The Land of Kalevala, a brand-new ballet spectacle that premieres this November, is Kenneth Greve’s love letter to Finland. “I wanted to create a work of art about the beauty of the Finnish soul. Finnish people themselves don’t boast about it, but as a Dane it’s easier for me to talk about it without the end result becoming patriotic sermonising,” Greve says.
Greve’s work, however, isn’t all adulation. He also wants to shake up conventional images of Finnishness. “Finns tend to hold on to the stereotypes of their national character. The Land of Kalevala deals with these assumptions in a comical way. An outsider’s view can be an opportunity for Finns to recognise them, too.”
One thing is clear: The Land of Kalevala is not the story of Kalevala that Finns are accustomed to. Rather than the well-known tale, Greve wants to explore the country in which Kalevala has its roots. Tha ballet spectacle includes central scenes and characters form the national epic, but its main focus is on Finnish history and behaviour.
”I wanted to extend my gaze beyond the Kalevala epic to real life. What would Väinämöinen, the hero of Kalevala, have done had he lived in 1950? Who is the Väinämöinen of Finland today and what is the Sampo of our age – the epic’s magical artefact that produces endless quantities of salt, food and gold?”, Greve asks, revealing that the audience will see an example of the latter even before the curtains are pulled back.
Prior to settling in their seats, the audience of The Land of Kalevala gets to take a behind-the-scenes tour of the Opera House. “The very foundations of the Opera House and the fascinating world backstage energise every single performance. All that glitters on stage is made behind the scenes. It’s very unusual for the audience to be admitted backstage, let alone to the stage. This time the audience, too, becomes an important element of the work,” Greve enthuses.
Who is the Väinämöinen of Finland today and what is the Sampo of our age?
The earlier works of Kenneth Greve, whose 10-year tenure as the Artistic Director of the Finnish National Ballet comes to an end next spring, have been huge hits with the audience. In recent years, young spectators in particular were charmed by The Snow Queen and The Little Mermaid, based on the fairy tales of H. C. Andersen. The Land of Kalevala, meanwhile, is primarily for adults.
The world premiere unloads over 10,000 years of Finnish history on stage, from war and rebuilding to urbanisation. “The history of Finland is not a lightweight fairy tale, and you shouldn’t ignore the distressing experiences,” Greve says. To highlight certain key points in history, the storyline was drafted in collaboration with historians.
Music plays a central role in communicating collective memories. “Finland has an amazingly rich music culture, from the yoik tradition of Karelia to Sibelius and Darude’s Sandstorm. The music of The Land of Kalevala is familiar to the audience and guaranteed to stir emotions,” Greve promises.
In terms of performer numbers, The Land of Kalevala is one of the biggest works ever seen at the Finnish National Ballet. The production includes over 80 dancers, students from the Ballet School, the National Opera Chorus and Orchestra, as well as visiting artists, such as the legendary accordion virtuoso Kimmo Pohjonen and the renowned folk music band Värttinä.
The subject matter is equally big. Greve admits to sometimes feeling a little overwhelmed by the scale of the spectacle: “I hope that watching this will make people smile, laugh and cry. And that they’ll recognise themselves and their astoundingly beautiful country.”