Modern dance in Estonia today

During the Soviet era, modern dance could not develop in Estonia. It was forbidden, as were most of the 'evils of the West'. After regaining independence in 1991, the dance troupe 'Nordic Star' was established through the initiative of Saima Kranig. The teachers of modern dance that visited Estonia arranged a couple of performances, which at the time seemed innovative, for dancers of different backgrounds. Modern dance had been in hibernation for almost 60 years and ballet had developed within its own strict limits.

The dance theatre 'Fine 5' was established in 1992 and was composed of five members of the modern dance troupe 'Nordic Star'. Their aim was to discover the language of movement and thought through various techniques of improvisation and dance. 'Fine 5' was characterised by the high level of technical ability of its dancers and by diverse movement. The creative leader of the troupe was Rene Nõmmik, who has created most of the dance arrangements for 'Fine 5'. He has reflected social issues, and, as artists usually do, managed to express himself. He has gained recognition from various competitions both in Estonia and abroad. In 1994 the 'Fine 5' dance school was founded, and almost everyone linked with Estonian contemporary modern dance has been connected with this school in some way. The school teaches modern dance, contemporary dance and improvisation. Teachers from abroad have also been invited to participate in the activities of the school.

When it comes to individuals that have influenced Estonian dance culture today, Raido Mägi and Merle Saarva should definitely be mentioned. They both graduated from Viljandi Culture College, having specialised in dance, and now teach dance students in the same school. They have brought physical experimentation and various materials and movements into Estonian dance-life. Their characteristics are original thinking and innovative ideas, which are best expressed in improvisational and free dance performances.

When it comes to individuals that have influenced Estonian dance culture today, Raido Mägi and Merle Saarva should definitely be mentioned. They both graduated from Viljandi Culture College, having specialised in dance, and now teach dance students in the same school. They have brought physical experimentation and various materials and movements into Estonian dance-life. Their characteristics are original thinking and innovative ideas, which are best expressed in improvisational and free dance performances.

The dance life of the capital has been strongly influenced by Mart Kangro. Currently he is a free-lance dancer-choreographer and is connected with various dance projects. Mart is a dancer with clear vision, strong technical background and powerful movement. He is interested in the reality of life and the stage, the here and now, credibility and authenticity. His performances often reflect specific events and experiences that have occurred in life, which he later translates into the language of dance.

Young dancers can test themselves in the School Dance festival, which is organised by the Estonian Dance Agency. This is the most popular and prestigious festival, with the biggest number of young participants in Estonia. Its aim is to motivate young people to express themselves through dance and movement. The young people and their supervisors must create the dances performed in School Dance. School Dance focuses on finding and developing young talented dancers as possible future professionals, in order to help to raise the art of dance to the same professional level as other kinds of art. In addition to Estonian groups, other groups from abroad participate in the final event of the festival.

Another big curator of dance events is the group 2.tants. They are responsible for the organisation of many events and festivals meant for professional dancers. The most widely appreciated of these is the Evolution festival. It is an event that is representative of the art of contemporary dance in the Baltics, and brings together the best contemporary and modern dancers of several countries. It has become a tradition to bring to Estonia famous choreographers (such as Paul Taylor and Thomas Lehmen), who stage a special performance for the dance group Eesti Suvetantsu Kompanii (Estonian Summer Dance Company). The members of the group are selected each year by the choreographer himself, and then follows an intensive period of rehearsals and a tour round Estonia.

Another popular event is The Dance Summer School of the Baltic countries, which is organised each year. During one week it is possible to learn new skills under the supervision of teachers and choreographers mostly from abroad. Lessons, videos and workshops are meant for everyone who works in the field of the performing arts (actors, dancers, choreographers, teachers, trainers, producers etc.) The working language is English.

With the regaining of independence, the local dance world became livelier. Many new troupes and dance schools were established, the dancers had an opportunity for further study abroad and teachers from abroad came to Estonia. At the same time we have very few groups that have a high level of technical ability and in-depth understanding of the language of dance. Everybody strives and searches for something, bustling about. It is thought that all kinds of innovations suit the art of dance, but this kind of approach seems to turn the dance into a series of pointless movements, performance for performance sake. These kinds of problems occur elsewhere in the world. The mad search for innovation has spoiled choreography, the supporting idea has disappeared.

One of the few dance critics of Estonia, Heili Einasto, writes: 'Today most works have English titles and the content, manner of performance and expression have no link to the country of origin. Most of the works are done within some project or other, and in a way the difference between the creations of different authors is beginning to disappear as well. It does not matter whose name appears as choreographer — all the works convey similar ideas and attitudes. It is a game of one circle of friends, the basic rule of which is: "we do not want to say anything, we just exist and we do what seems interesting at the moment and invite the viewer to watch our games.…" Not everyone, however, plays by these rules. There are creators of dances for whom words and movements have meaning. Their work, whether you like it or not, is remarkably well planned, the movements polished, exact and meaningful. They have put into their work a message derived from movement and have taken responsibility for their work, because they have realised that there is only one life — even when it is a game — and this life is finite.'

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