After an absence of 12 years, the 18th Baltic Students' Song and Dance Festival "Gaudeamus" returned to the Estonian university town of Tartu, offering audiences a three-day Midsummer-themed programme filled with song, dance and light.
The weekend was filled with events, a number of which were free to the public, but the highlights of the festival included a riverside performance of Carl Orff's scenic cantata "Carmina Burata" late on Friday night, the dance festival, titled "The Mystery of Midsummer's Eve" at Tamme Stadium late on Saturday night, and the song festival, titled "The Songs of Midsummer" at the Tartu Song Festival Grounds on Sunday afternoon.
"With such a performance, it isn't possible to conduct rehearsals the same way as in theatres, where you can continuously monitor the process and the whole performance," Renee Nõmmik, director of the dance festival, said according to a press release. "The light effects of the show, over a thousand performers, and the entire arrangement — all of this was simply so extensive that preparation took place at difference places and different times. Dancers and dance directors are also from different countries. What happened [on Saturday] was a great miracle of Midsummer's Eve for me too."
407 dancers from Estonia, 621 from Latvia and 419 from Lithuania performed on a stage the size of four Olympic swimming pools at Tamme Stadium on Saturday night. "It was overwhelming to finally see the show as a whole," Nõmmik added. "I'm really very happy, and thank all the performers and members of the production team.
The performance was followed by free-form singing and dancing and a DJed dance on the field that lasted until the early hours of the morning.
Typical Estonian Midsummer weather
The weather held clear and dry on Friday and Saturday, but by Sunday morning had worsened enough to cause for a morning choir rehearsal to be cancelled. Organisers decided to move forward with the planned parade and concert on Sunday afternoon, however, and nearly 4,000 singers, dancers and musicians from all three countries braved the elements to participate in a parade through town, taking them from Toomemägi Hill to the song festival grounds in the city's Tähtvere neighbourhood.
"It is unique in the world how Estonian spectators defy the weather at open-air events," song festival director Ain Mäeots said, commenting on the spectators to likewise brave the elements to cheer on the parade and thereafter attend the concert at the city's song festival grounds. "I've travelled quite a lot and visited festivals and summer performances around the world. It's clear that there would have been a lot more people in beautiful weather, but we cannot do anything to influence the weather, and to hell with it."
Around 3,000 singers, dancers and musicians performed at the song festival on Sunday, where the end of the event was marked with a ceremonial passing of the flame on to Lithuania, who will be the next country to host the event four years from now.
The first ever Gaudeamus festival took place in Tartu in 1956. The previous festival took place in Daugavpils, Latvia in 2014.
For more news, photos and videos from the event, and more information on the history of the festival itself, check out the Gaudemus homepage here.
Editor: Aili Vahtla