Soul and heart of the Competition
The Helsinki International Ballet Competition would not exist without the initiative of one woman, Professor Doris Laine-Almi.
Now, as the eight Helsinki International Ballet Competition is soon beginning, on a larger scale than ever, memories of how it all began inevitably come back.
After a dazzling career as prima ballerina and director of the Finnish National Ballet, Doris Laine did not sit back to enjoy retirement. She put her energy on developing dance in Finland, on lifting the prestige of the art form, and on putting her international connections to good use for the benefit of dance in Finland.
Since the 1970’s, Doris Laine-Almi had participated in the activities of the International Theatre Institute (ITI) and in particular in the International Dance Committee. She was frequently invited to act as a member of the jury for international ballet competitions in Varna, Moscow and Jackson, among other cities.
The bee in her bonnet about competitions was so relentless that Doris she began planning an international ballet competition in Finland.
She would not be stopped by the reluctance of the members of the Board of the Finnish Centre of the ITI when confronted with her enthusiasm in the early 1980’s as she presented her ideas on organising an international ballet competition in Finland. It was an impossible idea! Where would the money come from? The competitors and the audience? Convinced that the project would fail due to the lack of funds, the Board finally decided to let her give it a try.
Honour and praise
That is how it all began. Mrs. Laine-Almi obtained the financial support for the event from the State, the City of Helsinki, cultural foundations and private companies. She convinced the small ITI office of the Finnish Theatre Information Centre to commit to the project without counting the hours of work and effort.
Nevertheless the first Helsinki International Ballet Competition in 1984 was carried out honourably, it even earned some praise, and without financial loss. Sixty-two competitors from 17 countries took part in the competition. A receptive audience adopted the event and filled the Helsinki City Theatre just after Midsummer.
The hard-working staff and the organisers of the competition had given their hearts to ballet, dance and ballet competitions. Thereafter it was not difficult to convince the Finnish Theatre Information Centre to organise the next international ballet competition!
The Board, however, held back. Before organising the next dance competition they required that the Centre of the ITI organise an equally ambitious theatre event. So they undertook the task of organising the Helsinki International Theatre Festival and the ITI World Congress in 1989. The second Helsinki International Ballet Competition was postponed till the summer of 1991.
Applications to compete were sent by 120 dancers, of which 85 were accepted and, after last minute cancellations, 68 competitors came from 22 countries. Again, the competition was successful in terms of atmosphere and organisation. The number of spectators had grown since the first competition.
The organisation of the third Helsinki International Ballet Competition began without Mrs. Laine-Almi, who had moved abroad for two years to direct the Ballet of the Komische Oper in Berlin. Most conveniently she moved back to her homeland before the beginning of the competition and as the chairman of the Arts Council, defended like a lion the interests of the whole arts field from inside the Government. She followed attentively the progress of the competition as the highly distinguished Honorary Chairman of the competition.
The Helsinki International Ballet Competition was lucky to have the collaboration of the Finnish National Opera, and the acceptance of the dynamic director of the Finnish National Ballet Jorma Uotinen as the new artistic director of the competition.
The competition was renewed by clarifying its role and giving greater importance to the choreography section of the competition and, for the first time, also choreographers were invited to attend the competition. In addition to promoting dancers in their efforts to reach the top of their profession, the intention was to draw out new masters of choreography and innovators in the art of dance.
High quality of the general arrangements
Also the fourth competition was held at the Finnish National Opera in 2001 and Jorma Uotinen continued as the artistic director. The organisation was once again in the excellent hands of the Finnish Theatre Information Centre and the competition was a big success. Great new choreographies were discovered and young talented artists danced straight to the hearts of both audience and professionals.
The fifth Helsinki International Ballet Competition 2005 went through some changes as the Helsinki International Ballet Competition Association was founded and the Nordic Dance Management was invited to organise the competition. Nevertheless, all the organisers of the previous competitions remained actively involved and became members of the new association. The Finnish Theatre Information Centre gave all their support and experience to the new organisation. Doris Laine-Almi was nominated chairman of the association and Honorary President of the competition. The director of the competition was the international ballet master Juhani Teräsvuori.
A close collaboration with the Finnish National Opera and its ballet directors, Dinna Björn in 2005 and Kenneth Greve in 2009 and 2012, gave excellent premises and high quality to the Competitions. Both Björn and Greve chaired in their turn the international jury and gave their valuable support, enthousiasm and artistic vision to the competition. The chairman of the Helsinki International Ballet Competition Association is Jorma Uotinen.