Von Krahl Theatre, first privately-owned theatre in newly independent Estonia was established in 1992, although the actual history of this theatre begins earlier and is closely connected to the leader of the theatre Von Krahl Theatre, first privately-owned theatre in newly independent Estonia was established in 1992, although the actual history of this theatre begins earlier and is closely connected to the leader of the theatre Peeter Jalakas.
Von Krahl Theatre has predominantly been engaged in two fields of action: laboratory work with a purpose of finding and developing specific acting and theatre tools; and administrative activities that include performances, international communications and theatre festivals. Von Krahl Theatre wants to continue being different and open to experiments although the institution itself as well as artistic quality grow more professional.
This concise history of Von Krahl Theatre is divided into five periods. The predecessor of Von Krahl Theatre is the company Ruto Killakund. The years 1992-1994 are vibrant and wild beginning in new building in Rataskaevu Street in Tallinn’s Old Town. Years of confusion in 1994-1998 were springboard to next period of intensive work with permanent ensemble in 1998-2003. Since 2003 activities of Von Krahl Theatre have expanded and ultimately led to forming a completely new entity in Estonian culture – Von Krahl Academy.
This review of Von Krahl’s history is based on Katrin Ruus’ bachelor thesis “The Development of Von Krahl Theatre”, University of Tartu 2005.
At the end of 1990s several independent companies and small theatres were formed in Estonia. These companies declared their theatre to be different even if their artistic intentions might have seemed a bit vague at the beginning. Manifested break-away from conventional theatre was also a statement against professional theatre institutions of Estonia.
One of these companies was VAT Theatre, and Peeter Jalakas, the latter manager of Von Krahl Theatre was member of this theatre. VAT Theatre still performs successfully today but the company was divided in 1989. Part of them still known as VAT Theatre proceeded to make children and youth theatre. Others took on name Ruto Killakund. Peeter Jalakas became the leading figure of this new theatre company.
The name of the company derives from Lappish mythology; Ruto is a radical character to whom people go to acquire supernatural powers. Ruto could be equalled to devil in Christianity, evil deity that can bring disease upon people. Killakund means a group of people or a union in Estonian. Name Ruto also hints at the influence of Eugenio Barba’s Odin Teatret. Ruto Killakund began as experimental company part of the Centre of Folklore Studies; their work was based on Finno-Ugric mythology and religion.
The core of the group was formed beforehand while working in VAT Theatre. It consisted of seven men: Peeter Jalakas, Margus Värav, Agur Kuslap, Emil Rutiku, Jaanus Linno, Mart Nurk ja Hendrik Toompere jun but people came and went. The core people during the period of Ruto Killakund were Pille-Katrin Siilmann, Marke Tarmo, Margus Värav, Andres Mirme, Pirkko Vähi, Mari-Liis Roos, Enar Tarmo, Emil Rutiku ja Kristina Paškevicius.
At first the rehearsals and trainings happened at random places. Peeter Jalakas has described the activities of Ruto: „I had just returned from Eugenio Barba’s workshops and was putting my experience to use. At any rate we took our endeavour very seriously. Our performances resembled open-structured musical compositions. Every participant had solos and ensembles. We searched for origins of movements inside actors, every gesture, every facial expression had to have meaning. Each step of every actor had to carry semantic signification. Emphasis was not on how the audience understands everything but on actor’s awareness of himself. The idea of the performance was to make the audience feel as if they were listening to music and not able to fully figure out each phrase.”
The actions and mentality of Ruto Killakund was formed by introspectiveness – actor’s creation was thoroughly based on his or her self, text and choreography. Company used materialistic minimalism as aesthetic principle rather than necessity brought on by lack of funding. Main components were movement, music and bits of text. Every member of the company did something besides acting – there were actor-dresser, actor-technician, actor-secretary etc. When Ruto Killakund obtained a building on Rataskaevu Street in Tallinn’s Old Town, they renovated and turned it into a blackbox. This is the building where Von Krahl Theatre is based today.
Bigger works by Ruto Killakund company were “Sünnipäev” (“Birthday Party”, 1990), “Mõttetult” (“The Meaningless”, 1990), “Eesti mängud. Kaelkirjak liigub edasi” (“Estonian games. The Giraffe moves on”, 1991), “Pööre Pirita kloostris” (“Upheaval at the Convent of St Birgit”, 1991).
Other part of Ruto’s activities was dealing with the expressiveness of the theatre. This applied to most outdoor performances – shows, fireworks, carnivals. Pööre Pirita kloostris (Upheaval at the Convent of St Birgit, directed by Peeter Jalakas, designed by Ene-Liis Semper) was performed in the ruins of Pirita Convent. “This was a truly cathartic experience. Associative style is known from previous works of Ruto Killakund, without a traditional plot, and then the culmination of the show – the grand finale where different themes and characters intertwine under wild fireworks. Shocking tumult unites the small audience, even if only to ask whether this is party or war. Is it divine elation or earthly humiliation, ripping apart and refining the souls of the participants? (Margot Visnap The Last Days of St Birgit’s Convent in Europe, Eesti Ekspress 20.09.1991)
This was the first outdoor performance by Ruto Killakund. Later on this kind of action was part of Walpurgis Night shows. Stilt walkers, big masks, drums, pyrotechnics etc was part of street theatre/carnival style. There was time when only legal licence to buy, sell and manufacture pyrotechnics in Estonia was owned by Peeter Jalakas and Ruto Killakund.
Big outdoor performances ended at 1996 when one performance had almost 30 000 spectators. This seemed enough.
On the 31st of October 1992 new theatre was opened with A. Kitzberg’s “Libahunt” (“Werewolf”). This was also Ruto Killakund’s 3rd anniversary. Killakund had hosted more than 30 theatre companies from 21 different countries. As a conclusion it could be said that for Ruto Killakund theatre was a tool rather than goal. Theatre was a way to reach out to oneself. The performances did not have firm frames, objective was work in progress and participants’ personal growth not the outcome. Their work was based on different subjects: folklore, poetry, literature, dreams, memory etc. There were two sides – introspective theatre made for friends, and expressive outdoor shows. Ruto’s activities centred around improvisation and play, also finding new and exciting places for performance. For the people taking part in Ruto it was life(style) rather than a job.
Important initiation of Ruto Killakund and Peeter Jalakas is the foundation of theatre festival Baltoscandal. First Baltoscandal took place June 18–24, 1990 in Pärnu. Festival was conceived for alternative theatre companies. Baltoscandal got its name from the fact that in first years most of the companies were from either Baltic States or Scandinavia. In addition to that their performances were often irritating or scandalous. When in 1994 Peeter Jalakas became the manager of Rakvere Theatre, Baltoscandal also moved to Rakvere. And although Jalakas resigned from Rakvere Theatre Baltoscandal is still taking place there. Under the supervision of Priit Raud Baltoscandal has become an important event for contemporary theatre in Europe, in every two years most relevant and innovative performers gather to Rakvere from all over the world. Baltoscandal is a vital symbol in Estonia’s theatre field.
The Birth of Von Krahl Theatre. The Years 1992-1994
Von Krahl Theatre was opened on the 31st of October in 1992 with a performance of “Libahunt” (“Werewolf”) by Estonian classic August Kitzberg. Peeter Jalakas became the manager of the new theatre. Along with the theatre also the bar was opened to help theatre to make ends meet.
The core of Von Krahl Theatre was formed by members of Ruto Killakund. There were ten people with countless jobs – everybody was performing multiple tasks as actors, stagehands, technicians. In a few years this community grew exhausted and diverged. New people came along but a stable group was not formed.
In the beginning Peeter Jalakas branded his theatre a project-based venture as opposed to the big repertory theatres prevalent in Estonia. One of the goals of Von Krahl Theatre has always been introducing different theatre companies and theatre styles to Estonian audience. This has been accompanied by various other projects: carnivals, cleaning days, family mornings, joint productions with NYYD Music Festival etc. At the beginning of 1993 radio drama presentations in the theatre bar were initiated.
Already in its first year of existence Von Krahl Theatre managed to create a good reputation as well as two credible places to give performances in.
Von Krahl has always stood opposed to mainstream theatre. Hierarchy within the theatre staff has never been firmly set (even if it is now more visible than ever before) – actors perform technicians’ tasks if necessary. Von Krahl Theatre also has its own audience sharing their aesthetic interests. One of Peeter Jalakas’ principles is pushing beyond genre limits to free theatre from clichés and redefine fixed concepts and ideas.
The reviews in first two seasons are impressed by the novelty and charm of Von Krahl Theatre. At the beginning of the second season rumours about Ruto Killakund ensemble break-up start to spread. Although manager denies it at first, saying that they are educating themselves, later it becomes clear that Killakund cannot be reassembled.
About the financial situation: in 1993 theatre received the first subsidy from the municipality of Tallinn. The first two years indicate that Von Krahl Theatre made a powerful start. They created new performance place where Jalakas’ company as well as other Estonian theatre companies could perform. Integral parts of theatre life were international relations, contacts with the world theatre and setting up the theatre festival Baltoscandal.
Von Krahl Theatre in 1994-1998
This period (years 1994-1998) is characterised by explorations throughout the field of theatre and its limits, but also incoherence. There is no definite direction, no firm conceptions.
In years 1994-1996 Peeter Jalakas was also the manager of Rakvere Theatre and during 1994 and 1995 the survival of Von Krahl Theatre was under question. The press kept talking about money issues. In autumn 1995 Mart Kampus, Sven Kuntu and Aita Vaher came from Estonian Puppet Theatre trying to boost theatre’s own production. Mart Kampus staged many youth and children performances. Von Krahl Theatre centred on interrelations between music, dance and theatre. In its fifth season Von Krahl was for the first time eligible to receive subsidy from the state, before that the laws prohibited the sate support for privately owned theatres. In 1997 theatre received 400 000 kroons.
In 1994-1998 theatre reached out in different directions – co-productions (with Rakvere Theatre), children’s performances, music performances, dance performances, costume theatre (“Der Konflikt” by Reet Ulfsak). This phase was necessary for further developments, reaching out for new directions in theatre, and touching the limits.
Von Krahl Theatre in 1998-2003
In 1998 a permanent ensemble of 5 young actors was formed at Von Krahl Theatre. It wasfor the first time in the theatre’s history that the cast consisted of professionally trained actors. Original members were Enar Tarmo (now technical director), Juhan Ulfsak, Erki Laur, Liina Vahtrik ja Tiina Taurate, later Taavi Eelmaa, Mari Abel, Riina Maidre and Mart Koldits joined the theatre.
This period is very busy for the theatre and with plenty of performances. There were many theatre directors from Estonia and abroad collaborating with Von Krahl: Peeter Jalakas, Ingomar Vihmar, Mati Unt, Tiit Ojasoo, Toomas Hussar, Anne Türnpu, Marko Raat, Sasha Pepelyayev (Russia), Peter Bicknell (England), Richard Maxwell (USA), Erik Söderblom (Finland), Teemu Mäki (Finland).
In 1998 Priit Raud, director of Dance Info Centre TIKE, became the manager of the theatre. Peeter Jalakas continued as an artistic director. Priit Raud was the manager until 2004, from then on Jalakas fills both posts. Priit Raud is now leading the venue of contemporary dance, Kanuti Gildi SAAL, and also the international theatre festival Baltoscandal.
The program of Von Krahl became more definite. From its initial position – to make different if marginal theatre – Von Krahl went on to become an outstanding theatre with a clear aesthetic platform. This is affirmed by many annual awards and nominations by the Estonian Theatre Union. Theatre went abroad frequently. Von Krahl Theatre also became a popular scene for club culture. Von Krahl contained everything – music, theatre, dance, and even movies.
Von Krahl Theatre in 2003-2009
In 2003 Von Krahl expanded even more by creating Von Krahl Academy. Von Krahl is a synthesis of arts and even seemingly incompatible fields such as Ökosahver, company made for distribution and processing of organic food in Estonia. In addition to that there are also Von Krahl bar and restaurants Vanaema juures (By Grandma’s) and Aed (Garden).
Von Krahl Theatre is also a founding member of Estonian Association of Performing Arts Institutions (EETEAL). This is an association of employers representing 16 Estonian theatres and theatre organisations. EETEAL assembles the most various aspects of the Estonian theatre. Symbolically it is expressed by a fact that the association was established by a public law body National Opera Estonia and a small private theatre Von Krahl. The interests of EETEAL are all the common activities and initiatives important to the theatres, for instance formulating and implementing a financing scheme for theatres, organising the work field with the help of collective agreements, communication with other cultural organisations, legislative initiatives, social dialogue with the state and employers, practical questions concerning the life in theatres like ticket sales systems, training or functioning of the theatre festivals.
Since 2003 Von Krahl has collaborated with young Estonian film directors. Rainer Sarnet staged “Lumi” (“Snow”, 2005), “Ema” (Mother, 2005) and “Mis juhtus pärast seda, kui Nora oma mehe maha oli jätnud ehk Ühiskondade toed” (“What Happened After Nora Left Her Husband or Pillars of Society”, 2008); Marko Raat created a scandalous “Ainult võltsid jäävad ellu” (“Only the Fake Survive”, 2004), a punk story based on the key scenes and persons in a story of the rise and decline of the 70’s punk band Sex Pistols.
In January 2005 six Estonian film directors Arbo Tammiksaar, Rainer Sarnet, Jaak Kilmi, Andres Maimik, Marko Raat and Marianne Kõrver started shooting short feature films based on Estonian classic play “Tabamata ime” (“The Elusive Miracle”) by Eduard Vilde. All six movies cast Von Krahl actors. Films were shown in Von Krahl Cinema in 2006.
In 2006 Von Krahl introduced a new project – Von Krahl Solos. This project is meant for Von Krahl actors to perform independently. Erki Laur and Tiina Tauraite created their own dance performance “Erki and Tiina”, Taavi Eelmaa wrote and staged “Faust”, Juhan Ulfsak turned into “Hamlets”.
In 2008 Peeter Jalakas staged “Eesti meeste laulud” (“Songs of Estonian Men”) – grand finale of his trilogy of musical performances based on renowned Estonian composer Veljo Tormis’ compositions. Former parts of this trilogy “Eesti ballaadid” (“Estonian Ballads”) and “Eesti naiste laulud” (“Songs of Estonan Women”) were highly acclaimed by audiences and reviewers alike and received many awards.
In 2007 a completely new venture started – Von Krahl Theatre collaborated with the University of Tartu Viljandi Culture Academy to start teaching new actors and directors. Von Krahl supervises their master classes and BA performances.
This period of theatre history is defined by Von Krahl Academy which started in 2003 and spread hugely in 2008. Von Krahl Academy is a series of lectures on varied subjects, like an alternative university without the exams and attendance control and meant for everybody. The first semester in 2003 centred on cosmology, Peeter Jalakas’ direction of “Õnne valem” (“To Define Happiness”) was inspired by these lectures. Next years took on ecology, economic sciences, Estonian ballads, genius loci – spirit of place, and post-capitalist society. These lectures are always accompanied by films on similar subjects and Radio Night University (and Estonian radio programme) recorded the lectures for broadcasting to wider audience.
When things become routine or too usual you need to make 180 degree turn and start over, as Peeter Jalakas said. In autumn 2008 most actors of Von Krahl Theatre took creative sabbatical (some went to work in various theatre productions abroad, some to make films, others were engaged in other fields, some at home with babies). Von Krahl invited artists from all over the world to participate in a two-month session of Von Krahl Academy to ask “Is there life after capitalism?” The international company created weekly performances that were inspired by lectures, Estonian Television broadcasted weekly “Is there life after capitalism?” programme which synthesised lectures and performances, introduced project members and street polls on the subject. Same international artist group is taking part of the performance “Unistuste Vabariik” (“The Republic of Dreams”) in the beginning of 2009. Von Krahl Tours sails full steam ahead!
Peeter Jalakas usually provides Von Krahl Theatre with one production a year. His style can be described by attributes such as alternative theatre, folklore, construction-deconstruction, multimedia, interdisciplinarity and interculturality.
During the period of Ruto Killakund Jalakas concentrated his attention on folklore, trying to find the origins of our life in ritual performances of Estonian (and Finno-Ugric) folklore. Jalakas said that the purpose of this was not to work with folklore but folklore was an appropriate resource to find answers to all kinds of questions, such as where are we from, who are we etc.
Jalakas deals with redefining worn ideas and conceptions, proving that folklore as oral tradition is not only old folk songs and tales but also contemporary notions. When considering the myth of Estonian culture Jalakas tackles with international postmodern culture, mixes, compares, draws and integrates those seemingly opposite entities. He shows the questions of Estonian identity on contemporary stage using modern theatre language. Amidst globalisation Jalakas manages to combine the legacy of Estonian culture with “the other”.
Jalakas has been one of the first and most consistent user of multimedia in the Estonian theatre. The example of that is “Luikede järv” (“The Swan Lake”, 2003). It mixes dance, video, music and actors. Like “Libahunt” (“Werewolf”) Luikede järv deals with myth deconstruction. Rather than putting the myth into centre, this is a story about those to whom these mythological stories are told. How these stories affect our beliefs, our self-identification in the world. This leads to another vital component of Jalakas’ aesthetics – interculturality. Deliberate intertwining and connecting of different cultures as a method is unusual in Estonia. “The Swan Lake” and “Eesti ballaadid” (“Estonian Ballads”) are prominent examples of interculturality.
Very important element of Jalakas’ performances is music. Almost every one of his performances has music and rhythm as fundamental components used to create artistic unity. It has also been said that the performances by Peeter Jalakas are like visual music. Since 1995 Jalakas has had a systematic cooperation with Olari Elts and NYYD Ensemble and the last few years also with Tõnu Kaljuste and Nargen Opera.
Peeter Jalakas and Von Krahl Theatre have portrayed Estonian cultural and political situation for two decades, they have made contemporary theatre about Estonia and Estonians, combining it with healthy social criticism, and keeping their finger on the pulse.
ESTONIAN THEATRE UNION’S ANNUAL AWARDS
Nominated for Best Actor: Taavi Eelmaa, “4:48 psychosis”
Nominated for best original music and composing for “Cleansed” & “4:48 psychosis” : Hendrik Kaljujärv
Ants Lauteri’s award for a director: Mart Koldits for directing “Ihade osakond“ ja “Simulaakrum“ (Von Krahl Theatre and scenography students of Estonian Academy of Arts).”Tšapajev ja Pustota“, “Metamorfoos“, “Loomade farm“, “Rätsep“, “Päike soojem, taevas sinisem”, “Ohvrit mängides”, “Pál-tänava poisid” (Tallinna City Theatre); “Pidu“ (Estonian State Puppet & Youth Theatre); “Hüppajad“ (Vanemuine Theatre); “Proffet” (summer project with Albu parish); “Kummitus masinas” (Cooperation with Von Krahli Theatre and Theatre and class XXIV of Drama School of Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre).
Nominated for Best Set Design: Nele Sooväli, Oliver Kulpsoo and Martin Makarevitš – for “Õhtute kollane tolm”.
Nominated for Original Dramaturgy in 2010 and 2011: Peeter Jalakas and Tarmo Jüristo, „Gilgameš”: postmodern research of mythical time & space
Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Tiina Tauraite for servant in “Lillede keel”
Special Award for Music, Ballet and Dance: Peeter Jalakas for “Nibud ehk hetk me elude katkematus reas“.
Crystal shoe for a young theatre professional: Jim Ashilevi for directing “13” and “Õhtute kollane tolm“
Nominated for Best Actress: Mari Abel for Emma Bovary in “Madame Bovary”.
Best Production: “Gilgameš ehk igaviku nupp“. Idea and directing Peeter Jalakas, dramaturge Tarmo Jüristo, technical solutions Enar Tarmo, music Erkki Hõbe, video art Emer Värk, set designer Liisi Eelmaa, light design Oliver Kulpsoo, sound design Renzo van Steenbergen.
Best Director: Peeter Jalakas, “Gilgameš ehk igaviku nupp”.
Best Set Designer: Liisi Eelmaa, “Gilgameš ehk igaviku nupp”.
Best Actor: Juhan Ulfsak and Erki Laur for Gilgameš and Enkidu in “Gilgameš ehk igaviku nupp”.
Nominated for Best Director: Mari Abel, Riina Maidre, Tiina Tauraite, Taavi Eelmaa, Erki Laur, Juhan Ulfsak for “The End”.
Nominated for Special Prize in sõnalavastus: Juhan Ulfsak’s play”Idioodid” for kutse-eetiliste ja kunstiliste probleemide pingevaba ja tänapäevane käsitlus
Nominated for Best original Dramaturgy: Mari Abel, Riina Maidre, Tiina Tauraite, Taavi Eelmaa, Erki Laur, Juhan Ulfsak „The End“
Nominated: Best production: “Songs of Estonian Men” Best actress: Riina Maidre, “What Happened After Nora Left Her Husband or Pillars of Society”
Best supporting actor: Taavi Eelmaa, “What Happened After Nora Left Her Husband or Pillars of Society”
Best design: Liisi Eelmaa, “What Happened After Nora Left Her Husband or Pillars of Society”
Special award in the category of drama performance: The project “Is there life after capitalism?”
Best musical performance: “Songs of Estonian Men”
Best original dramaturgy: Von Krahl Theatre – innovative textuality in theatre, Academy performances and “Homefucking Is Killing Prostitution”
Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Tiina Tauraite for Masha in “Seagull”
Award for Best Stage Director: Kristian Smeds for “Seagull”
Award for Best Actor: Juhan Ulfsak for Treplev in “Seagull”
Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Lembit Ulfsak for Arkadina in “Seagull”
Special Award in the Category of Drama Performance: the cast of “Seagull” for polyphonic and imaginative execution of director’s original interpretation of a classic masterpiece.
Best Technical worker in the category of performance service: Enar Tarmo – technical director of Von Krahl Theatre and Baltoscandal Theatre Festival
Ants Lauter prize for acting: Taavi Eelmaa
Award for Best Actress: Liina Vahtrik in “Mother”
Musical Performances: “Eesti ballaadid” (“Estonian Ballads”) – creative ensemble; director Peeter Jalakas.
Ants Lauter prize for acting: Liina Vahtrik
Special Award in Category of Drama Performance: Peeter Jalakas ja Sasha Pepelyayev for staging “Luikede järv” (“Swan Lake”) in Von Krahl Theatre.
Taavi Eelmaa, Erkki Laur, Tiina Tauraite, Juhan Ulfsak, Liina Vahtrik for colourful and skilled acting in “Luikede järv” (“Swan Lake”), “Lumi” (“Snow”) and “Stiil” (“Style”).
Artist’s award: Ene-Liis Semper for “No More Tears” (and other performances in 2002)
Artist’s award: Ervin Õunapuu for performance “Olivia meistriklass” (“Masterclass of Olivia”)
DRAMA FESTIVAL AWARDS
DRAMA 2003: Peeter Jalakas ja Sasha Pepelyayev – for stretching the limits of theatre art
DRAMA 2005: Award for modern acting and expressive character: Von Krahl Theatre “Ainult võltsid jäävad ellu” (“Only the fake survive”) – Liina Vahtrik. The jury acknowledges the whole cast but our hearts go out to Liina Vahtrik’s minimalistic art. Remarkably, as it was a supporting role consisting only of few lines and a song. Just the fact that words are not there helping her makes her achievement even more significant – absurdly elegant, elegantly absurd. And what a song!
Award for breaking the illusion of life: Von Krahli Theatre “Ainult võltsid jäävad ellu” (“Only the fake survive”) This is provocation, but not merely or primarily. The whole performance is filled with almost pedagogical message and reproach. Wonderful chaos created out of dramaturgy, but also performative arts and punk music is just about held under control.
DRAMA 2007: Award for the actress – Tiina Tauraite in “Kajakas” (“Seagull”)
Award for the actor – Juhan Ulfsak in “Kajakas” (“Seagull”)
The extraordinary interpretation of “Kajakas” (“Seagull”) – “Kajakas” (“Seagull”)
NATIONAL CULTURE AWARDS
Culture award for creative achievements in 2008: Tõnu Kaljuste and Peeter Jalakas for “Eesti meeste laulud” (“Songs of Estonian Men”)
Culture award for creative achievements in 2006: Tõnu Kaljuste for choral cycle by Veljo Tormis “Naistelaulud” (“Songs of Estonian Women”) in Naissaar (Von Krahl Theatre and Nargen Opera)
Culture award for creative achievements in 2004: Veljo Tormis, Tõnu Kaljuste, Peeter Jalakas, Aki Suzuki, Enar Tarmo, Reet Aus for “Eesti ballaadid” (“Estonian Ballads”)
TALLINN CITY CULTURE AWARD
2008: Peeter Jalakas (Von Krahl Academy, the performance “Eesti meeste laulud” (“Songs of Estonian Men”)