Dance Salad Festival 2017: There's Something About Finland

Members of Eastman (Antwerp, Belgium) in Fractus V.
Members of Eastman (Antwerp, Belgium) in Fractus V. Photo by Filip Van Roe
Apparently, Finnish skills pay the bills.

“It’s absolutely amazing what comes out of Finland and Norway,” says Dance Salad Festival founder and curator Nancy Henderek. “Maybe it has something to do with climate,” she says, chuckling. “They don’t see the sun for many, many weeks and months out of the year.”

Perhaps this is why Henderek added contemporary dance work Romeo & Juliet to the Dance Salad Festival 2017 lineup. The piece, a re-interpretation of Shakespeare’s tragic romance, comes from Finland-based choreographers Susanna Leinonen and Jouka Valkama.

“I know I’m taking a little bit of a risk because everyone will conjure what they know about the story of Romeo & Juliet,” says Henderek. But while she expects each audience member will come to the performances carrying the last ballet, film or stage production of Romeo and Juliet he or she has seen, she also expects the audience will leave with a new understanding of the story.

The Susanna Leinonen Company will perform to sound design by award-winning Finnish composer Kasperi Laine. Laine interweaves Sergei Prokofiev’s 80-year-old compositions for the age-old Venetian couple with a contemporary score. It’s “a montage of the familiar and contemporary,” says Henderek.

Dance Salad's Romeo & Juliet performance is a Houston premiere but debuted in 2012 in Stoa, Helsinki, as a 60-minute, full-length work. Henderek worked with choreographers Leinonen and Valkama to curate an abridged version retrofitted to the festival’s format. The adapted work has interest, value and beauty in its own right, says Henderek, who explains that when told through new eyes, the familiar Shakespearean situations become immediate, even new. “As you see it, you’re still wondering what the end’s going to be!” Henderek promises.

Finlanders refuse to rest on laurels like blond hair, blue eyes and…lakes?

Whitney Jensen of Norwegian National Ballet (Oslo) in Player. - PHOTO BY ERIK BERG
Whitney Jensen of Norwegian National Ballet (Oslo) in Player.
Photo by Erik Berg
Henderek jokes that the Finnish lake district, home of the Kuopio Dance Festival, has a lake for each person in the country. But Finland seems to have a dance for each lake too. At the festival, the Susanna Leinonen Company also presents contemporary dance work Touch of Gravity, a Houston premiere, also set to music by Laine. Carolyn Carlson, an American choreographer of Finnish descent, brings her eponymous dance company to perform the U.S. premiere of her poetic pas Li. (Carlson also takes center stage at Wednesday's Dance Salad Choreographers’ Forum, which, in recognition of Carlson’s artistic contributions to dance, will screen her film Inanna at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.) Additionally, the Norwegian National Ballet will return to Dance Salad for the sixth time to premiere a curation of Daniel Proietto's Player.

However, by Henderek’s own admission, the Scandinavians can’t take all the credit for the festival. Choreographer and dancer Lil Buck brings Memphis Jookin to classical music in The Swan; Paris Opéra Ballet étoile Marie-Agnès Gillot brings a je ne sais quoi to American expressionist Mark Rothko in Carlson’s Black over Red (My dialogue with Rothko); Parisian Kuchipudi dancer Shantala Shivalingappa brings Indian classical dance in Blooming (choreographed in collaboration with Lil Buck) and her solo creation Rasalila piece from Shiva Ganga (Love Poem on Krishna and Radha); and Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s brings what Henderek calls a "fractus of Fractus" in a curated version of Fractus V.

7:30 p.m. April 13, 14 and 15 at the Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. For information, visit $25 to $58.
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Katricia is a contributing writer for the Houston Press who enjoys writing about the vast, vibrant Houston arts and culture scene.
Contact: Katricia Lang