perhaps because our dreams rarely are linear stories that make any sense? It seems to me that there are many intriguing ideas, interesting beginnings, captivating concepts - which are not developed further. To me, it feels more like a collage of separate choreographies, or snippets thereof, than a cohesive work. Scenes do not relate to each other, and I cannot detect a common theme, other than minimalism and absurdity (which in itself is always welcome). There is one humorous scene where two women engage in a competitive music box play-off, but what does it mean in the context of the whole?

Of course, there is always the question: does it have to mean anything at all? Do you have to "understand" dance, is there one correct interpretation? NO, there is not.  What if I don't get it, am I somehow not cultivated enough to appreciate the artistic work? Maybe, maybe not. My own niche is adult ballet, and it's been years since I've attempted or even wanted to venture outside of ballet class. But I do like to attend contemporary dance performances. Oftentimes, it's just more interesting than purely classical ballet. The companies I've seen at Kuopio Dance in the past three years have been amazing, Susanna Leinonen Company included.

Balettikassi gives Dreams of Replay three stars ★★★✩✩,  and  ★★★★★ to the "alien dancers".

Susanna Leinonen Company: Dreams of Replay
September 8th, 2017
Alexander Theatre, Helsinki

Choreography: Susanna Leinonen (Artistic Director)
Sound Design: Kasperi Laine
Lightning Design: Kalle Ropponen
Costume Design: Erika Turunen
Photography (above): Mirka Kleemola

Dancers: Tiia Huuskonen, Sara Kovamäki, Liisa Pietikäinen, Elisa Tuovila and Erika Vilander