Ka sisaliku tee kivil jätab jälje. Tantsuteatri uurimise metodoloogiast Rahel Olbrei pärandi näitel / Even a Lizard’s Path on Stone Leaves a Trace: Methodological Issues on Dance Research from the Example of Rahel Olbrei's Legacy


  • Heili Einasto Tallinn University




ballet dancing, Rahel Olbrei, choreography, dance research, oral sources


The article is dedicated to dance research methodology, using Rahel Olbrei’s legacy as an example. Rahel Olbrei (1898—1983) was an Estonian choreographer and founder of the Estonia Theatre Dance Company. A choreographer’s work, when not on stage, becomes invisible, though it leaves its trace in the cultural memory. Olbrei’s legacy exists in the memory of the people who met her personally, but also of those who have obtained their memories from them – together they form a collective memory, Tamm and Halla (2008) present five major memory transmission channels: oral narratives, written (memoirs, diaries, autobiographies, history books, etc.), visual (photos in Olbrei’s case), actional (the Rahel Olbrei Annual Award) and spatial channels. 

Memories are not fixed; they are records of how events have been experienced. We draw key elements out of our experience and save them, and later create or form that experience anew. Remembering as a process also needs information about how something is remembered: hints, directions and any triggers that wake up some of the information saved in the brain. Oral history is a process of relation building: relations are built between narrators and listeners, between past events and present dialogue – thus, when making oral history interviews, it is essential to also record aspects outside of the interview. 

Choreography will stay alive only when it is being taught from one dancer to another. This paper describes the processes of making, saving and passing on movement texts using examples by Olbrei.

In a situation where Olbrei’s choreography is lost forever, we can ask: what is her legacy in Estonia theatre and ballet? This legacy is perhaps strongest in dancers trained by her who were carriers of a pre-war work ethic and Olbrei’s vision of dancers as dancing actors. Olbrei’s views on dance education and art are alive today. She was convinced that a professional dancer should be able to perform anything. She deemed it important to have dancers as collaborators, not merely imitators of dance movements, and her vision of ballet as a meaningful dance drama was shared by choreographers who came after her. Only the challenges of the present century – commercialization of ballet as a genre and internationalisation of ballet companies – have started to crumble Olbrei’s artistic legacy and ideal of dance performance as a deeply felt art and the dancer as the choreographer’s collaborator. 


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