Finnish dancers Maria Nurmela and Ville Oinonen search for communication and connection over a life span in The Days

The Theo Clinkard–choreographed piece will be shown at the Scotiabank Dance Centre on Friday (June 24) and Saturday (June 25) evenings

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      Cinematic. Minimalistic. Inclusive.

      These are just three of the adjectives that could describe The Days, an intimate duet created by English choreographer Theo Clinkard.

      Unlike nearly every other dance production in which the choreographer chooses the performers, this unfolded quite differently.

      Over Zoom, two veteran stars of the Finnish contemporary dance world, Maria Nurmela and Ville Oinonen, explain that they wanted to swap the hierarchy around and audition choreographers.

      "We had been working for so long already in this field that we kind of yearned to have something very appealing—artistically—for us," Nurmela says.

      Oinonen adds that because they had both had enjoyed long careers up to that point, they already knew what type of show they wanted to perform in. 

      "We had a kind of catalogue in our mind already, in some ways, of...who would be interesting or what kind of direction would be interesting for us," Oinonen says.

      They were particularly impressed by Clinkard. According to Nurmela, they "just really boldly asked him if he would like to work with two Finns".

      They inquired whether the choreographer would even come to Finland, even though the duo didn't have a budget.

      "He trusted us so much," Nurmela says. "He also said that he has always wanted to come to Finland and work in Finland because he had been reading some books from Finland and Finnish artists."

      They paid for Clinkard's flight and housing, organized a workshop, and the rest is history.

      Viktor Dmitriev

      In 2018, The Days premiered at the Pori Dance Month Festival, originally as only one performance. It's been "mindblowing" for Oinonen to see this emotional and memorable work blossom into two long tours and shows in many cities.

      "The whole journey is nothing short of a miracle," he says.

      The Days will be presented at the Scotiabank Dance Centre on Friday (June 24) and Saturday (June 25) evenings as the Nordic Bridges program in collaboration with Harbourfront Centre in Toronto.

      Oinonen says there isn't one single story in The Days, but emphasizes that it's very "storylike" with a cinematic or theatrelike quality. The set is fairly minimal and the costumes are the types of clothes that everyday Finns might wear.

      "I think it makes it somehow very relatable," Oinonen says.

      Nurmela echoes this sentiment, describing the subject matter as "humane and recognizable".

      "A big theme in the work is the search for communication and search for connection and search for power balance between two people over a life span," she says.

      Viktor Dmitriev

      Nurmela reveals that late in the rehearsal stage, she and Oinonen were concerned about how they could convey a life span with only the two of them on-stage.

      Then, when Nurmela and Clinkard were at her mother's for dinner, they had an epiphany. What if they asked Nurmela's mother, a former dancer, to join in the performance?

      "She would come as an older 'me' on the stage," Nurmela recalls. "And I even went to her closet...to see if she has something to wear."

      But her mother would have nothing of this—she was on a pension and politely declined.

      So Nurmela called a woman that she knew from Pori, where the show was to premiere, and she agreed to take the role of the older woman. And in the Finnish city of Turku, they had met an elderly male dancer. And he was delighted to be invited to join the show.

      So now, wherever it's shown, The Days includes two older characters.

      "It was like a turning point for the whole piece," Nurmela says. "It gives a total different kind of connection as well for the audience."

      The dancers and choreographer collaborated with a beloved Finnish lighting designer, Kalle Ropponen, who has worked on large-scale productions with her country's national opera and national theatre. According to Nurmela, Rapponen created a "kind of ecological lighting".

      Soft-box lights she says, add to the mystique, mystery, and magic of what's unfolding on-stage, reinforcing the filmic atmosphere.

      "We are always interested in minimalism," Nurmela says.

      Video: Watch the trailer for The Days.

      All of this is accompanied by an original sound score by British composer James Keane. 

      "James actually came to listen to the music a little bit during our London visit," Oinonen says.

      "He was still making some minor tweaks to the music," the dancer continues. "Already after five years, it’s still [being] fine-tuned. All the artists still have some kind of authorship on their work."

      Nurmela emphasizes that she and Oinonen are freelancers, so it wouldn't have been possible to come to Canada without the support of Mary-Louise Albert, artistic and executive director the B.C. Movement Arts Society. Nurmela also appreciates the role of the Dance Centre's Mirna Zagar in presenting two performances in Vancouver.

      Albert's organization was the driving force behind bringing The Days to B.C. In fact, the B.C. Movement Arts Society presented the North American premiere in Sointula and the 'Namgis Nation in Alert Bay after spending two years trying to arrange this.

      Sointula, where the B.C. Movement Arts Society is based, was founded by Finnish settlers on northern Vancouver Island in the late 19th century on the utopian desire to build the perfect commmunity. The name is derived from the Finnish word for "place of harmony".

      "We are extremely happy that the North American premiere of The Days is in Sointula," Nurmela declares. "That indeed means a lot for us."

      In addition, Nurmela credits the Finnish Cultural Foundation, Taike (Arts Promotion Centre Finland) and Regional Dance Centre of Western Finland for their assistance.

      "We are the only Finnish contemporary dance creation [that's] part of the Nordic Bridges 2022, which is pretty amazing," she adds.

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