MR HILLO’S DELIGHTFUL CONFUSION
Anniki Alku’s review in Savon Sanomat 28th of June 2018
translated into English
Kuopio Dance Festival has usually mainly focused on performances for adult audiences. That is why it is very good that this year, Glims & Gloms’ JAM – Mr Hillo’s Confusion is in the festival’s programme. The performance for the whole family premiered last autumn.
If the name sounds funny and absurd, so is the performance. Simo Heiskanen, one of the two founders of the theatre, created the choreography and composed the music for JAM. It is wistfully humorous and progresses using the logic of association. It is the story of a Chaplin-like hobo, Mr. Hillo (”jam”). He carries all his belongings and memories with him in a pile of suitcases that contain everything from flowers to a big top.
When Hillo’s most precious treasures, Esmeralda, Vilivili and Urho, come to life, things start to happen. Nothing very extraordinary, but mishaps, a little blustering, singing and beatboxing as well as eating jam, of course. The point of view is a little bonkers and based on clownery.
Heiskanen, who plays the role of Mr Hillo in a warm-hearted manner, has three strong personas. Jonna Aaltonen’s Urho is a very charming little man, who will not let anyone walk over him. Eero Vesterinen’s Vilivili is an adorable big clown, and Mikko Makkonen’s Esmeralda is a shy girl with surprising talents.
In addition to the titillating role portrayals, each one of the characters is a brilliant dancer whose precision of movement and stage presence enchant.
The visual design created by Karoliina Koiso-Kanttila is colourful and has a pinch of fairy-tale. The costumes meander mischievously, but they take a stylish bow to circus tradition.
JAM can be watched only as a well-made dance comedy, but under the surface there are deeper tones, too: the justification of being one’s true self and the transience of life. Big matters that are not imposed, but made visible.
HATRED WILL NOT MAKE US FREE
Minna Tawast, Teatteri & Tanssi + Sirkus -magazine, 6-7/ 2018
Tuomo Railo has been combining speech and movement in his works in a creative way for long already, looking for the common force of language and movement. In Omnipotens, which premiered in 2016, Railo seemed to take the use of speech to the extreme; it was there more than in a traditional theatre monologue. The lates work Valkoisten vankina (Imprisoned by the Whites) works with the same principle, but the relation between movement and speech is less provocative, smoother. Narrative monologues and dialogues that carry the storyline change or are organically united with movement. Sometimes one forgets totally which one is in question.
Besides Railo, the story is told by Sanni Giordani, Kaisa Leppänen, Jukka Tarvainen and Jussi Väänänen, who are outstanding. They act skilfully, too, from a little distance.
It fits the story’s dispassionate narration, which feels especially valuable because Valkoisten vankina is based on the memoirs of Railo’s grandfather’s brother by the same name. He
recounts his experiences as a Red prisoner at the prison camps in Kokkola and Tammisaari in 1918. Out of the memoirs, Railo has dramatized, choreographed, directed and staged with drawings an appropriately paced, breathing work.
Pekka Railo’s experiences from a prison camp in Dragsvik became material for his brother’s grandson’s physical portrayal on stage.
Tove Djupsjöbacka, Hufvudstadsbladet, 19 October 2018
Glims & Gloms Dance Company go their own way on stage and create performances that are unique, but very different from each other – perhaps it’s not always so easy for the public to find a gem among performances for children, bubbly fireworks like the musical of Helinä Rautavaara or serious and very topical performances, like the one on the Breivik case.
The latest work Valkoisten vankina (Imprisoned by the Whites) is closest to the latter, a serious and thought-provoking witness portrayal from The Finnish Civil War. One points no fingers and makes no direct connections to the present, but between the lines I’m reading a certain concern for the society today – for example: look what can happen if the judiciary is totally hollowed out. History reminds us also of some details. Leakages to the media can have an important role in making changes.
Tuomo Railo is behind the script, direction, projections, and the intresting true story he wants to tell is the story of his father’s great-uncle Pekka Railo’s different testimony from a prison camp in Dragsvik on how one as a Red prisoner really can contribute. The older Railo starts a pharmacy on the camp and keeps a list of the dead and the causes of death. This information lands finally in proper hands and helps the public to find knowledge of the horrible circumstances on the camps. Later he helps to rebuild the country as a member of the parliament and a assistant city manager in Helsinki, among other things.
As a performance, this falls in the category of physical theatre. Dance is present throughout but totally subordinate to the text. The dramaturgy has a nice flow, and the first scene is performed brilliantly – one gets at once the idea behind the role casting: everyone plays all roles, e.g. the role of Pekka Railo is constantly moved forward from one person to the next. One might think that this would water down the character of the role, but instead, it helps to make the lead complex, especially as it is played by both men and women.
The flow continues and the dramaturgy is, for the most part, successful. At times, there is a little too much text – it feels like one might need a little more air within the text to really take in the story. It is based on Railo’s journal portrayl, and the text is therefore concise and matter-of-fact, amazingly objective in many places. Sometimes one clings to drawing caricatures seasoned with thoughtful language of movement, especially when it comes to the judges. The time leap in the middle feels also a little sudden. The ensemble is even throughout and expressive in their performances.
The performance catches especially well the apathy on the prison camp, how hunger draws nearer the prisoners and makes them pine away quietly. Such moods are not dramatic, so this suggests that here the combination of text and lyrical movement do themselves justice.
Glims & Gloms dance company’s new production Valkoisten vankina (Imprisoned by the Whites) is based on Pekka Railo’s memoirs by the same name. The performance portrays Railo’s experiences on prison camps for Red prisoners in Kokkola and Tammisaari in the aftermath of The Finnish Civil War in 1918.
Eeli Vilhunen, Demokraatti, 19 October 2018
Railo’s brother’s grandson, the dance company’s artistic director Tuomo Railo, has directed the performance and answers for the dramatization of the play as well.
Glims & Gloms combines the means of performing arts in their works, but their roots are in dance. This shows in the strong physical expression in Valkoisten vankina. Railo, who has his background in dance, not only alternates speech drama and movement in his direction, but these go one on the other throughout the story.
The scene that opens the performance, the interrogation scene, where the punishing of the prisoners is done using movement, is great, and it makes the spectator at once to witness what it meant to be a prisoner for the Whites. In scenes like this the parallelism of movement and speech flows and physicality strengthens the drama.
The collaboration of movement and speech is rewarding to watch throughout the whole 1,5 hours of the performance. The physicality absorbed into the scenes is, at its best, resourceful and adds an interesting level to Pekka Railo’s story, a level which functions also as a lightening factor when describing a cruel period.
Valkoisten vankina is visually beautifully controlled and simplified. For the most part, there are only four chairs and a table on stage in addition to the performers. The projected drawings from the prison camps created by Tuomo Railo dominate the staging. The colours of the projections are in beautiful harmony with Karoliina Koiso-Kanttila’s costumes and create a complete whole. The plain and wide stage produces the space needed for the performers’ physical expression as well.
Pekka Railo’s memoirs have been transposed to the stage in an excellent manner, even if at times the source work shines through in a disturbing way. In practice, this comes out as excessive narrativeness, when one is forced to explain the background for important events to the spectators. At times, the performance shows itself more like a series of isolated events, which makes the dramatic impression thinner and thus alienates the spectator too much from the performance.
The portrayal of the times is, however, plausibly dramatized. The everyday life of Red prisoners and the inhuman conditions on the prison camp and the poor walk of life are portrayed touchingly. The performance brings associations to the present day’s invariably toughening political values.
Valkoisten vankina is a performance run by an ensemble. The five-person performer group works fantastically together and changing roles on the go from one performer to the next works well in an equal company, which brings an airy addition to the performance’s tapestry of speech and movement. Not even the fire alarm which annoyingly interrupted the performance had an effect on the intensity of the group’s expression, and eventually, one hardy noticed the break.
As a whole, Valkoisten vankina successfully exposes an important period of our history and makes us, as Tuomo Railo says, ”feel gratitude towards the great and the silent who built our society.”
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.
Anne Saarikettu, Keskipohjanmaa February 14, 2018
Glims & Gloms, who performed at dance festival Kokkolan Talvitanssit, is an award-winning dance theatre from Espoo aiming at producing performances that include touching comedy, surprising humour and elevating dance.
On the big stage the audience witnessed Jam – Herra Hillon hämmennys (JAM – Mr Hillo’s Confusion). The auditorium was full: children under the age of seven and school children with adults accompanying them.
The programme leaflet describes the performance like this: Mr Jam Hillo carries all his belongings with him. Having lost his home, he lives the life of a hobo and wanders around dragging his bags. Inside the load of luggage, there is everything one could need, but also antiques, the value of which is only understood by Mr Hillo himself. The former junktrader’s most valuable treasures – Esmeralda, Vilivili and Urho – come into life for the horror of Hillo and for the joy of the children.
It was uplifting to observe how the children were absorbed by the performance and how they reacted, e.g. their intense gazes, astonished questions and their laughter immediately after something intresting took place on stage.
Even from an adult point of view, the under an hour long performance was an interesting journey to a world of versatile physicalness, colours, shadows and sounds.
I can only guess how and for how long the performance will reflect in the child spectators’ lives, as it fuels the imagination in many different ways. I bet the children will keep taking in influences of the movements of the characters as well as from the costumes and other props in their role plays for a long time.
One of the under seven-year-old children in the audience described the performance as funny and even scary. ”I recommend this to 4-year-olds,” the child said. So do I.
I also give thanks and take pleasure in how diverse Kokkola’s cultural life is, even for children.
Annikki Alku, Demokraatti, 3 December 2018
Raxu Taskunen is a little and quite endearing furry creature who loves pockets and puffs. Raxu, created by Simo Heiskanen of the Espoo-based Glims & Gloms theatre, has adventures from one pocket to the next. Sometimes he ends up in the sewers while escaping secret detective Hönttönen and finds a friend, cockatoo Rudolf, from the other side of the world, in Australia. Raxu Taskunen is written, composed, directed and performed by Heiskanen, and it was grandiosely defined as a puppet theatre musical. The performance that can fit in almost any room, is indeed a musical with all its songs of different styles, but above all it is a both verbal and visual firework.
The glowing traditional puppet theatre scene created by Anne Aario and Nina Ukkonen resembles an oriental fairy tale. The hand puppets and finger puppets are colourful and resourcefully imaginative. They radiate fairy tale magic.
Jussi Tossavainen, Helsingin Sanomat, 3 May 2019
DANCE THEATRE Glims & Gloms’ Simo Heiskanen is a true Renaissance man from Espoo. He dances, acts, writes scripts, composes and sings. Raxu Taskunen is a leap into the world of puppet theatre. Almos everything is done by Heiskanen.
The work is described as puppet theatre musical. This is certainly not a big musical, as institutional theatres tend to call their musicals nowadays. Everything is small, doll-size.
The whole performance can almost be fitted in a pocket, and what could be more fitting when the main character is called Taskunen, ”Pockets”, and he lives and travels in people’s pockets.
The compact performance does not call for a lot of space or resources. Raxu Taskunen has been performed in a shopping mall, and a kindergarten tour is planned for the autumn.
The word ”musical” is catch-all here. The almost throughout sung puppet fun is perhaps closer to modern opera.
Heiskanen does not follow the path of least resistance. The reciting and winding music does not offer clear melodies or catching earworms. Hearing it for the first time, its is pointless to try to recall ”arias” or hits.
Simo Heiskanen plays all roles by himself. Raxu Taskunen himself is a hybrid of a hand and a finger puppet – a likeable but undefinable hairy creature, whose passion and bad habit is puffs.
He avoids boring things, like going to bed early or eating healthy food. His worst enemy is secret detective Hönttönen who presents himself as a moralist and who is a tedious person in general.
The state of affairs is clear. Children love anarchic characters who are against authorities and grown-ups, from Pippi Longstocking to the Moomins.
However, Heiskanen’s script has a modern and important educational and enlightening tone.
In Australia, Taskunen experiences a conversion with the help of cockatoo Rudolf (my favourite character in the performance) and learns to eat grains and nuts instead of salty and greasy puffs. He does not shun greens either any more.
Heiskanen does not overexplain or preach like a health evangelist. The theme is barely introduced and followed through during the short performance.
One might have finger-wagged more without losing credibility. Things are understood when a little creature acts as an example.
In his text, Heiskanen uses funny rhyming and nonsense that is considered agreeable to children. Some comments might only be understood by adults even though the charmingly homespun performance with all its conventions is clearly directed to children.
One could very well add a discussion on the theme.
Anniina Karhu, Turun Sanomat, 15 September 2019
It’s fun that in a shopping centre like Skanssi, you can between shopping – or even especially – make a visit to a theatre. The Espoo-based dance company Glims & Gloms got the idea to brighten up empty commercial premises by offering artistically ambitious professional theatre in an easily accessible form.
In Turku until the 29th, it is possible to throw oneself into the bizarre world of Raxu Taskunen. The hairy creature is greedy for salty and greasy puffs, which he looks for in different kinds of pockets. Raxu’s speedy adventure takes the spectator from pockets to deep sewers and from there, through the drain trap all the way to Australia.
The solo work by Simo Heiskanen, who is mainly known as a choreographer, is ample and meandering. The ampleness comes from elements of story-telling and verbal expression, but also from puppets and many expressive characters. Besides Raxu, an individual gallery of characters appears on the stage. Their roles vary from adversary to helper.
The clever rhyming of songs offers the spectators many fun moments of insight. Even a stealthy lesson is hidden in the package: healthy eating habits and regular bed times pay off. Thoughtless pursuit of instant pleasure will, by contrast, often prove harmful.
Heiskanen’s gestic expression is eloquent and precisely accentuated. Even for the songs that play with different styles, he finds a wide scale of tones.
Jussi Tossavainen’s review in Helsingin sanomat 4th of September 2017
I thought I would say that Glims & Gloms Dance Company’s Mr Hillo’s Confusion is not theater for children. I want to correct my opinion. This is specifically for children, and especially intended to be seen by teenagers and their educators.
Here Espoo has an artist couple that the city perhaps does not deserve. Simo Heiskanen and Tuomo Railo ventilate attitudes on every front: as dancers and as makers of children’s theater, and Railo as a physically strong dancer as well as a talented artist.
Going to see the performance of Heiskanen’s new JAM – Mr Hillo’s Confusion, I thought I was going to a jolly, traditional Finnish children’s theater performance, but it turned out to be anything but that. Drawing from the tradition of Commedia dell’arte, the performance presents the archetypal roles, but mixes them merrily. It doesn’t matter which role each and everyone is playing.
Heiskanen himself acts as the master of ceremonies who presents the characters, wearing a classical clown’s makeup, of course. The court jester has always gotten to tell the truth in a clown’s costume.
The performance confuses how you think and how you could think in a different way. Mikko Makkonen plays the role of the charming Esmeralda without making the character a drag show travesty. In his floaty skirt and princess costume he does not taunt girlhood.
Jonna Aaltonen in the role of Urho does not choose the most obvious path, either. She has realised that being a man doesn’t mean chortling and groin rubbing. Urho is, despite his name, a small person who is carried and tossed around by others. Gender stereotypes get mocked without a trace of bitterness.
I’ve always loved Eero Vesterinen’s natural way combining motion and expression. Now he has been given, according to my interpretation, the role of Arlecchino. In this role, you can say anything without gendering. And he certainly does! Vesterinen’s motion and body language feature every little nuance that you can imagine to be expressed. I could watch his physical presence forever.
Heiskanen himself has composed the music for his work. As a renaissance character, he manages to make pastiches of the piano music accompanying silent movies and sound effects all the way to the strong ballads of the political song movement.
The style chosen for Mr Hillo’s Confusion – combining classical theater style with silent movies, miming and slapstick – works perfectly. The name of the work tells and does not tell something of it. This does, after all, create confusion.