Tero Saarinen Company's Morphed builds a striking visual world

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      A Tero Saarinen Company production. At the Vancouver Playhouse on Friday, October 27. Continues October 28

      In its Vancouver debut last night, the Finnish Tero Saarinen Company dug into many shades of masculinity in Morphed.

      The visually striking dance work started with its seven hooded men striding like automatons across the stage, marching along their set paths, never interacting. Later they broke into rough-and-tumble struggles, and eventually into wild, bare-chested chaos. But the most transcendent moment was the fragility the men found, in a midsummer-dawn blast of light, by the end of the work—morphed into more tender, vulnerable human beings.

      Choreographer Saarinen has a lot to say here about freeing male dancers from traditional constraints in the art form, celebrating their raw, brute-force muscularity as much as their capacity for delicacy. (Note the trembling, articulated fingers of one moving solo.) But the work also reads as a call for men to rethink their roles in society, challenging stereotypes of aggression and emotional toughness.

      It's important to note that none of these messages plays out literally. Instead, the piece maintains a hypnotic, mysterious quality, and a rigorous abstract feel. Three sides of the stage are surrounded by thick hanging ropes that at first resemble prison bars in their stillness, but then start to sway like waves or long grass. Later, the performers use them as props, twisting the ropes around their torsos, swinging from them, and pulling them up like surreal braids. It's a starkly stunning device, never used in a gimmicky or expected way.

      Adding to the haunting feel is famed Finnish composer-conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen's lush, complex score, with its whirling horns, rippling marimbas, and racing angular strings.

      Morphed by Tero Saarinen Company.
      Günter Gröger


      The diverse dancers are top-notch, capturing Saarinen's shifting balance of brutality and grace, not to mention his seamless meld of influences as far-flung as ballet and butoh.

      Morphed is a serious work, and not always an easy one to consume; there's a lot to take in visually, motion-wise, and sound-wise.

      But submit to its mesmerizing world of oscillating ropes and lunging men, and its rewards are deep: the opening-night audience sat rapt and silent, bursting into big applause for multiple curtain calls. You might have even called it a bit of a bromance.