|| September 10, 2012
|| Liisa Vihmanen
Boston Ballet’s first visit ever to Finland wasn’t the easiest to digest, but it sure was delicious and extremely good.
Many people in the audience had brought their young daughters dressed in dreamy outfits, however this performance was a far cry from magical fairytales or cute tulles. The performances were a spectacular vision of trim bodies, incredible techniques, sharp movements and exhumed the simple joy of dance.
Mikko Nissinen has been Boston Ballet’s Artistic Director for ten years. It is easy to see why the quick witted and relaxed Nissinen is like a fish in water in his position in the United States. His Finnish sounds American, but it could be a sign of him having talked his way into the American culture. I asked Mikko Nissinen when he knew he wanted to be a Ballet Director after his dancing career was over:
“I probably knew when I was 16 years old. I began to dance professionally when I was 15 and somehow I just felt that that’s what I wanted to do after I stopped dancing. Since then I’ve studied all my directors like a hawk. When I noticed there wasn’t a school for becoming an Artistic Director, I began to develop myself in the fields that I though were the most important ones.”
Mikko Nissinen seems to enjoy his work, he is a man of action, or as they say in the US; ‘ A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do’. “You have to be prepared to do everything and anything to ensure the success of your company, be it in marketing or while negotiating with your sponsors”.
Boston Ballet performed four different pieces at the National Opera. The invitation came at a relatively short notice, only half a year ago. It was made possibleby the monetary aid from the Jane and Aatos Erkko foundation. Mikko Nissinen had discussed the evening’s program with the Artistic Director Kenneth Greve and they decided together that a neoclassical performance would bring a nice contrast to the classical work of the National Opera. It was also clear that one of the pieces was going to be choreographed by Boston Ballet’s Resident Choreographer, Jorma Elo.
The opening performance of the evening was Christopher Wheeldon’s “Polyphonia”, which is described by Nissinen as a neoclassical, delicate, and abstract piece.“Polyphonia” was frequently divided into 2 dancer’s parts. Its’ choreography was simple, pure, and bright. The biggest applause was given to Jorma Elo’s “Plan to B” but not because of the advantage of playing in his home field. Seldom, if ever, have I seen such fast, innovative and precise dance. The tempo was upbeat throughout the whole dance. Despite the speed, the dancers were able to keep the contact to the audience from the beginning to the end. According to Mikko Nissinen “ Boston Ballet’s dancers have reached a profound understanding of the wondrous world of expression of Jorma Elo”.
Helen Picket’s “Tsukiyo” came from a completely different world of movement. It was a short, romantic moment caught between two dancers. The two bodies became one whole dancing entity. Despite its’ tenderness it was perhaps the most forgettable piece of the evening.
The last performance was William Forsythe’s “The Second Detail”, which has also been in the Finnish National Ballet‘s repertoire. Nissinen characterized the piece as “aggressive and where each individual dancer gets to shine”. “The Second Detail is like dancing on a razor’s edge”, he described. As a viewer you had to choose which dancer to follow because the piece had so many things happening simultaneously. Sometimes the eyes wandered to the back of the stage where the dancers were sitting on a bench, but naturally they weren’t just sitting, they were a part of the choreography.
The Finnish ballet audience knows how to get excited and this time was no different as they gave a standing ovation. And how is the American ballet audience? “The United States is a big country”, he says, “but generally one can say that they are quite receptive”.
“When I left for Boston ten years ago, the repertoire had little contemporary dance. In our current program one third is contemporary, another third neoclassical and the last third is academic classical. Nowadays, contemporary dance draws the biggest, new audience. I feel that there are three doors and it doesn’t matter which door they come in from. My job is to make sure that there is quality, quality, and more quality”.
“I try to make the best versions possible when working with the traditional classics. And we rehearse them so that they are stylistically correct. The worst fear for the future of ballet would be that if it stays as a form of expression on some Broadway musical. If The Swan Lake doesn’t have the little details and style, then at the end of the day it’s just simply ballet dance. We don’t have hundreds of pieces to choose from like opera. In ballet, there are 5-7 pieces with high quality, after that, the level of the work drops drastically.”
Boston Ballet doesn’t have any Finnish dancers at all despite its’ Artistic Director and Resident Choreographer. “A few has come to audition and a few have taken summer classes”, says Mikko Nissinen. One can’t talk about Boston Ballet without mentioning its’ dance school which is the biggest in North America and the world. Nissinen thought he was going to be able to find a bigger dance school in China but to no avail. Boston Ballet has 5600 students of which 250 are studying to become professional dancers. Before joining the group everyone gets a chance to join the Boston Ballet’s Second Company.
“Anyone who is interested in dance, can study at the Boston Ballet. We have over 2000 adult students. We take our teaching seriously and want to offer an experience in dance. Students and enthusiasts alike, they are all ballet’s future audience.
Mikko Nissinen feels that Boston Ballet is not only a professional dance company. Itis also a messenger of sorts. The Boston Ballet takes an active role in the community’s needs.
“We have a group for dancers with special needs (adaptive dance). When the children first arrive they are unable to keep their heads up, nor do they know which foot is which. We came up with the idea of putting one red and one blue shoe, and slowly you can see their coordination developing. It is quite moving. The parents have said that we have given their children a completely new life.”
“Another great cause is when we visit third graders in the suburbs of Boston. We bring 500 excited kids in for a 10-week intensive course. The kids who want tos tay after the ten weeks are offered a lifelong scholarship. It is pretty unique.”
This is how you recruit new dancers. The group for the special needs children has been together for 20 years now, and there is no stopping it, as the children are all loving it. This Fall a brand new group will begin.
The writer is ajournalist at YLE who put her ballet shoes on when she was 7 years old andstill hasn’t taken them off.
*this article has been translated from the original Finnish