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Only half of Finnish National Ballet dancers are Finnish

The Finnish National Ballet has become increasingly international in recent years, as almost half of the dancers in the company are now foreigners.

Thibault Monnier tanssi kansallisbaletin harjoitussalissa.
Thibault Monnier in the Finnish National Ballet's rehearsal hall. Image: Yle

A two-meter tall lanky man with red hair slips through the staff doors of the Finnish National Ballet. Thibault Monnier, hailing from the south of France, is one of the FNB Youth Company’s members. He applied for work in Helsinki after being inspired by the troupe’s artistic director Kenneth Greve.

“Greve is a very tall man. He studied in ballet school but was forced out as a dancer because he was too tall. The same thing happened to me in France,” says Monnier.

A graduate of the Avignon Dance Conservatory and the Hamburg Ballet School, Monnier dances and rehearses alongside the Finnish National Ballet dancers, like the other Youth Company members. The Finnish National Ballet is his first job.

In addition to the rehearsals and productions, members of the Youth Company can also participate in dance workshops with visiting choreographers, like Natalia Horecna.

Shrinking from ten to nine this year, the FNB Youth Company is the Finnish National Ballet’s incubator for talented young dancers, ideally working as a springboard for young professionals. Contracts are distributed for just one year at a time.

“You can learn a lot in the Youth Company. The ballet masters and the rest of the ballet team take good care of us,” says Monnier.

He believes his fixed-term job with the National Ballet is also a relatively secure post.

“Finland is an unique country because so many laws protect employees here. It creates a sense of security; that you can’t lose your job just like that,” he says. 

Finns maintain a slight majority

The Finnish National Ballet has become much more international under its current artistic director Kenneth Greve, a native of Denmark himself.

Under his predecessor Dinna Bjørn, only every fourth dancer was hired from abroad. Today, almost half of the National Ballet’s dancers are from another country.

Foreign dancers have helped Greve to raise the bar at the Ballet to an international level. At the same time, competition within the Opera House has tightened.

As an example, when the Finnish National Ballet incorporated an updated version of choreographer Marjo Kuusela’s 1980 work ”The Seven Brothers” into its repertoire last autumn, there were only enough Finnish-born dancers on hand to fill the first line-up.

The FNB Young Company signed by the National Ballet last autumn contained four Finns and six dancers from elsewhere.

Finnish-born dancers working at the National Ballet feel an affinity with other Finns in the increasingly international company.

“There is bound to be some bonding, with a Finnish contingent and a foreign one. Most of us Finns have known each other for many years now and we’ve got our own inside stories. The foreign dancers likewise stick together when they do new things, but we all get along very well,” says Youth Company member Suvi Honkanen.

The Finnish National Ballet Youth Company was re-founded again last year, as it had already been cut for savings reasons. The Company will continue for the next two years under funding from the Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation.

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