Borrowed Light

Tero Saarinen cites the ritual essence of dance, a dedication to work and community and minimalistic aesthetics as the key elements in this work, which draws its inspiration from the revolutionary Shaker movement of the 18th and 19th century. The piece was created in collaboration with Joel Cohen and an early-music vocal ensemble, The Boston Camerata.

Borrowed Light, premiered in 2004 as an European co-production, was touring major venues in Europe, North America and Oceania in 2004–2011 and reached more than 50,000 people on tour. One of Tero Saarinen Company’s all-time classics will make it’s return in 2025 and will be available on tour in 2025–2026.

“Powerful, elemental, and unforgettable.”
– The Boston Globe (USA)

“Best of 2006 / 10 Best List”
– The New York Times (USA)

“Supreme Artistry – Highlight of the Festival”
– The Australian (Australia)

“Richly original, scrupulously intelligent”
-The Guardian (UK)

“Totally uncompromising and profoundly moving”
– The Dominion Post (New Zealand)

“De la danse d’une grande modernité, où l’on n’a pas honte de la beauté et de l’intelligence du mouvement.“
– Le Nouvel Observateur

More press quotes >>

70 minutes
8 October 2004, Octobre en Normandie, France
Tero Saarinen Company (Finland) In collaboration with Octobre en Normandie (France), Dansens Hus (Sweden) and Kuopio Dance Festival (Finland) and Festival Civitanova Danza (Italy), Le Volcan – Scène Nationale du Havre (France), Teatri di Civitanova (Italy), Atelier 231 –Pôle régional des Arts de la rue (France). Supported by Culture 2000 programme of the European Union, Ministry of Education and Culture in Finland, National Council for Dance in Finland and Florence Gould Foundation.

Borrowed Light

Choreography Tero Saarinen
Original Shaker music edited and arranged by Joel Cohen
Music direction Joel Cohen and Anne Azéma
Lighting and set design Mikki Kunttu
Costume design Erika Turunen
Sound design Heikki Iso-Ahola
Singers The Boston Camerata
Dancers Tero Saarinen Company

Creative Process

Choreographer Tero Saarinen had been intrigued by the Shakers since the late 1980’s, when he first saw a documentary about Doris Humphrey’s Shaker-inspired choreography. The strong communal values and strikingly beautiful, functionalistic aesthetics of this radical religious movement of the 18th and 19th centuries made a strong impression on Saarinen. Over the years, he continued studying Shaker architecture, design and ideas.

In the early 2000s, Saarinen came across The Boston Camerata album Simple Gifts. The music’s manic repetition touched him deeply and the idea of a new work began fermenting in his mind. In 2002, he contacted Joel Cohen, then Artistic Director of The Boston Camerata, about the possibility of a joint production.

The co-creative process with The Boston Camerata began with Cohen humming melodies to Saarinen. The selection of 20 Shaker songs was made from an archive of hundreds – some never published before. Saarinen and Cohen met several times in Europe and the U.S., and also travelled to the Sabbathday Lake Community in Maine to meet the four remaining Shakers still alive at that time.

Borrowed Light was named after the architectural practice, common for the Shakers, of building windows into interior rooms, thus maximising daylight and productivity. Saarinen and his trusted collaborators, Lighting and Set Designer Mikki Kunttu and Costume Designer Erika Turunen, approached light as a religious metaphor. The visual appearance of the work is rooted in the aesthetic of frugality and the accentuation of opposites. The costumes combine heavy felting with airy, transparent fabrics. The lighting design emphasises the opposite worlds of mystical shadows and piercingly bright light.

Despite the strong influences of the Shakers, Borrowed Light addresses, according to Saarinen, the themes of communitarian society on a general level: “My main source of inspiration was the Shakers and I ended up using only original Shaker music, but this work is not about Shakerism. It is about community and devotion. To me the nature of total commitment – whether religious, artistic or political – is fundamentally the same.”