August 7, 2012
The performance of Accordion Wrestling was literally that – wrestling to the accompaniment
of a wonky, fierce-sounding accordion. This bizarre scene of spandex-clad wrestlers wrestling
around an accordion-playing referee is interjected with athletic warm-up scenes, dance parodies,
and the unraveling of a very unique Finnish tradition.
The Finnish accordionist, Kimmo Pohjonen (who is credited with the concept, music and
performance of this work) overheard a fellow accordionist mention playing at wrestling matches
in the ‘40s and ‘50s. Curious, he did some research to find that accordion-playing at wrestling
matches – Finland’s most popular sport - was in fact a common tradition in the ‘20s before “loud
amplified music” took over as the sport’s companion.
Partnering with Director Ari Numminen, Pohjonen brings this tradition to the stage in an overly
animated production featuring 10 Helsinki Nelson Wrestlers – all Olympic Gold Medalists.
Every now and then text is projected on the backdrop screen, taking the audience deeper into
the specifics of this seemingly odd and unfamiliar practice. This includes the stardom held
by the accordionist, his practical responsibility to play loudly to cover any flatulent moments
(apparently common in the wrestling scene), political bias in referee decisions, and the gradual
acceptance of female wrestlers in the sport.
The novelty of what’s happening before us comes to a climactic finale that can only be described
as a wrestling meets Lord of The Flies. The circling group of buff wrestlers closes in on
Pohjonen and his accordion, the accordion becomes a beating tool and suddenly Pohjonen’s legs
and arms are taped together, the accordion taped to his chest, and he is carried atop their heads.
It was wrestling as you have never seen it before.
Kimmo Pohjonen& Helsinki Nelson: Accordion Wrestling was
marking its U.S. premiere at Damrosch Park Bandshell as part of Lincoln Center Out of Doors
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Jennifer Thompson