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Taavi Tõnisson: Tartu 2024 grand opening on Emajõgi River speaks of unity

Tartu 2024 opening ceremony director Taavi Tõnisson.
Tartu 2024 opening ceremony director Taavi Tõnisson. Source: Mikk Otsar / Tartu 2024

Tartu's Emajõgi River and its banks have been dramatically transformed for the first week of the European Capital of Culture year. The opening event "All is One!" is about the connections between people, places and epochs. At the center of the story is Tartu: the real and the idealistic, dreaming of the future and remembering the past.

Taavi Tõnisson, born in Tartu, is a 44-year-old actor and director who has recently staged top productions in Estonian theaters. However, he has never created a production of this scale before, as it is rather unusual to find shows in Estonia that are as large as the opening of Tartu 2024, which took several years of preparation. The performance took place today, January 26, and can be watched with English live translation also here!

"Tartu 2024's overall theme, 'The Arts of Survival' – the knowledge, skills and values that will help us live better in the future – inspired this opening ceremony as well," Tõnisson said.

The show reflects on how different actions and desires of people can affect each other, emphasizing the importance of caring and solidarity. The concert entitled "All is One!" united people of different backgrounds, ideas and cultures into a cohesive whole, the director explained.

During the year of the European Capital of Culture, Tartu will serve as a hub for people and cultures from all over Estonia and Europe. "For example, our youngest actor is seven and our oldest is 86. We have works by Heino Eller and Eduard Tubin, and a new piece by Noep, which is also the Capital of Culture anthem, 'Young Blood City'. There will be ballet and breakdance on stage," the director said.

"We have tried to broaden the creative spectrum as much as possible because there are so many different people and creations in society. Although we have a wealth of information, sometimes we operate too narrowly within our own genre and we just don't see the connections or don't know how to network," Tõnisson said, adding that it is by working together that we become strong.

One person's actions influence another, who in turn influences a third. These exchanges and encounters on stage create links between performers and within various performing disciplines as well.

Every encounter starts a chain reaction on stage that portrays Tartu's cultural past in different forms and genres.

The program begins with a game played by five children. They are playing tag, the director explained. During the game something happens that triggers a physical chain reaction similar to Rube Goldberg's machine, where events are carried underwater.

After this, the performance creates a stunning sight of on the Emajõgi River's ice. This type of crossover between genres is typical, he said. "This is a spectacle focused on movement, sound and visuals."

"All is One!" takes the viewer through time and space in Tartu. For example, you will see the magnificent Tartu before the Second World War, as well as the post-war Tartu, which was demolished and had to be rebuilt.

The journey continues from the Capital of Culture Tartu across Europe to Ukraine. The chamber choir "Three Birds" (Estonian: "Kolm Lindu") features mezzo-soprano Anna Dõtõna in a performance that emphasizes the value of relationships, especially in difficult times.

The opening event also includes environmental themes, which are expressed through an animated documentary developed by Sander Joone. "Trad. Attack!" and Sander Mölder will add cosmic rays, while the Tartu band "Lonitseera" will let you explore the inner cosmos.

Tõnisson emphasized the importance of connecting by bringing together artists from different fields. The five young protagonists, who get along well despite their different ages and backgrounds, hold the staged story together as a whole.

"They are a miniature representation of society. If they can get along with each other, so can we. The play reminds us that we have a choice between facing a better future or turning our backs," Tõnisson said.

The opening ceremony is staged by Taavi Tõnisson, dramaturg Eero Epner, artist Kristel Maamägi, choreographer Olga Privis, lighting designer Priidu Adlas, music director Liina Sumera, videographer and screen director Emer Värk, animator Sander Joon, props editors Epp Peedumäe and Marie Valgre, costume designers Pille-Riin Lillepalu, Gerda Sülla, Liisa Lilienthal, make-up artist Piret Sootla, sound director Kaur Kenk, TV director Marek Miil, fairy tale text by Kristjan Haljak, green clip text by Eero Epner, narrator Sergo Vares. Heigo Teder is the main producer of the ceremony, Priit Mikk is the technical production manager and Triinu Arak is the executive producer.

The extended Eller Symphony Orchestra (conductor Andres Kaljuste), the chamber choir Kolm Lindu (conductor Valter Soosalu), Trad.Attack!, Lonitseera, Sander Mölder, Anna Dõtõna, Taavi Kerikmäe, students of the performing arts curriculum of the Technical University of Tartu, Shaté Dance School, Tähtvere Dance Centre, students and parents of Tartu Pärli School, Salome elderly movement group, Vanemuine ballet dancers, Error Studio breakdance group, Aivar Kallaste.

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Editor: Aet Kubits, Kristina Kersa

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