Loiske Ensemble was founded in 2006 by dancers Laura Kairamo and Riikka Siirala with the mission of making performances for infants and toddlers. Using movement and sounds produced live on stage, they explore physical means of performance to connect with very young audiences.
Originally presented in 2015 at The Children’s Theater Festival in Helsinki, the Asian premiere of BabySauna at ricca ricca festa 2017 in Okinawa was choreographed and performed by Riikka Siirala and directed by her husband Antti Larmola. The piece is performed for infants age 0-2 as a non-verbal 45-minute performance, which includes 15 minutes of playtime for the audience.
The lyrical performance takes you to into the world of the Finnish sauna with sounds, scents, rhythms and colors, sound and kinesthetic stimulations. Upon entering the lobby, audiences were greeted by the performer Riikka who welcomed the audience by gently striking a traditional wash bowl and invites them to settle around the stage which is filled with brightly colored pails filled with water and other paraphernalia related to saunas.
During the performance, Riikka hummed a soothing melody for the children; while using her gestures, sounds and the props onstage to create a multi-sensory experience that simulates the peaceful ambience of a Finnish sauna through movement and sounds like the clacking of stones, pouring water, and the gentle rhythm of birch branches striking against her body.
The combination of physical interactions, visual elements, music and sounds created layers of different sensory experiences for the babies which mainly served to keep the babies calm and serene while somehow managing to capture their attention throughout the 30-minute presentation, which was a noteworthy achievement in itself given a baby’s limited attention span.
Following the performance, we had the opportunity to converse with the director and performer who shared with us about the special significance of saunas. In Finnish culture, the sauna is considered to be a reverent and sacred place so disruptive activities like eating, running or talking loudly are not encouraged. In the past, saunas used to be a place for birth and death. They were regarded as the most hygienic place to deliver a baby and also where the body of the deceased was taken for ritual cleansing.
We learned also about the special considerations when conceiving the piece, specifically to accommodate for a baby’s level of physical and mental development such as using colours and repetitions of movements to regulate emotions and attention, maintaining close proximity to account for baby’s eyesight, and the use of gentle and natural movements to keep the babies feeling calm and serene.
For me, the most rewarding part of the show, was the aftershow playtime where parents were encouraged to lead their babies to play with the water and all the other elements introduced on stage. The babies were totally drawn by the magical power of water and I felt it was a truly happy round-up for the whole performance, though, I would prefer if it had been incorporated into the main performance rather than after the show.
One concern we had, however, was the venue of the performance which was inside a functioning church. Although the space was beautiful, with natural lights, tinted glass and religious icons, we felt it was quite distracting and we had a hard time visualising ourselves in the sauna.
This concludes my report on BabySauna. In closing, I would like to take this opportunity to thank ricca-ricca festa and the ATYA Network for this opportunity, as well as Riikka Siirala, Antti Larmola and their two children for talking with us about the development and thinking behind the piece.
Special thanks also goes out to co-facilitator Adjjima Na Patalung, and the members of ATYA: Suchawadee Phetpanomporn, Sreyleab Nov, Roger Sangao-wa Federico, Natalie Alexandra Tse and Ariyo Zidni for sharing your valuable insights and feedback about the performance.