In the 2000s, the Finnish National Ballet has been seeking novel solutions for young dancers to find work. Though the large ballet productions of the Finnish National Ballet needed more dancers, there were still not enough jobs for new ballet school graduates. What’s more, the graduates lacked experience in working full time.
Apprentices get a taste of ballet life
When Kenneth Greve started as the artistic director of the ballet in 2008, the Finnish National Ballet took 11 young dancers into apprenticeship training. This ensured them employment for the entire year instead of just short, production-specific contracts. Apprenticeship training provided young people complementary education to enhance their professional skills and experience in working full time as a dancer.
The dancers selected as trainees worked alongside tenured dancers as part of the ballet company and got a unique taste of the busy routine of rehearsals and performances in a professional ballet company. Pekka Yli-Marttila choreographed a production created specifically for the trainees. Called The Very Moment, it was performed at a workshop evening of the Finnish National Ballet at Almi Hall.
The Youth Company kick starts careers
Positive experiences from the apprenticeship training led to the creation of the Finnish National Ballet’s. dedicated youth troupe for newly graduated 18 to 22 year-old dancers. The artistic director Kenneth Greve wanted to guarantee talented ballet dancers’ employment after graduation and ensure their continued professional development. The troupe was modelled on the example of ballet companies abroad, such as the Nederlands Dans Theater and the Munich, Hamburg, Dresden, Zurich and Boston ballets, which all had their own youth companies. A three-year grant from the Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation made the founding of the troupe possible in autumn 2013, and with their continued support the Youth Company has now operated for a total of ten years.
The Youth Company has more than 10 dancers, half of whom have traditionally been from Finland and the rest from abroad selected in international auditions. Most of the Finnish dancers have graduated from the Ballet School of the Finnish National Ballet, but graduates from other ballet schools have also been accepted. Atte Kilpinen, who joined the Youth Company in 2015, had studied at Turku Conservatory of Music and Dance Academy.
Several young dancers have first spent a couple of years in the Youth Company and later continued their careers as part of the principal ballet company. Principal dancer Hanako Matsune and soloist dancers Atte Kilpinen, Alfio Drago and Violetta Keller started off as dancers of the Youth Company of the Finnish National Ballet. Finnish dancers who began their careers at the Youth Company include also Viola Länsivuori and Aapo Kokkonen, among others.
Dancing together with the best and independently
Just like the earlier apprentice trainees, the dancers of the Youth Company work primarily alongside the professionals of the Finnish National Ballet, rehearsing and performing together with them. “My first month as a dancer at the Youth Company was a soft landing, as I mainly participated in the morning rehearsals. Full time work as a dancer was eventually a real shock to my body,” Atte Kilpinen said about starting out at the Youth Company. Shortly after, his working days would feature normal production rehearsals and performances, as well as the Youth Company’s own morning rehearsals and workshops.
The Youth Company traditionally hosts its own annual performance at Almi Hall, called Next Steps. These events have showcased excerpts of classical ballets as well as many new contemporary dance choreographies. They have provided the Finnish National Ballet’s dancers with a unique opportunity to try their hand at choreography, as well as welcoming new choreographers from abroad. The dancer and choreographer Emrecan Tanış, for instance, has created several visually impressive works for the Youth Company over the years. In sessions called A day in the life of a dancer, the dancers of the Youth Company have introduced the work of a dancer and demonstrated their skills to schoolchildren both at Almi Hall and beyond the walls of the Opera House. They have also taken part in other ballet companies’ productions, such as Tero Saarinen Company’s choreography Transit 2021.
Besides a dedicated repertoire, the Youth Company has its own training programme, including regular morning rehearsals. The troupe has collaborated with the Dutch National Ballet and made an educational excursion to Amsterdam with the financial support of the Bravo Club of opera and ballet enthusiasts. The training programme of the Youth Company has been created by the ballet masters and dancers of the Finnish National Ballet, most recently the lead principal dancer Nicholas Ziegler.
Text JUSSI ILTANEN
Photos THE ARCHIVES OF THE FINNISH NATIONAL OPERA AND BALLET (for example Mirka Kleemola)
The archives of the Finnish National Opera and Ballet