November starts with the celebration of World Ballet Day!

Today we celebrate the beauty, power, and artistic influence of ballet. Kuopio Dance Festival also has a special place in its heart for this timeless form of dance. The list of performing ballet dancers and those who were a part of the festival in other ways is long and impressive.

In the late 1960´s, in the early years of the festival, the intention was to offer the audience culture, bring international performances to Kuopio and stand out from all the other summer events in Finland. Back then the idea of a dance festival, with a specific focus on ballet, came up for the first time. 

At a meeting held in 1970, the Kuopio ballet summer was named Kuopio Tanssii, which means Kuopio dances. Reference for the music was added to the name the following year, Kuopio Tanssii ja Soi. Roughly translated Kuopio dances and plays music. 
In the beginning, ballet, folk dance, and brass band music formed the core of the festival. Little by little, folk dance and playing live music became less popular. Different forms of dance began to be the center of the festival.

Estonia Theatre Ballet: Joanna Tentata (the 1970s)
Riga Ballet: Paquita (1975)
Cullberg Ballet: Drömmaren (1975)
Great performances, galas, competitions and courses

The festival aimed high with the performers in the programme. For example, The Swedish Cullberg Ballet and Estonia Theater’s ballet group from Estonia were already seen in the first year of the festival. The performers of the next festival were even more impressive, such as Cramér Ballet, Rambert Ballet and the ballet of the Finnish National Opera. In the third year, the first international ballet gala was organized.  
The following years more amazing dance performances were seen, including Compagnie Anne Béranger, Norwegian National Ballet, Lar Lubovitch, Riga Ballet, Norwegian National Ballet and Dutch Scapino Ballet. Many groups have performed at the festival more than once and some groups have been so popular that extra shows were organized for them. The performers also praised the overall atmosphere of the Kuopio Dance Festival and its receptive audience.

Competion for young dancers (1978)
The Royal Danish Ballet (1981)

The high level of ballet was also visible in other activities related to the festival, such as the instructors that came to teach the ballet classes. Finnish dancers received high level instruction in the programme’s dance courses. The visiting instructors were one of the best in their field, such as Clay Taliaferro, Carolyn Brown, Anne Beranger, Palmira Dzerve and Robert Denvers. At first the courses were only offered to professional dancers, but later courses were also organized for wider groups of dancers at different levels. The boys dance camp also received special praise, since there were not many courses only for boys.  
Ballet appeared in the programme as well as other events and performances. The Association of Finnish Dance Artists organized the viewings of ballet schools in the second year of the festival. Dance schools were included in the programme until 1978, after which they were not seen annually. In 2010, it became a regular part of the festival’s programme again.

Ballet course (2016). Photo: Petri Laitinen
Kuopio Dance Festival opening ceremony (2006). Photo: Tuire Punkki
Each in their own style – Artistic directors and ballet

Although the event did not have an artistic director in its early years, its committee was able to acquire wonderful international groups as performers. Ballet still played a big role in the festival. Later, each artistic director took ballet into account when assembling the performances – each in their own style.  
Doris Laine was a ballet dancer who achieved a magnificient career and served as the artistic director of the National Ballet. During Laine’s period, ballet had a special place in the programmes. She organized competitions for young dancers and brought wonderful classical performances to Kuopio, such as Ballet du Louvre from the Paris Opera, that performed a classic and modern version of Giselle. 
Jukka O. Miettinen did not focus as much on ballet, but he renewed the gala. The familiar reference to ballet in festival booklets stayed also in the past. Audiences saw performances from different cultures and traditional dances around the world.  
Finnish artists were also featured. Miettinen ordered choreography for the festival from Tero Saarinen, who danced in the Finnish National Ballet. Saarinen had been to Kuopio Dance Festival before as a dancer and had attended the courses. For a rising choreographer, this was a great opportunity to be seen.  
Alpo Pakarinen was an experienced dancer who had danced in London City Ballet and Northern Ballet Theater as a soloist. He also visited the National Ballet in Mexico and Portugal. Pakarinen wanted to bring classical ballet back into the festival’s programme and have a bigger role. The goal was to bring ballet to all viewers.  

Famous ballet dancers Carlos Acosta and Irek Mukhamedov performed at the festival. The wonderful Midsummer Night’s Dream was performed in the late evening, as the name suggests, performed by the Düsseldorf Ballet Deutsche Oper am Rhein group.

Carlos Acosta, Gala (2000). Photo: Olli Herranen
Irek Mukhamedov & Company (2000). Photo: Olli Herranen

Jorma Uotinen started as a dancer in the National Ballet and later achieved a wonderful career abroad as well. Uotinen was already a familiar sight at the festival over the years. One of the most memorable performances during Uotinen’s tenure was a show organized on Valkeisenlampi -stage, with dancers from the National Ballet and visiting foreign dancers. Ballet was seen in many performances, although artistic leeway was given to its modern interpretations.

Kuopio Dance Festival 40th Anniversary Gala (2009). Minna Tervamäki & Kare Länsivuori, Swan Lake, Finnish National Opera and Ballet. Photo: Petri Laitinen

Another amazing performance was from the all-male American Les Ballets Trocadero de Monte Carlo. The performance in Kuopio was the group’s first appearance in Finland. The dancers were impressive, and the performance made the audience laugh. The group was seen in the festival again after four years. 

The Göteborg Ballet. Swan Lake 2, chor. Jorma Uotinen (2003). Photo: Olli Herranen
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo (2012). Photo: Petri Laitinen

The current artistic director of the festival, Riku Lehtopolku, works as a dancer, choreographer, and as a teacher. Riku, who is one of the driving forces of Pori Dance Company, has worked in the Finnish National Ballet and Skånes Dansteater among others.  
During his time, ballet has been present several times in the festival. The most memorable ballet performances from his period include the pas de deux from the ballets Le Corsaire and Monteverdi by Leroy Mokgatle, soloist dancer of the Zürich Ballet and Loïck Pireaux. Their performance broke the traditional gender roles at the Genelec –Gala. In addition, in the summer 2023 programme, the Danish Kammerballetten performed with its own spectacular programme, combining contemporary ballet and chamber music.

Finnish National Ballet School (2017). Photo: Petri Laitinen
Genelec Gala, Michal Krčmář ja Salla Eerola, Onegin (2022). Photo: Henna Kokkonen
World Ballet Day is 1st November 2023.

More information:

Sources: Kuopio Tanssii ja Soi -archive (photos) and Kuopio Dance festival 50th anniversary history