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Estonia's dialects, family reunion at heart of 2025 Song and Dance Festival

The Estonian Song and Dance Festival Foundation on Wednesday revealed the foundational ideas, ethos, artistic choices and visuals for the XXVIII Song and XXI Dance Festival next summer. This time, diaspora Estonian folk dancers are being be given a distinct role as well.

Titled "Iseoma" – meaning something like "My Own" in Estonian – the organizers of the 2025 Song and Dance Festival have been inspired by Estonia's rich dialectal heritage and plans to bring dancers together from across the country for a big family reunion, according to a press release.

The Folk Music Festival is also slated to feature three new types of instruments as well.

Elements of the next Song and Dance Festival logo were inspired by the details of familiar plants from both fields and forests, and the logo as a whole was designed as a combination of these elements. Its general, modernist style aims to bring together Estonia's people from across communities, age groups and social groups, organizers said.

XXVIII Song Festival artistic director Heli Jürgenson said that the Song Festival program was drawn up to ensure that all of Estonia's regional dialects are represented.

"Each category's repertoire will include works involving the themes of dialects ("murded"), breaking ("murdumine") and time ("aeg"), and certainly a song or two in dialect," Jürgenson said. "The songs are about the power and force of singing."

According to Helena-Mariana Reimann, principal choreographer for the XXI Dance Festival, the biggest novelty this time around will be the Dance Festival's new approach to distributing performing dance troupes.

"Estonia is divided into various regions, and this time, preparations for the Dance Festival will be carried out on a regional basis," Reimann explained. "Thus, in addition to the traditional nationwide categories, Dance Festival categories will also be formed on a regional basis. Each region will have its own special role and character to play at our family reunion."

Folk Music Festival director Helin Pihlap said that the Folk Music Festival accompanying the Song and Dance Festival has a lot of new and exciting things in store in 2025.

"Eight different types of musical instruments will be performing in the festival, including, in their own categories for the first time, mandolins, garmons (karmoška) and the talharpa (Hiiu kannel)," Pihlap highlighted. "For the first time, the program will also feature joint opening and closing numbers that will bring [the participating musicians] together and also give the audience a chance to join in."

The design concept for "Iseoma" was created by XXVIII Song and XXI Dance Festival art director Marko Kekišev.

"We are all different, but together we form a unique whole – both as participants and as partakers of the Song and Dance Festival," Kekišev said, adding that the "flower of united differences" visual was created as a representation of this individual yet unifying experience.

Included with the logo across various formats are freeform geometric backgrounds that constitute a diversity of emotion characteristic of the festival, but with their designated color coding maintain the ability to practically differentiate between the specific needs of the event's song, dance and folk music festivals.

Press conference for the 2025 Estonian Song and Dance Festival. January 10, 2024 Source: Rene Mitt

Group directors have until February 10 to order the study materials for the 2025 Song and Dance Festival via the festival register. Some study materials are now available in digital format as well.

Diaspora Estonian folk dancers given distinct role

Previously, Estonian folk dance troupes from abroad have auditioned, been accepted and performed in the Dance Festival according to their respective categories – e.g. women's groups in the women's category, mixed groups in the mixed category.

This time, however, they will be given their own dedicated category – called "Worldwide" ("Üleilma") – and according to Reimann, they will have a particular and important role to play in the Dance Festival performance.

Diaspora Estonian groups have until January 31 to register for the 2025 Song and Dance Festival, after which they can order the necessary study materials as well.

As of this week, 19 choirs, ten dance troupes and three bands from outside of Estonia have already registered for the 2025 Song and Dance Festival, organizers told ERR News on Thursday, adding that these figures include not just diaspora Estonian groups, but also foreign – i.e. non-Estonian – ones.

Festival programs also include diaspora touch

According to Pihlap, next summer's Folk Music Festival program will feature music from the Estonian islands of Ruhnu and Vormsi, from which many Estonians fled by sea to Finland during World War II.

One violin piece, "Seitse," was even recorded in Sweden as played by Elias Schönberg, whose son was one of few who stayed behind on Ruhnu, she noted, adding that it was in Sweden that Vormsi's talharpa traditions were recorded.

Also included in the repertoire is music from parts of Setomaa that currently lie on the other side of the Russian border.

Organizers likewise confirmed that the Song Festival program next year will once again feature Canadian-Estonian composer Riho Esko Maimets as well.

The XXVIII Song and XXI Dance Festival "Iseoma" will take place in Tallinn, Estonia, on July 3-6, 2025.

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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