Estonia Now performed by the Estonian National Ballet
The warehouse-style layout of Tramway, complete with internal walls of red brick, may seem an unusual location for something as traditional as ballet. Yet Time, the opening performance of the Estonia Now triptych, is by no means conventional. The minimalist experimental music refuses a conventional beat to the dancers, who slip and slide through each other with deft movements and complex lifts, showing how our interconnectedness can lift us up as much as it can knock us down. The titular theme of time, and its connotation of death, subtly runs throughout: at one point a dancer moves her arms in a circle like the hands of a clock; at another, a sudden presence of light appears, disappears and reappears, forcing the performers to dance in and out of darkness.
The next routine, Silent Monologues, seems to serve as a direct contrast to the previous postmodern performance, only to continually subvert our expectations. Two dancers dressed in green, one male and one female, look at each other with painted smiles and dance intimately, while two couples, one donning purple and the other red, watch on with looks of jealousy. Despite the Hardy-esque rural background suggesting a Victorian setting, our Instagram generation can no doubt relate to those onlookers, watching as someone else’s story of happiness plays before us. Indeed, the routines of the other two couples that follow portray anything but a picture of bliss. Yet at the end, we see that the green couple are also caught in a bind of bitterness and suffering, ultimately showing how often romantic couples – and the individuals they consist of – are only as happy as what they conceal.
If the second instalment was narratological, the final one, Echo, returns to something more stripped-back and conceptual, with the performers dressed strictly in black. At the start, each dancer is attached to a white cloth around their waist, which in turn is attached to a rope joined to a carabiner stage right, forcing them to literally move within a tight constraint. The symbolism is clear: while they are all connected and imprisoned by a centripetal force, their movements represent the struggle for control and individuality. When they do break free of their burden, they all take part in a complex group dance in which their movements still test the limits of their supposed freedom. This piece is arguably the most technically ambitious and abstract of the three, and the artistry stands out all the more for it. By this point, the audience is aware of the prowess of the dancers; this performance allows them to push themselves further, to show us more of what they can do on both a collective and individual level.
Overall, these three diverse pieces of ballet are as flawless as they are unforgettable. The artistic choreography and intense emotional performances, in a medium as silent as dance, demonstrate the prismatic depths of relationships in works of absurd, tragic and philosophical beauty. This is the first time the Estonian National Ballet has visited Scotland in its one-hundred-year run. Hopefully, it won’t be its last.