Over one weekend in September, the music of Estonia's famed composer Arvo Pärt was featured in a unique dance performance entitled “Passio,” staged within the framework of this year's Nargen Festival. ERR News's Mike Amundsen was on hand and gave his impressions.
The Noblessner Foundry is an arresting and poignant enclosure for the arts that are sometimes staged there. The old metalworks in Tallinn’s Kalamaja neighborhood has become a staple venue for the annual Nargen Festival, which features cutting-edge performances at various locales in Estonia. The acoustics are amazing and the industrial setting a perfect foil for high art, as well as a reminder of the intensity of the creative process needed to forge it.
Crashing waves and rushing winds at this seaside location and an odd persistent mist hanging in the ersatz concert hall were apt for a unique reworking of Estonian great Arvo Pärt’s music set to dance. “Passio” is the creation of the Finnish Dance Theatre ERI. Set to fragments of Pärt’s "Mein Weg," "Da Pacem Domine," "In principio," "Festina Lente," "Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten" and "Passio," it is the story of the Last Supper and Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection.
As people with an interest in such things know, Pärt’s music is deeply spiritual and sometimes explicitly religious. The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra led by Nargen Festival founder and conductor Tõnu Kaljuste provided Pärt’s emotive musical atmosphere to tell this story through the dance of ERI.
ERI co-founder Tiina Lindfors created “Passio” for the city of Turku’s role (coinciding with Tallinn's) as European Capitol of Culture 2011. So this new work should be seen as topical, a never-ending tale of the struggle for dignity which the Christian message strives to deliver and which some forces oppose. Lindfors once explained the piece this way: “The Crucifixion was the revenge of midgets afraid of losing their power and, through its tragic victim, a triumph for humanity."
The dancers of ERI and Lindfors’ choreography beautifully brought forth the centrality of the body, of sensuousness, to the story of Jesus’ final hours and Resurrection. Minimalist staging was employed. A simple wooden table was the setting of the Last Supper. A white sheet served as a backdrop but held a surprise: when it was yanked away, the huge choir behind was revealed. Likewise, at the show’s conclusion, the removal of a massive red sheet revealed a giant gleaming silver cross.
Combining dance with the music of Arvo Pärt could have been a risky undertaking. With their skilled artistry, Dance Theatre ERI pulled it off. Lindfors found synergy with choir, orchestra, dance, staging and Pärt’s compositions to create something distinctive and memorable.
For those unfamiliar with it, Arvo Pärt’s music, especially his music that delves into spiritual territory, is dense and emotional in ways that are hard to describe. “Passio” adds another dimension to the experience. Pärt himself has seen the work and is said to have been deeply moved. Greater praise couldn’t be given.