Kung fu spectacle without words in Joensuu

Teksti: Pasi Huttunen & translation: Juho Suomalainen
Kuvat: Timo Ventola
Considerable effort has been put into costumes, stage combat and dance in Momotaro, one of the biggest productions in Joensuu Student Theatre’s history.

While it is still impossible to gauge whether Joensuu Student Theatre’s play ‘Momotaro – Legend of the Peach’ will be a success, it has already delivered on the promise of being epic.
At a time when Joensuu City Theatre has fallen into a crisis and is touting a return to more conventional and safe programming, the theatre decides to hand its small stage over to a kung fu and dance production based on a Japanese legend and performed without any spoken dialogue. It would appear that our worst fears of the Joensuu City Theatre falling into a state of ‘Brezhnevian’ stagnation may not come to pass after all.
‘The folks at the city theatre were immediately taken by this idea. We came to an agreement of ten shows for the small stage in just about half an hour. There really aren’t that many shows for young people and students at the moment,’ says Mikael McKeough, the producer of Momotaru.
The team members working on the project can hardly contain their exuberance about the production. McKeough and the director and lead costume designer Emmi Nylund believe that the absence of spoken words will not make the play too difficult for audiences. The team has put considerable effort into stage combat, visual splendour and music, and the story is not especially complicated.

The story follows a boy, who spent his childhood inside a peach, and his great adventure filled with mystique, danger and friendship in a play, which combines comedy and drama. Nylund emphasises that the violence in and of itself lends the play a rather serious tone.
The fact that there is no spoken dialogue in the play could potentially attract a wider audience including international students and others who may not speak Finnish. In addition, anyone interested in martial arts, dance, anime or Far Eastern culture should find something to enjoy in the play.
‘And the play has a great, touching story, which shouldn’t prove too difficult for the audience as it follows a rather familiar plot, similar to many Hollywood action movies. You can do a lot of storytelling with movements and facial expressions that are a bit exaggerated,’ says Nylund.

Juho Ihalainen, who has choreographed the stage combat drawing from 12 years of experience in martial arts, emphasises that simply bringing martial arts onto the stage does not translate into the type of flair and spectacle that a show like this requires. As the entire play relies heavily on stage combat, a lot of effort has been put into the combat scenes to ensure that the fighting would not appear acted or fake. Fortunately, a few of the actors have prior experience in martial arts. Both Teemu Närhi, who plays Momotaro in the play, and Karri Kejonen, who assumes the role of Tiger, are long time practitioners of martial arts.
‘Bruises have been unavoidable,’ Ihalainen says.
In addition to impressive combat choreography, dancers are essential to the play as they help to pace the storytelling and personify four seasons.
‘The choreographer Jenna Kontinen didn’t want to dictate everything we do. She let us do a lot of improvisation and used the bits and pieces she thought had potential,’ says Maiju Haverinen, one of the four dancers.

The production team consists of about 20 people, in addition to 14 actors on stage. All in all, the production is one of the biggest in the history of Joensuu Student Theatre. The combat scenes alone have been in production for nearly a year by the time the play finally comes out.

Momotaro – Legend of the Peach Brought Boy will premiere on 8 April on the small stage of the Joensuu City Theatre. For further information, visit momotarotheplay.wordpress.com.