Dublin Dance Festival: Leader of the pack

Everything else pales in comparison to Tero Saarinen’s astounding Hunt


Petrushka / Hunt
Abbey Theatre, Dublin

Tero Saarinen’s double-bill is an evening of two halves. The common thread is a tribute to Stravinsky’s ballet scores, Petrushka and The Rite of Spring , which were written for the Ballet Russes. The tone, choreography, and somatic effect of both pieces, however, is radically different.

The score for Stravinsky’s Petrushka is reinterpreted for the classical accordion by James Crabb and Geir Draugsvoll and the result is startling. Indeed, the musicians are in some way the centrepiece of Saarinen’s deconstructed ballet. They open the performance with a short silent pantomime and when they take their seats at the side of the stage their instrumental conversation brings to life the three characters of the Russian folktale – the eponymous puppet, the Moor, and the Ballerina torn between their affections – who enact the story with a loose, almost casual, choreography. The mood is playful, the presentation self-conscious, but it is the use of music that is inspired, and the accordionists are compelled to keep their musical dialogue going even after the dancers have left the stage.

The evening, however, really belongs to Saarinen himself. His physical response to Stravinsky’s infamously arrhythmic score for The Rite of Spring in Hunt is truly stunning. The music’s unpredictability wipes the audience’s natural expectations; there is no way of predicting where Saarinen will take it. Naked from the waist up, Saarinen exposes the architecture of his torso to the audience in a performance of strength and beauty. Mik ki Kunttu’s lighting design reveals every muscle and movement in the slow cervine opening movements, which belie Saarinen’s background in both ballet and Butoh.

Mesmerised by its simplicity, its fluidity, there is almost a sense of disappointment when the multimedia elements come in to play, but they reveal a series of brutal and haunting images that remind us of the savagery of the rituals invoked in Stravinsky’s score, which gets darker and more complex as it draws to its abrupt conclusion. The juxtaposition of these two realities in a single body almost defies the eyes. We see Saarinen dance in the air and then he has disappeared. He is both the hunted and the hunter, cancelling himself out.

The standing ovation at the end almost seemed an inadequate response to Hunt ’s profound beauty. However, it made Petrushka look merely like filler.
Run concluded. Festival continues until May 26th