Raud – Modern Dance in Estonia and the Role of 2.tants
By Stuart Sweeney
August 2002, Tallinn
It's little more than a decade
since Estonia regained its independence from the Soviet Union. In August
2002 Stuart Sweeney travelled to the Baltic republic to interview Priit
Raud of 2.tants about the exciting developments since then.
Cutting edge modern dance in a mediaeval city is an enticing mix and the
August DanceFestival in Tallinn, with both local and international dance
artists, certainly lived up to my expectations. Priit Raud is the Director
of the Festival and the main organiser, catalyst and publicist for the
art form in Estonia. He told me that it was 12 years ago when the first
modern dance company was set up. Now called Fine 5 Dance Theater, choreographers
from the US and Scandinavia were the initial source of material. However
the Company soon started to develop their own choreography and one of
their full-length works is included in this year's Festival.
Raud continued, "Another landmark was setting up our organisation,
originally called "The Centre of Dance Information." Nobody
got paid and we all carried on with our other jobs. The idea was to spread
information about what was going on with dance and organise one guest
performance in the season. However, our role expanded beyond information
and to reflect that we changed the name to "2.tants." Now we
are active as a production and receiving office and provide touring management
for most of the Estonian independent choreographers and dancers."
"A lot of people think that modern dance is new here, but that's
not the case. The works from before the Second World War, even though
they were performed in the name of ballet, were strongly influenced by
the German free dance movement of Kurt Jooss and Mary Wigman. Perhaps
that's why the main influence on Estonian dance today is Germany. Even
in the Soviet time, modern dance managed to continue in a strange form.
The Artistic Director of the Estonian Ballet from 1974-2001, Mai Murdmaa,
was seen as the most radical ballet choreographer in the Soviet Union.
The nightclubs had programmes put together by the dancers and choreographers
from the ballet which would include at least two short pieces which were
really modern dance."
Since Independence, organisations like the British Council and the Goethe
Institute have played a vital and consistent role in bringing overseas
artists to Estonia and staff from the two institute offices told me how
impressed they are with what has been achieved locally. Another significant
step occurred this year when the Tallinn authorities provided part of
a building shared with another arts organisation. Raud told me, "The
Kanuti Gildi Saal [see image above] is the centre of our activity now
and everyday life is run by the dance community. The dancers and choreographers
are the ones who are cleaning it, but also using it for rehearsals, performances
and so on. So it's like a small hippy community. In the Soviet era it
was used as a phone bugging centre by the KGB and when we moved in it
was very dirty and almost destroyed with no electricity or water and so
on. You could say that it is an ugly space, but it's an ugly space with
soul. There is a question mark over whether we can stay there, but I think
it will be left for the Arts."
2.tants has received recognition in other ways from the authorities. "We
were the main organiser for the Estonian culture programme for Expo Hannover
2000. It was a very big step for the Minister to mount a contemporary
arts programme, but it fitted in well with our pavilion which was one
of the craziest at the whole Expo."
Nevertheless Raud is adamant that modern dance does not receive the support
locally that it deserves. "Finance is not so easy. Apart from us,
no independent company or choreographer receives support from the Ministry.
Clearly we are totally unhappy with that. We have changed everything here
from the Soviet period, except the system for culture. The State theatres
have their artist salaries financed 100%, and we get money for only three
salaries plus some small items. So, I don't take my salary, but use it
for whatever we need. I can do it because I have some other income, but
it's not a normal way of working. After music, the dance artists are the
second most important presenters of Estonian culture abroad. The Ministry
acknowledges the strong development and that a policy should be put in
place for dance, but that's it. We need people to make hard political
decisions about the priorities in the arts."
For another perspective I spoke briefly to Thomas Lehmen, a German choreographer
who has returned to Tallinn with two pieces in this year's Festival. He
told me, "The people here are hungry for new experiences and the
work that is being produced is some of the most interesting that I see
around Europe. The Estonians are shy and sometimes reticent with foreigners,
but when they do open up to you it has a big impact. There is so much
energy here and Priit Raud kick-started it."
This interview first appeared in Dance
Edited by Jeff
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