The history of Tallinn varietes

When I was asked to write something about the varietes of Tallinn that existed in the golden age of this genre here, Viru Varietee was the one that came to my mind first – this is how I remembered it. Well not only I remembered it – most of those who lived in the Soviet Union will think of Viru Variete when someone will speak of varietes. Until the Great Singing revolution there were four official varietes, mostly located in the biggest hotels of that era. Performances were also held on ships and in Astoria hotel. Some solo-performances were even shown on TV. It was a good time for Estonian variete. The news about it spread all across the Soviet Union.

There were different reasons for such popularity – variete in the soviet times was a kind of dissident thinking, since it wasn’t nationalistic or socialistic. It was actually a product form the disliked and denied West. But in spite of all this, there were numerous opportunities for development – since the political elite used to close their eyes on the mere fact that variete exists. Maybe the reason was that it helped to raise the amount of tourists visiting Tallinn, what was profitable to the ones in charge of everything.

The resurrection of variete art in Estonia was similar to Sergey Dyagilev’s ballet troupe’s success in Paris in the beginning of the 20th century. Thanks to Dyagilev, ballet once again rose from dust and ashes. Those, who helped to raise variete art in Estonia were still alive – Inge Põder, Paul Kalde, Vladimir Sapozhnin and many more. Some were too young to join, like Kalju Saareke, but still they saw the situation from the right point of view. All I can say about those great people is that they were, first of all, professionals who despised the words „selfmade”, so they were able to create everything based on professionalism, not amateur-like enthusiasm.

Very often the dancers were recruited right from the streets. It happens sometimes that you just walk by and you see that this exact young lady, with her style and her grace – she can become a great dancer. A lot of young people that were recruited that way have become professional dancers later. That is because they were under a strict eye of professional teachers, and also because of the tempo – after a couple of months the young dancers could already perform live. The prime-artists were either form the “Estonia” theatre, or somebody from celebrity artists. The mere fact that you see your favorite celebrity only a few meters away – only that fact was a real pleasure bringer! So it was quite normal for those times – to go and buy a ticket for a variete performance in order to meet your favorite celebrity there. And of course such situation benefited the artists – hosts of variete shows. They were becoming a source of everything connected with art, from finding choreographers to managing the lighting equipment, finding costumes, managing the troupe etc.

Varietes were indeed our small musical theatres. Even in a nightmare I couldn’t even imagine the fact that the crash of the soviet regime will be also the end for variete in Estonia. It is not logical, because variete was really such a Western thing, almost a “forbidden fruit”. But it happened… …And it makes the fact that variete has finally returned despite all its troubles even more valuable! Variete has returned with the help of Viru Variete, and this is, I believe, only the beginning!

Lauri Leesi, the head of the French Lyceum of Tallinn.