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The Dance
by Jan Sand
2006-12-06 09:37:16
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Although I enjoy a good healthy body, my own as well as others, most of my acrobatics have been mental rather than physical. As a kid I was not particularly accomplished in sports nor in group activity and never having much to display physically I never developed those competitive dynamics which can hone a body into the wonderful coordination displayed in athletics and, to an even finer edge, in the dance.

It took Disney’s Fantasia to clue me in to the joys of fine music and at that early age I more or less went along with his sarcastic parody of classical dancing with the stilted postures of his twirling ostriches and stomping hippopotami and elephants performing acrobatic idiotics.

In the late 1940’s George Balanchine started organizing his group of dancers at the City Center in New York City, a theater converted from a Shiner’s temple into a cultural center for performing arts with the help of the then mayor Laguardia. It was there that I began to understand and appreciate something of what dancing was about and how wonderfully the incredible discipline required of dancers could integrate with music.

Not only was Balanchine a wonderful creative artist himself but he acquired and developed a team of dancers that was world class. They included people like Jacques d'Amboise, Maria Tallchief, Diana Adams, Edward Villella, Melissa Hayden, Jillana, Gelsey Kirkland, Conrad Ludlow, Suzanne Farrell, Allegra Kent, Heather Watts, Tanaquil LeClerq, Darci Kistler, Peter Martins, and Arthur Mitchell. I was fortunate to see most of them dance in the succeeding 15 years and obtained a reasonable understanding and appreciation of what first class dance could do.

My parents were artists and they indoctrinated me at an early age with the appreciation of what the geniuses of the field had accomplished. Through reproductions in books and frequent visits to the then free Metropolitan Museum in New York City I became comfortable with the works of Michelangelo and Ad Vinci and Rembrandt and all the nineteenth century impressionists and the other wonderful artists in the huge collection. But, strangely, since these artists were so far beyond my own accomplishments or even what I felt I could ever be capable of, there was a limit to my appreciation of what these people had done.

A good part of the appreciation of outstanding people in any field is the gauging of one’s own capabilities and how far one must go to equal what superior professionals display. But the works geniuses I saw in the museum were so far beyond what I ever thought I could ever do that they were beyond gauging. I could no more compare my own abilities with those of Michelangelo than with those of the creator of the universe. I merely accepted them as a wonder of existence.

But there was something vitally different in watching dancing. Here was the beauty displayed under construction. The twirls, the leaps, the fantastic capability to move with precise discipline to the music were created moment by moment before my eyes. And like a spectator at the Olympics or any professional sports exhibition my own muscles twitched and tensed in sympathy to those of the performers. Of course, I had neither the training nor the deep understanding nor the muscular capability to do this kind of thing but nature had equipped me with the same (if inferior) set of muscles and bones and in watching dance, in my mind, I danced along with the professionals and felt with them the joy of joining physically with the music.

I was privileged, on this November 24, to be in the audience at the Alminsali, the small auxiliary theater of the Helsinki Opera House, when three pieces were given. The first, IMAGE, choreographed by Sami Saikkonen and danced by Nina Hyvärinen, Sofia Winqvist, Asla Jääskeläinen, Frans Valkama, and Jouka Valkama was done to a modern piece of music “You Had It Coming” by Jeff Beck and was a well-done display of professional dance.

The second, SOMETHING ELSE?, choreographed by Minna Tervamäki was a deeply emotional piece danced by Johanna Nuutinen, Jaana Puupponen, and Minna Tervamäki to the music “Apocalyptica”, Yann Tiersen, “Kodo”, Ondekoza.
Another beautifully danced professional presentation well appreciated by the audience.

The third presentation, JAILHOUSE ROCK, was something extraordinary. The choreographer, Sami Saikkonen, had undertaken to train eight ambitious enterprising ordinary men somewhat past their youth for a dance piece. A film of their training, which took three months of bringing their musculature and coordination into acceptable capability, was shown. It was obviously extremely difficult and clearly demonstrated how the lifetime training and discipline of professional dancers changed them into humans quite different from the average person. The four dancers I saw, Pasi Lind, Jukka Pasanen, Juha Harjunpää, and Olli Vaittinen, dressed in black business suits, white shirts and ties, beautifully caught the spirit of the music with their dancing.

But in spite of their intense training and obvious devotion to the spirit of the effort, it was obvious the difference between dancers who invest a lifetime to the physical, intellectual and emotional demands of the dance and someone who employs all the enthusiasm an average person can muster for the enterprise.

The experience was extraordinary for both the audience and the dancers for something I had never found in watching even the most inspiring dancers. These guys were us, our invasion into the wonder of dance and music. They took us with them into the exotic world we had never thought we could enter and the absolute joy in their success, as imperfect as it was, bridged the distance between the dance and the ordinary people of the audience. The audience stood and clapped and clapped at the performance and at the eight amateur dancers and their choreographer and there was an ocean of gratitude and happiness for what these eight guys and their instructor had done for themselves and us.

It was a moment of unique exhilaration and delight.

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