Interviews Misc

The spirit of the Dancing Man

{mosimage}When speaking about contemporary dance in Finland, one reference name is Tero Saarinen. He has achieved a worldwide recognition with the best formula: talent, hard work and the collaboration of a great team formed by top-class artists and professionals. Even when sometimes his popularity has been bigger outside the borders of Finland than inside his own country, his merits were finally rewarded in his native country with awards such as the Pro Finlandia Medal in 2005.

After having lived in France for some years, Tero is back in Finland (as long as his other compromises allow him, since he spends a great part of the year traveling around the world, working and performing) running his own dance company, Tero Saarinen Company, and preparing everything for the conquering of the Finnish spectators during the incoming representations of Petrushka / HUNT that will be performed all along August in Alexander Theater, Helsinki.

There are different features that maybe give a key explanation about the success in Tero Saarinen´s works. One is the risky attitude towards his art, always looking for new ways of expression, and not worrying about the immediate success. Tero Saarinen is a person who enjoys discovering new places in the world the same than enjoys discovering new and interesting people all along his career to collaborate with. This natural approach to life is reflected also in the natural dialogue with the audience. During the incoming shows, the spectators will have the unusual opportunity of staying after the performance and talk to the dancer about their impressions, feelings and whatever other question they want to make. Tero affirms that this same experience has been tested before, with excellent results “In general, it is amazing the nice and interesting feedback that the spectators give. I am very satisfied with this idea of having an open discussion after every show”.

Tero does not only take care of his own solo performances, but makes sure that he is surrounded by the best professionals to achieve an optimal result. As an example, we collected the opinion of Satu Halttunen, one of the company dancers and Tero´s collaborator, who has worked together with him creating pieces for, among others, the NDT (Nederlands Dans Theater): "It was interesting to be there. Everybody who works in the field of dance knows the reputation of the place and the dancers and it was true that all the dancers were amazing. But I also think the nature of NDT has changed after Jiri Kylian left the company".

Satu obviously is one of the persons who can give a best opinion about Tero´s style when dancing, having being his second pair of eyes when working together, helping to create a choreography for other dance companies: "Tero uses lots of mental images when creating a movement. Physically he emphasizes a lot the sensitivity of the arms and fingers and feeling of the bodyweight".


Everything can be said in the art of dance.

Tero Saarinen

{mosimage} Tero Saarinen receives FREE! Magazine in Alexander Theater in the center of Helsinki, the place where soon the spectators will be able to assist to his forthcoming performances: Petrushka/HUNT. He is calm and friendly, and makes a great effort to put his many varied thoughts into English language for us, laughing when he gets lost in the middle of an answer. Although being on his forties, he looks extremely young and fragile, but when he starts speaking, (and he does speak a lot indeed!), you realize that Tero is a man who knows exactly what he wants to achieve in life. A man whose personal philosophy is to live under a “controlled risk”, extrapolating this to his performances on stage. A man who is not afraid to explore new ways of expression traveling to remote Asia, or just turning this exploration into a deep look at his soul. Tero Saarinen represents beyond everything else the true spirit of the Dancing Man.

It is very interesting to see in your biography that you spent some time in Japan studying Butoh dance. Tell us more about the experience, please.

I wanted to expand this image of dancing man inside me. I think that it was limited in the National Ballet of Finland, and I had a “hunger” to go outside. I was in Tokyo for nearly a year.

Were you feeling alienated at some point?

It was a lot of alienation feeling when you were there. When you come as an outsider, it is hard to find the right connections. It takes a lot of time to make you “known”. It is very long way to get into this routine of Japanese culture, in a way. So it took two months before I could find the way to go to the traditional Japanese classes. You need to know the right persons. One door opens and slowly you get in. That was a long process

So it is a closed society…

Very close. And the traditions of dance are very different. For me sometimes was very difficult to understand the mentality behind and of course, the amount of people in Tokyo… it is such a huge city… it was a big difference, coming from Helsinki where you can go cycling to your work, and there in Japan I had to travel 1-2 hours to find the places where I studied. The distances were hard, and the amount of people was quite heavy to take at the beginning. I remember that there were days I did not want to go out because I thought there were too many people there. And I was also missing the sea. I am a “water person”, I was raised close to the sea and I had to travel to find some sea.

I know you were practicing also martial arts. What martial art did you practice?

I practiced Aikido. It took two hours to go to the place where I took the classes. It became too hard; the days became too long, so I had to give it up. I thought I could study later martial arts in Finland. So I selected to study Butoh dance “from the source”.

What do you think of the Butoh dancers emigrated to Europe? There are even some big names here in Finland.

There are, starting from the 90s, a lot of people who are teaching Butoh. They are very good teachers. An innovation of Butoh philosophy. But I think nowadays the original idea of Butoh is lost. When it started after Second World War, there was a lot of things boiling in Japanese culture. It wanted to break the estheticism established in the society. It was violent, and now all we see is about beauty, so it was turned around the original idea. The revolution feeling has been lost, but maybe because there is no need of it anymore.

{mosimage} In your dancing style, you like the feeling of “being on the edge”. Is it a reflection of your life?

I think it is. It is an interesting state. But the main idea is that you feel safe, you can take risks but under control. You have the sensation of the leap. When we talk about art, I think that the risk-taking makes it more exciting. If it is too calculated and comfortable, and does not have a possibility for the participants to take risks, then it is not alive. It is a risk with some kind of safety. And I think that is also in my life. I never cared about my contracts, my pensions. You have to take other injections of inspiration from other cultures. It is all about the structure. The ideology of our company is like that, we take risks but under control, on stage and off stage.

Yeah, for example, in your previous piece Kaze you took a lot of risks, you invested a lot of money.

You need to invest for the pieces. Maybe the credits do not come immediately. I always thought the money would come later if you believe in that product, The works of mine defy the time in a way, and they will last. So the reward will come.

Is it stressful to find perfection in your art and to be a business man at the same time?

To be a business man requires stress. Of course it is part of this business. But I think that you minimize stress and the risks when you have the right people in the right places. Years before I had a lot of stress because I took care of everything. I was designing the clothes; I was sticking the posters at night in the streets. It was ridiculous! I had this understanding that you need other people. I went out of Finland and I saw how things were done outside, where people were surrounded by producers and sharing values with the workers. The artistic and the human values, and also the business values.

How many people are there in your company?

Now we have 6 people, including administration. It depends, the body is very flexible. If we go on tour in my solo evenings, it can be only four people, but we can go with 25 people on the road. It depends on the production

You dance and you also make choreographies for others. Apart from all that, you have to run your dance company. How do you take care of yourself?

It is not an easy concept. Running the company is why I have to have good people helping me both in administrative and artistic field. I have dancers with whom I have been working for 10 years, and some of these people come with me as assistants. So they know the “alphabet of the style”. When we go to work with other companies, we really transmit the “alphabet of our style”, something essential about being a dancer. So there is a deeper reason to meet than just getting the money. Dance is not just steps; it is a way to perceive life.

How long do you want to continue dancing professionally?

I read days ago an interview I did when I was 25, saying “I am not afraid of getting old…” So I think that there is this dilemma of the dancer, you feel you do not have to exhaust physically yourself to transmit things. You can do less but still transmit more things. People ask “when do you stop?” I still have not decided when I stop. I am quite critical with myself, so I suppose I will decide to stop when I am not able to transmit anything anymore. When the dialogue with the audience does not happen, I will stop before that.

You have been collaborating with very important people in dancing and art business, like with Nederlands Dans Theater or Batsheva Dance Company. Is there anybody you have as a dream to collaborate to?

I do not think like that. I think that who comes on the way, comes. I do not look like “I would like to work with…” I do not feel I have to work with a person I see in a magazine. I think my best meeting was with the Japanese professor, Kazuo Ohno.

You go to Germany and then back to Finland. What the spectator can expect from the show Petrushka/HUNT?

It is bigger than experience. It is a special evening; it has live musicians who have adapted Petrushka into accordions. It is an amazing adaptation. And the next piece HUNT is my solo. It is a big risk, it has been written for the big unit of men and women, and I dared to make it only for myself, plus Marita Liulia, the multimedia artist who collaborated in it. It is a wonderful integration of different expertises from different fields of art.

Is it not risky to express on stage masculinity and femininity just dancing solo?

I like risks. I could not integrate other person in that, because I do not feel it. I have a lot of things boiling from inside me to make this piece. All of us have masculinity and femininity. It was interesting and challenging to dare to do it with style and taste. I wanted somehow to talk about the media we are surrounded by. How we cope with the new technologies and this attractive new ways of communicating (and isolating) ourselves. We forget the physicality. There was a kind of frustration that I wanted to talk about it. If we are sacrificing our roots, the knowledge we have and we carry. So I had this battle inside me, and I wanted to bring this battle into the piece. This is why there is a strong connection with Marita Liulia and with interactive media tools she was working with.

Alienation seems to be very present in your work.

Yeah, maybe that is my eternal subject. The thing I want to dive into. I dance because I do not want to talk. Everything can be said in the art of dance.

Any anecdotes from previous shows?

It was very special in Mexico. The tension between the audience and us was special. It is hard to find the right words. In Finland we meet the audience after the performance. I like a lot to talk to audience, it takes out this borders that the artists are something so special. There are no secrets there, no artificial mysterious symbols. It is nice to have a dialogue. The mysticism evaporates.


A man with a team!

{mosimage} Mikki Kunttu – Lightning designer

How did you get involved in Tero Saarinen´s Company at the beginning?

We did a project together with Tero when I was a second year student of lighting and sound in Tampere.

Is there any special feature, difficulty or exception that you find in your job as lightning designer with Tero Saarinen different from other different jobs and projects you have made before?

The real difference is that we have worked together for so long and have shared similar visions of what we would like to create for the stage.

Light in Finland is very important and has radical changes all over the year. From total darkness on winter to the midnight sun on summer. Do you take inspiration from the real nature when applying to your job?

In my opinion you carry your memory with you no matter what you do. So in other words of course it has an effect on my work, but it is a very natural part of me. Nature is one of the most inspiring elements for my work.

We also had some issues ago a long interview with Kimmo Pohjonen. How was to collaborate with him?

Kimmo is really one of the most talented and most original artists I have ever had the pleasure of working with. It is very rewarding to work with someone whose own expression is developed so far and who is so visually sensitive too.

You were involved also in the lightning of the Eurovision show. Are you happy with the experience? Was it very hard and demanding to prepare everything for a worldwide audience?

Eurovision was really a dream job for me. It was one of the rare occasions where you can just set your imagination free without real restrains of budget or other issues. Very, very challenging and complicated structure in the whole production, but at the same time very rewarding. I got to make all the big decisions on who I want to work with and to choose all the equipment. The fact that we had a huge audience was not really anything I would have considered too much. I’m extremely happy with the result!


{mosimage} Marita Liulia – Multimedia artist 

Was it Tero the one who came to ask for collaboration in his company, or was it you?

My collaboration with Tero started with Tarot ( I took photographs of Tero and he became The Hanged Man and Two of Coins and Five of Cups. I liked him very much since the first meeting and collaboration continued in Hunt. During last years we have traveled a lot (100 performances in 25 countries) and it has been a great time for me.

Is it complicated to apply the scent of the new technologies to old classics, without damaging the main essence?

Naturally it is demanding and challenging. I always do a lot of research work for my art work and it helps to avoid clichés and quick solutions. My work as an artist is to bring the contemporary time to a classic. In Hunt the multimedia brings the media world to the classical theme of Rite of Spring. 

You published acclaimed works about femininity and masculinity. Is the dichotomy of the sexes a topic that you like investigating often and deeply? Do you have conclusions or personal ideas you want to share with our readers?

Instead of dichotomy I find femininity and masculinity in everyone. They are deeply rooted roles and models we use in different ways depending of the context. This is something to observe in everyday life. Tero has a sharp eye to the multiple faces of gender. This is one reason I like to work with him. I also share his compassion and aim to understand the complexity of human mind – and body.

Is the reaction of the people usually in favour or applying new technologies and visual solutions to dance, or do you receive critics from purist sectors?

It seems to be that appropriate use of technology brings new audience to classical art forms. I have long experience of both and I must say that I have been utterly satisfied by the critics, also from the purist section!

What people can expect from your work in the next shows of HUNT?

As always, we do our very best in every performance. The audience participate every performance with their presence. I hope the collaboration will be like it has been, touching and unforgettable. I expect this Stravinsky evening will not leave anyone cold!


Tero Saarinen Company: Stravinsky Evening
Petrushka | HUNT
August 2–19, 2007
Thu-Sat at 8pm, Sun at 3pm
Alexander Theatre, Bulevardi 23-27, Helsinki
Tickets 15-40e

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