Translating the national novel into dance
The Seven Brothers by Aleksis Kivi is a classic tale known to all Finnish people, a seminal work in Finnish literature and as such regarded as the national novel. It is set in the lands of Nurmijärvi and details the rough lives of the unruly Jukola brothers. Feeling constrained by the norms and morals of the village community, the brothers flee to a wilderness habitation at Impivaara. A new aspect on a familiar story comes from translating the story of the brothers into the language of ballet.
Dance audiences captivated by brothers
The male energy of The Seven Brothers immediately captivated audiences at the premiere in the 1980s and on foreign tours of the FNB. The production was also enthusiastically received when it was revived in 2013. The visual appearance of the production was revamped, and the movement language was also updated. “We still work with the language of classical ballet, and in the end even the brothers do pirouettes. The world of women is present in the minds of the boys and in the animals of the forest, and also in the herd of oxen – or in this case cows – from Viertola farm that surround the brothers in the forest,” says the choreographer.
The mistress of Jukola farm has died. Her seven sons had been living in the decaying house under her protection, spending their time playing and hunting. Now they must fend for themselves. Juhani, being the eldest, feels that he has the right to decide on household matters and boss his brothers around. This authority is also claimed by Aapo, as he is the smartest, and Tuomas, as he is the strongest.
No household can survive without a woman’s touch, and the brothers are longing for a woman’s company. They turn their eye to Venla, but her mother takes a dim view of the uncouth brothers and sends them on their way. A boy from Toukola village meets them on the road. He informs them that they cannot marry without being confirmed and cannot be confirmed unless they learn to read. The brothers enter the church precentor’s school, but Juhani’s temper soon gets the better of him because of his slow progress and the precentor’s cane.
The boys run away from school, and the women laugh at them. To top it all, the brothers end up in a fight with the Toukola boys. Lauri declares that the brothers must change their lives and go off into the forest, to Impivaara, to live a life by themselves and for themselves, like in the old days. Although the brothers have little understanding of women, in the forest they recall tales of lovely maidens. Soon bored by the seclusion of Impivaara, the brothers go off to hunt bear. What they find, however, is the forty-strong herd of oxen from Viertola farm. Surrounded, they kill the oxen in a panic to escape.
The brothers must then clear a field for cultivation in the wilds of Impivaara in order to pay for the oxen. In this, they are successful: they are strong, and necessity is a strong motivator. In the autumn, they load up the harvest into a cart and set off to Hämeenlinna to sell the grain. Their heavily loaded cart does not go unnoticed in their home village. Simeon and Eero end up at a party on their way back from the market and are left with little to bring home. By now, however, the villagers have understood that the brothers living in the wilds of Impivaara are hard workers. Should they not come back to Jukola and begin a new life as decent citizens?
The precentor asks to teach Eero, the handy and clever one, to read. Eero, in turn, teaches his brothers to read just well enough to be able to complete confirmation school. A grand party is held to celebrate the brothers’ return to Jukola. The forests of the farm are full of highly desirable timber, and now the brothers finally find success with women too. The extensive lands of Jukola are divided up between the brothers. Simeon, the only brother who never married, stays with Juhani at old Jukola as the bachelor uncle. Eero becomes a lay judge in the village and marries the desirable Anna of Seunala.
More information in programme booklet.
“I want my dance language to reflect the brothers’ world, rustic and down-to-earth but aspirational.”
– Marjo Kuusela, choreographer
Seven Brothers forms part of the official celebrations for the centenary of Finland’s independence (Suomi100).
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