Rehearsal on Love
performed by Raekallio Corp.
Vulnerable, semi-naked and blindfolded, the two dancers immerse themselves in their capacity to feel. They examine the space around them, arms outstretched and uncertain, until they discover the touch that will bind them together. This duet mixes contact vocabulary with the tenderness of foreheads touching, and the passion of bodies pressed against one another.
Love is blind, and in this unseeing state, demands unquestioning trust. However, once unveiled, the touching gaze of wonder soon fuses with challenge and mistrust. Love is not unchangeable. The dancers revolve around the stage, magnetic, bodies in interdependent sync, but they also turn dance into a martial combat, and scream and spit and struggle for power. The piece escalates turning violent, excruciating and abusive.
‘A rehearsal on love’ is visceral and intense in its simplicity, however - hopefully - not all rehearsals will end this way.
Who’s in control here? Blindfolded and dressed only in underwear, Mirva Mäkinen and Eero Vesterinen are guided onto a faintly dungeon-like stage by clothed choreographer Valtteri Raekallio, who remains a shadowy presence throughout Rehearsal on Love. If the set-up is fetishistic and voyeuristic, the opening is touchy-feely: Mäkinen and Vesterinen reach for, support and caress each other, to the sound of waves and pipes. When the blindfolds come off and the clothes go on, the lovey-dovey cliché gives way to an abusive one: in an increasingly violent partnership, the woman may fight back but it’s the man who dominates, spinning her around, weighing her down, yanking her by the hair.
Mäkinen and Vesterinen are skilled performers, and the contact-improvisation style, though familiar, is apt: it’s a very direct way of embodying relational dynamics. But this work simply re-enacts normative and oppressive dynamics of sexuality and power – and seems almost wilfully blind to its own implications.
This is a very old story, and yet it is so new: a man loves a woman, a man kisses a woman, a man carries a woman on his back, a man beats, throws and rapes a woman. Man – subject, woman – object. But of love there is none. This battlefield story with an oh-so-predictable ending is poorly served choreographically. First blindfolded (the tentative beginning), then seeing (the gruesome ending), the two dancers engage in a repetitive vortex of overtly dramatic punches, jumps, lifts and wrestling holds. Hardly anything disrupts their lethargic display of clumsy male vigour and female despair – even occasional kisses and caresses look gloomy and unnatural. In the end, Valtteri Raekallio’s duet looks more like a fruitless restaging of Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage than an essay on the impossibility of love.
Two dancers, blindfolded and stripped to their underwear, use tendril fingers to hesitantly search for each other. Skin meets skin, and they writhe and clamber their way through a series of tango clinches and dead weight lifts. Sightlessness sharpens the simplistic movement but, as the blindfolds are unceremoniously discarded, so is any nuance of communication between the pair, to be replaced with unexplained hostility and violent histrionics. The female dancer flings herself repeatedly into her partners arms, but Raekallio's unimaginative choreography gives the unfortunate look of an executive trust building exercise on speed. Spitting, howling, and injured looks crank the melodrama up to telenovela levels of implausibility, and the final descent into yet another 'woman as a victim' routine is as stale as it is irresponsible. Relationships are tough; perhaps examining one convincingly on stage is even tougher.
Agile bodies in underwear, blindfolds, a voyeur.
All the elements are here for a sexy story to unfold. In Raekallio's 'Rehearsal on Love' however, the roleplay turns sour and becomes a highly triggering story of love and abuse. In a sensual game of blindman's bluff, a man and a woman fumble towards each other, swirling and waltzing into a romantic pas-de-deux. Once the honeymoon phase is over, they remove the blindfolds, get dressed and the dance oscillates between caresses and crashes, between brutality and capitulation. The man becomes a silent predator, and the woman a shouting and spitting victim, while another male (Raekallio himself) compliantly gazes from the side. Not unlike the couple's athletic lifts and melodramatic gestures, this strategy of representation feels archaic. In this heteronormative love triangle, patriarchy shines bright while the blind are leading the blind.
He grabs her, pulls her by the hair, pushes her around, controls, restricts and violates her. She exits the stage. The lights go out. Performers Mirva Mäkinen and Eero Vesterinen come back for their bow.
The performance had started in a dim, atmospheric light with two people blindfolded in their underwear, moving as if floating in space until they discover one another. Two strangers who fall in love, experimenting with one another until their movement becomes more and more intense, sexual and antagonistic, turning into a nightmare of domestic violence. Is it possible for an abusive relationship to start from a premise of love, or are the signs already there from the very beginning? Stereotypical and literal, the choreography by Valtteri Raekallio replicates a power relation that victimises and disempowers women, justifying abuse through the illusion of love.