Published in: Theater & Dance & Circus -magazine, Finland, 4/2019
Review: A family story, from father to son
When choreographer Valtteri Raekallio's Recollections ended, the atmosphere in the audience was something special. We had witnessed something very private yet recognized something universal, even familiar in it.
We have all been children and we have had a family, whose sometimes conflicting memories and histories follow us throughout our lifetime. "Those memories can be really important to us, but they are not necessarily true," writes Raekallio in his presentation of the work. "Memories are always interpretation, but interpretation and imagination should not be belittled. We are what we imagine ourselves to be."
Recollections is a work of autofiction, a story-driven movement piece for which Raekallio has assembled themes from his childhood family, and which he now reflects on through his experience as a father of a young son.
Not to worry – this is no clumsy biographical exposé or a therapy session of a self-involved artist. Through a series of carefully controlled stage scenes, Recollections creates a multi-layered tableau of family images that is easy to identify with despite the heaviness of some of the themes.
It is as if the work and Raekallio are saying: This is how I experienced it, and I wish to hold back nothing. This honesty disarms, comes close to you and permits us to identify ourselves with the performance.
I would compare the precisely observative style of the work with the My Struggle series of literary superstar Karl Ove Knausgård. The super-precise representation of everyday events elevates individual human experiences into universally recognizable building blocks that express a wider psychological validity for the entire community.
Recollections begins with matches. In the dark, locked in an embrace, dancers Valtteri Raekallio and Annamari Keskinen light matches that are extinguished as soon as they flare up. The flames are bright but fleeting, like moments from the past that are difficult to recall.
The soft nuances of light, shadow and darkness created by lighting designer Jukka Huitila embody the harsh story with their own soothing quality. The lighting design doesn't make a spectacle of itself, steering instead the viewer's gaze to the narrative essence of the scene. And what tones are drawn from the windows opening towards the evening sun!
Aino Koski's set design surprises. When was the last time we saw a naturalistic 1980s living room at Zodiak Center for New Dance, complete with potted plants and bookshelves? The set design is no joke or artistic gag, since this is exactly the living room that is needed to ground the events of Recollections in a given time and place.
The furniture also has a function, including the piano, which Raekallio's famous pianist father drilled on all day, or the chair behind which the little boy found himself cringing. The surprise at the end also has a meaning; everything is a key to a memory.
Violinist Meriheini Luoto performs the original through-composed music of the piece. Luoto moves naturally on stage like a mute witness, observer or protagonist. With her music, she anticipates and augments the mood changes of the piece.
Charged with interior glow and power held in reserve, Anna-Mari Keskinen is Valtteri Raekallio's equal as duet partner. Keskinen's movement spirals into its own world, full of tension between smooth arcs of movement and sizzling energy. Raekallio's aggressive, more laborous and spectacularly acrobatic movement represents the performing pressures of toxic masculinity.
The duets of the pair are painfully intense. Only the sweet puppet representing a small boy is able to calm them down to support the fragile journey of the doll-child together.
When, at the end, Raekallio's son Hugo reads aloud in voiceover his father's diary entries, no one can escape the thought of the heavy baggage that each generation unwittingly and unwillingly leaves to the next.
The best part of this highly integrated work is its critical eye on the heroic mythology of art. It says no to the dogma of success through adversity.
Recollections dares show a human exactly as fragile as we all within ourselves truly know ourselves to be. To witness this is an act of relief and of cleansing the mind.
(Link to source: http://www.teatteritanssi.fi/10274-arv-perheen-tarina-isalta-pojalle/)
Raekallio corp. and Zodiak: Recollections. Artistic design and execution Valtteri Raekallio. Dance Annamari Keskinen, Valtteri Raekallio. Music composed and performed by Meriheini Luoto. Set design by Aino Koski. Lighting by Jukka Huitila. Super 8 filming and projections by Thomas Freundlich. Premiere at Zodiak Stage, Helsinki, Finland 7.5.2019.