Sunday, August 5, 2012

Kimmo Pohjonen's Accordion Wrestlers

Man hugs galore.
Kimmo Pohjonen/Helsinki Nelson's Accordion Wrestling, part of Lincoln Center Out of Doors, was a bracing antidote to all the ballet I've seen lately, not to mention well-timed to coincide with Olympic fever. Who knew that old-time wrestling matches in Finland were accompanied by an accordionist, who often had a following as strong as the athletes', and would provide post-match entertainment as well?

The performance featured 10 real wrestlers, representing the 10 Finnish gold medalist wrestlers from the country's history. The performers ranged in age, including two women (apparently women are not uncommon but train essentially segregated), and all possessed varying degrees of swagger and bravado. Pohjonen, the accordionist, roamed the stage like a circus ringmaster, at times providing background music, at others goading on the competitors, and on one occasion, switching into charming troubadour mode.

The most fascinating sections featured training and warm-up exercises done by the wrestlers, with plenty of reminders that it takes two to wrestle. One did sit ups with his legs laced around another man's waist, reversing it to do back lifts; a man grabbed another in a cat pose around the waist and, never letting go, walked in circles around him. Impressively, one fellow planted his head on the ground and ran circles around it repeatedly in an eye-popping display of flexibility and strength.

Then there were choreographed segments of one wrestler shoulder-throwing another (I'm sure there are terms for all these moves, comment if you know them), or funny solo dive-and-flip-onto-the stomach moves, plus lots of macho provocation and tomfoolery. Toward the end, the wrestlers kneeled centerstage in a circle, backs to us, and swayed like gospel chorus members as a soloist or pair flashed some moves. They broke out into silly dances, disarming for their dorkiness as well as their lack of guile. Projected text gave some history, though it was difficult to read amid the splashy graphics and busy lighting schemes. And yet the zany combination of wanting to inform while entertaining, and the unselfconscious dedication of the wrestlers, proved appealing. It ain't ballet, for sure.

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