LOCATION X / Taneli Törmä
Classical beauty often comes under attack from contemporary art whether through playful parody or dead-serious deconstruction. Taneli Törmä does both as he appreciates and emancipates classical ballet. To a backdrop of electronic beats he presents a challengingly repetitive and minimalist running-on-the-spot for half of the performance. In the second half he manifests his dream of becoming a classical ballet dancer with humour – but without disrespecting the form – and the help of 18 young ballerinas. The two radically contrasting parts somehow manage to create a coherent whole even though the piece might have benefited from a deeper exploration of issues beyond the performer’s personal biography. Nevertheless it’s a finely-tuned and well-executed performance that works nicely as a demonstration of endurance and later plays masterfully with audience expectations.
Taneli Törmä’s concept of Classical Beauty is a two-act ballet. At the start he’s quivering rhythmically, panting and running on the spot. His dog-tired warm-up leads to comic calf-stretching until he’s lying on the floor in a foetal position. In part two, set to Tchaikovsky, Törmä gets lost in arabesque lines, pirouettes and repertoire pantomime that mock of balletic form, grace and expression. But with the second act burlesque comes his apotheosis. He’s at the top of a pyramid, a fake-crown king surrounded by a beginners-level female corps de ballet. The question is not where they came from but most importantly, why? Is it a way of emphasising a fallen hero’s ego? I whole-heartedly admire the beauty in imperfection. Maybe Törmä’s unveiled intentions contained a personal truth, but for me the superficial result had nothing whole-hearted about it.
A burly, beardy man stands centres tage, surrounded by a circle of light. He starts running in place, showing us the muscle tension in his bare legs while sweat seeps through his neat, lilac shirt. During the action his blissful smile reveals exaltation; he’s aiming for something to fulfil his longing.
Halfway through the spotlight is replaced by a follow spot, the initial hallucinatory soundscape by Tchaikovsky and his running by ballet steps.
Although Taneli Törmä is trained as a classical dancer, his movements are inept. The charm lies in the attempt. This is emphasized by the unexpected appearance of eighteen young girls (unfortunately no boys) that generously support him with youthful dedication. Although it verges on becoming a ballet parody, Classical Beauty is a genuine endeavour to make dreams come true. If you’re longing to be a soloist, create you own corps de ballet.
Sturdily built, notably ginger-bearded and barefoot in camping shorts and a flouncy lavender button-down shirt, Finnish-born Taneli Törmä literally runs in place towards balletic dreams of glory in Classical Beauty. It starts as a smiling, hypnotically-soundtracked solo then unexpectedly tips over into a sweeter and less private fantasy featuring a supporting cast of 18 locally-recruited girls who crown him king. He may put the noses of ballet purists out of joint, and leave unexamined the more contentious gender issues associated with the art form, but to me Törmä’s affection for both the absurdities and the discipline of classical dance is plain. The piece’s low-budget, Tchaikovsky-swathed pageantry – in which grace, awkwardness, pleasure and self-consciousness are all on view – evinces charm and wit. And despite his limitations as a danseur noble, Törmä effectively conveys a palpable sense of the rapture of dancing. The net result? Lightweight, tongue-in-cheek with feeling. Let the man dream.