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Priit 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 Europe magazine.

 

Edited by Jeff

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