Vox Balaenae

Vox Balaenae is set to the contemporary music classic of the same name. Tero Saarinen’s solo creation touches on many of the same themes that inspired American composer George Crumb.

The music is interpreted live by Paris-based Ensemble intercontemporain or Finnish ensemble Avanti!.

“Tero Saarinen is a phenomenon”
26 minutes
November 5, 2011, Automne en Normandie, Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, Le Rive Gauche, France
Tero Saarinen Company In collaboration with: Arts 276 / Automne en Normandie (France) and Red Brick project / CCN Roubaix Nord-Pas de Calais – Carolyn Carlson (France)

Creative Process

Tero Saarinen’s creation, Vox Balaenae, is set to the contemporary music classic of the same name – one of the best-known works by American composer George Crumb.

This enchantingly eerie, yet powerful music was inspired by a recording of humpback whales singing in the depths of the ocean. The composition has three parts: a prologue and an epilogue, separated by five variations named after geological periods.

Typically for Crumb, theatrical elements are built into the instructions for how to play with the work: the piano, cello, and flute are electrically amplified and the musicians are meant to perform masked on a stage bathed with deep-blue light. Crumb wants this to emphasise the nonhuman power of nature.

Saarinen also drew his inspiration from the archaic power of the Earth. He was profoundly moved by many of the same themes as Crumb; the immense, yet vulnerable forces of nature and modern man’s alienation from the environment are powerfully present in both the music and choreography.

In Saarinen’s interpretation, a lone dancer is enfolded in the music, played live by three musicians from the Paris-based Ensemble intercontemporain or Finnish ensemble Avanti!.

Saarinen says his take on Vox Balaenae conveys the inevitable conflict resulting from our hedonism: “The dancer, bare and grotesquely human, is on the last shore, facing powers greater than himself. I also associate the message of the music – the death of nature and a cry for help – with the death of movement and form. Hence my choreography is inspired by minimalism. The movement language has been influenced by various styles, from my Butoh roots to the classics of modern dance.”

The creative process for Vox Balaenae was unique and very different from that of the choreographer’s previous solo, HUNT, the very personal take on The Rite of Spring. Choreographer Saarinen danced Vox Balaenae himself in the premiere, but:

“I have not made the choreography just for myself. The work needs and expressive and experienced dancer, but for instance sex of the dancer is not significant. I have been working intensely with my trusted dancers Satu Halttunen, Henrikki Heikkilä and Sini Länsivuori, and they will each be performing the work later on”, Saarinen explains.

Vox Balaenae

Choreography Tero Saarinen
Music George Crumb; Vox Balaenae
Music performed by Ensemble intercontemporain or Avanti!
Lighting and set design Mikki Kunttu
Costume design Erika Turunen
Choreographer’s Assistants Satu Halttunen, Henrikki Heikkilä and Sini Länsivuori
Executive Producer Iiris Autio

”Saarinen’s sensibility and accuracy were perfect for depicting a human swaying on the edge. The visualisation was unforgettable.”

– Helsingin Sanomat, 2 September 2012 (Finland)

“(Vox Balaenae) produces a sense of heart-in-mouth beauty.”

– Dance Europe, October 2012 (UK)

“A complete piece of art --- exactly how George Crumb has instructed it in the score.”

– Tanz, December, 2012 (Germany)

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