DANCE AND THEATRE MERGE IN A PRISON CAMP PORTRAYAL THAT SHAKES – THE RESULT IS ENSEMBLE THEATRE AT ITS BEST

Tuomo Railo’s Valkoisten vankina (Imprisoned by the Whites) is based on his great-uncle’s experiences.

Jussi Tossavainen, Helsingin Sanomat, 19 September 2018

Shocking start. One at a time is taken for interrogation or rather for torturing. Most of them are journalists. The case is freedom of speech – the analogy to the present is clear. We are on a camp for Red prisoners, where there is no human dignity. Most of them deny having committed any crime, but one is a traitor trying to save his own skin.

Valkoisten vankina is based on scriptwriter/director Tuomo Railo’s great-uncle’s own experiences. The theme fits therefore well into the present year. “Well” might not be the correct word – a better one might be ”deadly”.

This is the story of a camp where Red prisoners a concentrated. So it is a concentration camp, where staying alive is the only hope. For food, one gets a little piece of bread and water. To somehow survive, people try to make themselves useful in different ways, by cleaning or by using their medical skills.

The exciting thing about the performance is the way it’s done. Speech combined to continuous movement, even dance. A genre like this is quite rare. This does not mean that first comes a monologue and then a bit of dance. Movement runs continuously next to speaking. It does not illustrate or underline it. They are equal.

Melodrama is a type of music where speech and music go one on the other. Here you could speak of dancing melodrama. The story and the plot run smoothly forward, but the movement runs by their side. This does not at all distract the story, but forms a well-balanced synthesis. This synthesis is very powerful, even though it’s horrible as well. As a traditional play, this would only be a historical image.

In some places, overdoing the movement lightens the serious theme so much that it makes one laugh. In the court martial, the court decision is read by chanting aloud and dancing Rumba to the rhytm of Besame mucho. Colliding the serious and the comical creates a strong and resonating effect. These moments of comic relief ease the spectator’s excessive feelings of angst.

The Tammisaari camp was built from nothing without any existing structures or infrastructure, as one would say nowadays. The prisoners had to create it themselves, starting from bookkeeping of the dead. The story is shockingly ghastly, but it is alienated by physicality, movement and dance.

Valkoisten vankina is a kind of tendency theatre, preaching like e.g. Lapualaisooppera, but instead of singing and music, the means are physicality and dance. At times, dance seems to be separate from the text, but partly, it brings into mind Asian theatre, where every gesture has a corresponding thought or emotion.

The actor-dancers have all in their many roles excellently taken in the idea of the genre and the thought. This is ensemble theatre at its best.

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