Taking pleasure in the thickness of time
Read the essay on Down Below Things Shudder (chor. Kaisa Nieminen and Marika Peura). The piece premiered in Dance House Helsinki in Spring 2023. The essay is written by dramaturge and writer Even Minn.
Watching Down Below Things Shudder I feel an impending storm. I’m called to go low underground, with the dancers embodying the oozing magma coming out of the earth. I’m invited to become lava.
This is a hot performance. The focus of the dance is on how the dancers are in contact with one another. They are gifting movements to one another, exchanging vibes and vibrations. They appear as a pack. Bodies in proximity, rolling spines, and whorling pelvises suspending and insisting on an undulation. Temporal sensual landscapes are born between them as they ride on. This is a slow, powerful grind.
When initiating the work choreographers Nieminen and Peura wanted to bring elements of club dance to the contemporary dance stage. They invited Selma Kauppinen, Lau Lukkarila and Caroline Suinner to perform, as they all have a background in street dance. The dancers are creating a club-like environment, simultaneously being in their groove and in community with others. This is about making it your own and passing it on.
Down Below Things Shudder is a dance of circles and body rolls, a receiving and offering of these pleasurable shapes. As audience members, we get to witness this energetic exchange. The foundation of all club dances comes from Afro-diasporan dances where the circle is an integral element, a potent embodiment of unity and interconnectedness. This dancing happens in the legacy of black culture, dance as medicine, dance as a tool for resisting linear narratives, and the oppressive hierarchies of white supremacy culture.
For oppressed communities, dance is a vital thing. The dance is for the community, by the community, it’s a way of maintaining worlds, a place of healing and having fun. When presented in the context of contemporary dance, this work is also shaping the stage and challenging the violent hierarchies of predominantly white art spaces.
In Down Below Things Shudder everything that arises is given ample time to emerge and grow before its release. Just like volcanic eruptions can last days, months, or even years, the dancers take pleasure in the thickness of time. The sound designer Tiikka Drama is edging the audience with carefully built-up intensities, low vibrating bass, and rustling percussive sounds.
Just like volcanic eruptions can last days, months, or even years, the dancers take pleasure in the thickness of time."
In terms of design, everything is on point. The stage is bathing in sexy glossy oranges and reds thanks to spatial designer Virpi Nieminen and light designer Luca Sirviö, who flashes the lights halfway into the show to answer my yearning for thunder. Costume designer Joona Huotari has clad the dancers in dusky tie-dyes and ripped knits. I had a slight aversion to the uglycore trendiness of the Crocs at first but if you’re as effortlessly cool as this bunch, you can pull it off.
Nieminen and Peura have been in conversation with dramaturg Hanna-Kaisa Tiainen to create the tenacious dramaturgy. The work of the dramaturg blends into all aspects of the performance so it’s not something to pick and point out but when it’s absent, you can feel it. Works that have been developed with a dramaturg tend to have more depth and definition. There is a sense that the makers are intentional in what they are putting forth and know how to communicate it.
Nieminen and Peura have a unique quality to their work that could be described as menacing. This tone was already present in and then they left, which was made in collaboration with choreographer Suvi Kemppainen and premiered in Zodiak in 2021. The work dealt with the theme of feminist revenge and presented an unruly array of anti-patriarchal archetypes who are in pursuit of taking back something that belongs to them. In both works, there is an intent of claiming and taking space unapologetically with passion, grit and humour.
There is drama on the dancers’ faces, mixed grief and pleasure."
The most remarkable aspect of Down Below Things Shudder is how rigorously every dancer works with their material and gives something of themselves. The movements come across as intrinsic and self-willed, the motivation arising from within. They are in the business of catching and making waves, a climate of gyrations. They are not afraid to stir up heat waves and shake with them.
There is drama on the dancers’ faces, mixed grief and pleasure. They seem delirious at times, as if the lived, felt poetry inside the body is making a long loud deep noise that needs to be shared with others. When watching the performance I feel connected to my desire. I’m drawing strength from the way the dancers show up for themselves and the audience. The work conveys the intimacy of dancing and presents us with a generous outpour of raw emotion. Making space for the emotional body is a radical act in a society that constantly demands us to push our feelings aside.
The piece down below things shudder premiered in Dance House Helsinki in Spring 2023 as part of the artistic development project SPARKS. SPARKS gave Finnish dance artists a significant opportunity to develop their own work and create new productions for the big stages. SPARKS was funded by the Finnish Cultural Foundation. The piece is being showcased in the Nordic dance platform event Ice Hot Nordic Dance on the 16th February 2024.