Dance performance for children under three years

The beginning of Nunnu dates back to the Glitterbird seminar in Oslo in June 2004, where choreographer Hanna Brotherus and her husband, composer Antti Ikonen were sketching their Glitterbird project, a dance performance for the very young. The idea was to make a choreography with bright colours, simple movement and playful music, performed by a cast that would include children.

Next winter when the plans were shaping towards something more concrete, Hanna, Antti and costume/set designer Karoliina Koiso-Kanttila came up with the idea of using Oili Tanninen’s Nunnu-books as a starting point for the work. These books, very popular when published in the late 1960’s, were also personal childhood favourites of the creative team. After contacting Mrs. Tanninen and getting her full support for the project, Hanna got many elements for the piece: visuals, characters and an idea for the story. But the actual work – making the book alive – was still ahead.

According to her previous positive experiences of children as performers in her works, Hanna recruited her three sons, Robert, Johannes and Amos to the roles of Hoppu, Möksö and the Mouse. In 2006 Tua Holappa will continue in the role of Nunnu after Oksana Lommi, and the only adult role, Ms. Time, is danced by Riina Huhtanen.

Understanding children in general and knowing the performers as individuals is extremely important. Hanna says: “You can’t force kids into anything. The working method has to be very open. I’m ready to wait and see what direction things take during the rehearsal period” (Finnish Dance in Focus 2005, interview by Minna Tawast).

With Nunnu the rehearsals started from building the characters, each of them having a distinctive nature. The young performers were trying out on different styles of movements, gestures and expressions, both individually and with others, until feeling comfortable with the character they were supposed to play.
The next step was to create sequences of movement with simple content: making the characters appear and disappear, meet each other, pay attention to objects and sounds (which were not there yet) etc.

The music of Nunnu was mostly composed to the pulse and phrases of the movement, and only few parts of the choreography were made to music. When designing the soundtrack, Antti had some strict guidelindes: the instruments should sound like toys, the themes – or motifs – should be simple and repeated a lot, there should be a lot of pauses – or rests – in the music, there should’t be any loud and sudden attacks and the music shouldn’t imitate any existing genre of music as such. And, despite of being entirely digital, the music should sound warm and “analog”.

The idea for the set is taken more or less directly from the Nunnu-books – actually it is a book, which Karoliina designed to be very touring-friendly, but to find somebody who could actually manufacture the thing was not so easy. Finally a small company far north from Helsinki took the challenge and made it perfect, and Karoliinas ideas of the costumes were realised with precision, too.

The story, finding the missing numbers of the clock, is adapted from one of the Nunnu-books, but following the plot is not necessary for enjoying the piece. Janós Nóvak, the director of Kolibri Theatre in Budapest, wrote the following in his review on Glitterbird productions seen in Budapest in October 2005:

“In the Finnish production we saw on video in the private seminar in the afternoon the three small children playing with the adult actress completely enchanted me. They have stepped in front of us from among the pages of the story-book set design with tasks which became theatrically well-outlined actions, supported by music and movement. They played accurately, paying equal attention to each other and to the stylized movements, forgetting all exhibitionist mince and embarrassment because of acting, playing concentrating on their tasks.
This responsible pride towards the small ones appeared in the acting of the Finn children as well. And it was also a tale. With happenings in which the aim, finding the lost numbers of the clock became evident for every audience member. We could rejoice together for their success while the humor of the movements put to music with playful talent enchanted us. A theatre production rarely has such a strong effect watched on video as this one had on me. I can hardly wait for the personal encounter with the performance!”

(click image for slideshow)

click image for video)