by Patricia Boccadoro
5 January 1999- Although the National Ballet of Finland recently
celebrated its seventy- fifth anniversary, its roots go back to 1879
when a group of dancers was established to appear in operas.
was a very strong Russian influence from the beginning; the first
director, George Gé was born in Saint Petersburg and his
successor was Alexander Saxelin, the celebrated teacher and
choreographer from the Imperial Ballet School there. Soloists,
frequently imported from the Mariinsky Theatre were actually given
Finnish pseudonyms to maintain the illusion of a national troupe, and
inevitably, the repertoire was dominated by Russian-style fairytale
The company was reorganised after 1945 in an attempt
to give it a more international outlook but the technical level was
poor with the male dancers all past their prime, and the troupe did
not really begin to find its own feet until the visit of Birgit
Cullberg in the early 1950s with her ballet Miss Julie.
company began to tour abroad, limping along with a fairly rapid
turnover of ballet directors, but by the time Jorma Uotinen joined its
ranks in 1970, training had improved, interest was being given to
contemporary works, and dancers were encouraged to try their
Uotinen, an original and particularly
expressive young artist created his first work, Aspects, in
1972 and four years later, was invited to join Carolyn Carlson in
Paris. " Carlson changed my whole life ", revealed the
Finnish choreographer on a recent visit to the Theatre de
Saint-Quentin en Yvelines .
" She asked me to join her
at the Groupe de Recherche Theatrale de l'Opéra de Paris,
a small group of contemporary dancers attached to the French company,
and her work fascinated me. We interpreted her choreography in France
and on tour to about forty different countries. It was an amazing
experience. Everything I know I learnt from her; I owe her everything
Five years later, he became an international figure
himself with his solo, Jojo. After returning to Finland ,he
created several works for the Municipal Theatre in Helsinki, winning
first prize in the International Dance Competition in Paris in 1988
with his remarkable work, B12, for Tero Saarinen. This was
followed by creations for companies including La Scala, the Ballet of
Zurich, the National Ballet of Berlin, and the Ballet of Nancy and
Jorma Uotinen has been the
director of Finland's National company since 1992, an appointment
which coincided with their move to the magnificent new opera house of
" When I took over the troupe, there were only
sixty dancers ", Uotinen told me, " but now we are
eighty-five which is much better for Swan Lake, Romeo and
Juliet, The Bayadere (choreography Makarova), Don Quixotte
(choreography Bart), and Giselle (Choreography Guillem).
Finland is now attracting all the great names in dance, not only in
the classics, but in contemporary too. "
" We work
with Angelin Preljocaj, William Forsythe, Jiri Kylian, Nacho Duato and
ballets by Mats Ek, Carolyn Carlson and Robert North have been in the
repertoire for some time. My preoccupation is with living
choreographers ; exchanges with Saint-Petersburg ended twenty years
ago. The Kirov and Bolshoi have an image, but the reality is quite the
reverse and dance in Russia is not what it was thirty years ago. "
troupe, in France to present Petrushka, and Pathétique,
two of Uotinen's works, tour a lot, more in Europe than in Finland,
and surprisingly, Uotinen, who describes himself as " very
European " has never been to the U.S.
Uotinen has created
more than forty ballets but writes much less now ; he is currently
working on a new piece for January called Troisieme Nuit,
which will complete the company's programme of works by Preljocaj and
Forsythe. It is based on music by a Greek composer, Stefan Micus, A
journey to the Holy Mountain, written in 1993.
often inspired by music or a particular dancer, such as Tero Saarinen
, but sometimes something I've seen can keep turning round in my head.
I worked very closely with a Finnish musician in the 1980's and we
created ballets simultaneously, but with composers like Stravinsky (Petrushka)
and Tchaikovsky (Pathétique) the music dictates the
" My last creation is based on the verses of
Fernando Pessoa, a Portuguese poet I discovered twenty years ago. His
poetry pushed me forward and the subsequent film I made about him won
Italian television's Grand Prix. "
I asked Uotinen about
Diva, the extraordinary work he danced at Saint-Quentin-en
-Yvelines last Spring, to music from Verdi's Aroldo, sung by
Maria Callas. The choreographer's face lit up as he described the
funny piece he wrote for himself about a stage-hand who transformed
himself into a diva with a long tutu and then suddenly remembers he
has ten chairs to carry off, which he does with one arm, and then
rushes back to take his bow.
" I had a lot of fun with
that, but it was so much me, I couldn't give it to anyone else. But I
gave another solo to Emmanuel Thibault of the Paris Opera two years
ago, and I think he won Varna with it ! "
" He's a
wonderful dancer to work with ; he has great musicality and
personifies the lightness, purity and elegance of the French school.
It's the best in the world. I want the French teachers to come here,
and fortunately, thanks to Carlson, my contacts are with France, not
Russia. The heavy, old-fashioned ways of the Vaganova system have been
taken over today, and Paris has become the capital of dance."
We have recently had Noella Pontois(étoile, now teacher at the
Opéra of Paris) with us, and previously, Vivien Descoutures
(repetitrice of the Opéra of Paris), Claude de Vulpian, and
Josette Amiel. Patrice Bart came to work with us when we staged his
Don Quixotte, as did Sylvie Guillem for her extraordinary Giselle.
We have many guest teachers from the French Opéra I'm happy to
say. Other teachers including David Howard come regularly three or
four times a season. "
The school however , founded at
the same time as the company, is staffed mainly by Finns. It is open
to all, the children pay a nominal sum, and recent changes ensure the
hundred or so pupils obtain an official school-leaving certificate
leading to careers in music and design as well as dance. There too,
the level has risen considerably, and Jere Nurminen, a student from
1988-1996 who has just joined the company was awarded the prize for
the best " jeune espoir " at the International Competition
of Paris with his brilliant solo by Mats Ek.
pointed out that he was constantly looking out for new talent,
encouraging young choreographers like Saarinen, and holding workshops
to give chances to his dancers. He also has the courage to invite
unknown choreographers like Kenneth Kvarnstrom to create whole
programmes, giving them the dancers, technicians and designers to
produce a whole work.
" The particular personality of
the National Ballet of Finland lies in our combination of the
classics, contemporary works, and experimental young Finnish
choreographers ", explained Jorma Uotinen.
National Ballet of Finland
writes on dance from Paris. She contributes to The Guardian, The
Observer and Dancing Times. Ms Boccadoro was dance
consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. She is
dance editor of Culturekiosque.com.