Johanna Nuutinen delves into the importance of physical presence and senses – “Performing arts provide an opportunity to reconnect with our own body”

Emma Vainio, translation Claire Ruaro, 29.3.2022

Johanna Nuutinen’s new choreography Hz dives deep into sound waves. The piece will be premiered in Dance House Helsinki on 31 March, in a double bill with with a new interpretation of choreographer Tero Saarinen’s solo HUNT. The article was originally published in Finnish Dance in Focus 2022 magazine.

Tero Saarinen Company: Hz, choreographer: Johanna Nuutinen. Photo © Jonas Lundqvist

Tero Saarinen Company: Hz, koreografi: Johanna Nuutinen, kuvassa Saida Solla © Jonas Lundqvist

In what ways do we exercise power through the gaze? Can touch be based solely on presence? How does the constant torrent of sensory stimuli we are exposed to in the modern world affect us?

Choreographer Johanna Nuutinen and her working group are currently working on a series of pieces dealing with the senses.

I want our work to invoke questions about the significance of sensory perceptions

“Whilst the numerous different digital platforms and social media sites that are constantly vying for our attention allow people to keep in contact with one another, they only create an illusion of community, and separate people from their own body,” Nuutinen states contemplatively. “I want our work to invoke questions about the significance of sensory perceptions and encounters and provide the viewer with an opportunity to reconnect with their own body.”

Encompassing strong visual elements in her work has long fascinated Nuutinen. In 2011, she created the choreography X-it for the Finnish National Ballet. For the commission, she created another reality on the stage through the medium of film, which the dancers could seemingly step into from the stage. In 2019, Nuutinen adapted the piece for the West Australian Ballet in Perth.

“At the time, I found the empty black box challenging. In my mind I would always take the movement in another space. As a result of this, film started to become an integral part of my pieces, as a way to expand the spatial experience.” Last time the choreographer used film on the stage was in the piece Iris (2017). “Lately, the organic entities conveyed by the body, sound and light have been at the forefront of my work with our artistic team.”

Hz is Tero Saarinen Company’s first commission from a visiting choreographer

In her most recent choreographies, Johanna Nuutinen has delved into exploring the senses of vision, hearing and touch. Opia (2021) examined looking and being looked at, whilst Hz (2022) is a deep dive into sound waves and how noise pollution affects us.

The piece Hz is produced by the Tero Saarinen Company and is the company’s first commission from a visiting choreographer. “How does the constantly surging noise in our environment drive us to an overstimulated state, without us even being aware of it?” Nuutinen asks, introducing the theme of the piece. And, on the other hand, what quieter signals within us does a heavy noise hide?

The power of sound can actually move us, make us vibrate

“In collaboration with sound designer Tuomas Norvio, we chose the theme of water as a metaphor. In water, sound travels much faster than in air,” says Nuutinen. “On average, the human body is 60% water, so the power of sound can actually move us, make us vibrate.”

The work Skin Hunger, due to premiere in 2023, explores touch and examines, amongst other things, how the feeling of touch and the traces it leaves in our memory look and sound.

The soundscape of Skin Hunger will be made three dimensional

Both Hz and Skin Hunger have been designed to be performed in large performance halls, to audiences of hundreds. The soundscape of Skin Hunger will be made three dimensional. “I’m drawn to powerful contrasts. We want to create an intimate experience for each individual audience member, whilst in a large-scale performance space,” Nuutinen reveals.

Johanna Nuutinen’s choreography Hz (2022) and a new interpretation of Tero Saarinen’s beloved Rite of Spring solo HUNT (2002) will be performed in the brand-new Tanssin talo in Helsinki 31 March–9 April.

In addition, Nuutinen’s choreography Hyöky/Surge will be premiered in the Finnish National Ballet 6–20 May, and her new piece Zero-Zero in Skånes Dansteater, Sweden 29 October.