Can art be a competition?

"Competitions are sources of inspiration, networking and friendship, despite their rivalrous setting", says ballet dancer and choreographer Minna Tervamäki. 


The Helsinki International Ballet Competition will begin on 1 June 2020 for the ninth time. But can art ever be a competition? We posed the question to Minna Tervamäki, a former étoile ballet dancer who currently works as a choreographer and multidisciplinary dance professional. 

Metric or temporal measures, of course, don’t apply to art competitions. This means their results can never represent absolute truth. Nor does success in competition necessarily translate into a successful future career. 

– It’s all about a single performance in a single moment in time, not the entire genre of ballet with its myriad roles. A competition obviously gives an idea of the competitor’s skills, but a performance is not quantifiable. Personal likes, dislikes and interpretations are always involved in ballet, just like in ballroom dancing. The judges can choose certain assessment criteria, but it’s still a matter of preferences, Tervamäki muses.

Still, for a dance professional, competitions are intensely interesting events, as they are full of the explosive energy and enthusiasm of youth.  

For young dancers, competitions provide an excellent opportunity to develop and grow. They require working towards a clear goal and rehearsing major ballet roles that still remain unreachable professionally. 

– As a young competitor I would rehearse key scenes from The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake. When I got to perform them later on, my body had already memorised them. Competitions were important processes that gave me personal coaching and guidance, Tervamäki says.

Competitions also enable young dancers to observe other competitors’ performances and different approaches to ballet from around the world.

– Competitions are sources of inspiration, networking and friendship, despite their rivalrous setting. 

Text: Marita Kokko, translated by Anna Kurkijärvi-Willans
Photo: Susan Tuulosniemi