Estonian National Ballet’s “Hamlet” in Wales
Marika Muiste as Ophelia in "Hamlet"
In early October, 2008, the Estonian National Ballet visited the UK for the first time, and choreographer Oksana Titova, her design team and the dancers enjoyed a triumph with “Hamlet”, performed at the Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea, Wales.
The event formed part of the WALESTONIA Festival, taking place at a number of centres around Wales this autumn, and covering music, literature, exhibitions and artistic collaborations, as well as dance. Rhodri Morgan, First Minister for Wales wrote: "The WALESTONIA Festival brings together two small but proud countries who enjoy celebrating their distinctive national cultures and who therefore can understand each other in a way other bigger countries cannot.” In addition, Ms Laine Jänes, the Estonian Minister of Culture visited the Festival and told the post-performance reception that she was delighted with the opportunity to see “Hamlet”.
The Taliesin Arts Centre forms part of Swansea University campus and hosts around six dance performances each year as part of its wide ranging programming. Sybil Crouch, Director of the Centre, told a local reporter: "When I visited Tallinn, I was impressed by the choreography of Oksana Titova, and felt that this was something we could bring to the Taliesin to fulfil our commitment to bring the best of international dance to Swansea. I hope this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."
Oksana Titova has established herself as a successful collaborator, involving gifted artists to create startling visions. “Hamlet” is no exception - a visual feast, with Elo Soode’s striking, bell-shaped, unisex dresses, sometimes in white and at others like over-ripe fruit, and a set consisting of glass cages on runners that the dancers shift around themselves. Video-art by Andres Tenusaar brings us hatching larvae, an array of doors opening and closing and other images, and Taavi Kerikmäe's electronic score, including found noises, ominous bells and computer generated readings from the play, both add to the atmosphere of foreboding. Above all, Titova's choreography completes a strong, contemporary aesthetic, with tortured stretches for Marika Muiste's lost Ophelia and elements of street dance for Daniel Kirspuu's Polonius, standing out from the innovative movement.
Titova usually takes an intellectual and ambiguous approach and her “Hamlet” is a sophisticated work, but the local audience proved up to its challenges. The performance benefited from the intimacy of the 300-seater Taliesin, as compared with the Estonia Opera House, at more than twice the size. The dancers told me they had never had an audience as involved in the unfolding drama as they experienced in Swansea.
Chatting with members of the audience afterwards, superlatives came thick and fast: “Fantastic costumes and perfect execution from the dancers,” “Very intense, generating huge tension,” “Once I put the plot to one side, and enjoyed this “Hamlet” for itself, I was mesmerised by the dance quality; the duet for Ophelia (Mairika Muiste) and Hamlet (Artjom Maksakov) was the highlight for me.”
Tiit Härm, Director of the Estonian National Ballet, took a risk when he commissioned Oksana Titova to create her first ballet for the main Opera House stage, but risk-taking deserves success and, “Hamlet”, with prizes at home, and its reception in Swansea and elsewhere, has richly repaid Härm’s confidence in this young choreographer.