‘My lighting should not be valued too highly,’ says Mikki Kunttu, ‘because by itself it’s nothing.’ Such typically Finnish modesty, while admirable, can’t disguise the fact that Kunttu has rapidly become one of the best young lighting designers in the business.
His ‘big break’ was a harried, late-night telephone invitation from Tero Saarinen that required Kunttu to send, via fax to Sweden, a lighting plan that literally had to be made up overnight. It was his first professional design.
Although Kunttu has since worked for other dance-makers, the majority of his energies have been devoted to Saarinen’s work. The latter describes their partnership as ‘an open dialogue’. ‘There’s a channel for thoughts. The lighting is so integral’, he says, ‘it’s like Mikki’s dancing with us. It’s like doing t’ai-chi together.’
The clean whites, cool blues and glowing sunset oranges of Kunttu’s design for Saarinen’s male trio Westward Ho! seem quintessentially Finnish. In the go-for-broke ensemble dance Kaze, his lighting, whether lambent or muted, shows the hand of a young master.
‘It’s so easy to get caught up in technique and forget about artistic expression,’ Kunttu remarks. ‘I usually think in terms of the big picture. Kaze is a big event. The light is kind of obvious. I wanted to create something three-dimensional, to make the stage bigger than it is.’
In a section of Kaze which Kunttu and Saarinen dub ‘the human tree’, a handful of dancers mutate like some hard-to-identify subconscious entity. Kunttu’s idea was ‘a lighthouse effect’ achieved by a revolving light that passes the group in and out of shadow. The result is at once disorienting, mesmerising and creepily seductive.
‘We’re doing our own thing,’ Kunttu sums up his and Saarinen’s body of work, ‘without any history or reference to anything else.’ That includes their own collaborations. ‘Every time we start a new creation we start from nothing. And the premiere is only one step. You never reach a point where you can say, ‘Okay, this is ready.’ The creation is on the way all the time.