2015 Melbourne Baltic Festival – ‘Nuts about Balts’

Epp Laul 27. okt. 2015

The 2015 Baltic Festival “Nuts about Balts” held at the Melbourne Lithuanian Club on Sunday 11th October, included the rich and diverse cultures of Estonia, Finland, Latvia and Lithuania, countries whose forefathers and foremothers have maintained, whether consciously or sub-consciously, many of their ancient customs and traditions throughout a turbulent history of tyranny, slavery and genocide under the regimes of other nations. In 1991 the restoration of the Baltic States independence was finally achieved with the decline of the Soviet Union. This ‘Spirit of National Identity’ is still alive today and evident at the Baltic Festival celebrations.

2015 Melbourne Baltic Festival – ‘Nuts about Balts’
Photos: Epp Laul

Arts Market & Craft Showcase

The festival opened at 11.30am with the Arts Market & Craft Showcase and displayed a wealth of Baltic cultural heritage. There were handicrafts of every description, including crochet, embroidery, knitting, sewing, handwoven goods and handmade jewellery; just for starters. The scene in the Lithuanian House foyer was a buzzing, multi-coloured hive of activity, with all types of craft goods inspired by the Baltic heritage theme either on displayed, for sale, or having skills demonstrated.

The Estonian Ethnographic Society in Melbourne demonstrated three skills; the art of belt weaving by Aimee Metsar, the art of spinning wool by Glory Toom and loom weaving by Diana Vann Ritchie; with an exhibition of various handicrafts made by the ladies of the ethnographic handicraft group, including an exquisite woollen floral wall rug (a combined group effort in 2004) and two blankets, a granny rug and a Muhu sled blanket by Glory Toom. In addition, shoppers had the opportunity to purchase various Estonian items made by the handicraft group, linen products by Maret Pertmann and Estonian jewellery from Bruno Metsar.

The Estonian kitchen towels, made by Diana Vann Richie, were quite an interesting and novelty item. It is a large tea towel which you tuck around the waistline and use as an apron and hand towel whilst cooking in the kitchen, then when you have finished you simply toss it in the wash. What a labour saving device, only one item to wash and no apron ties to iron – definitely a must have in every kitchen.

Also, on display were a collection of traditional Haapsalu Shawls and Scarves, including a Haapsalu Shawl knitting demonstration by Glory Toom which was of considerable interest to the public because of the lightness of the knitting. This delicate, intricate knitted lace with its openwork lace pattern and signature 'nupps' (knitted knots), made from fine lamb's wool yarn, is a treasured 200 year old tradition of Haapsalu township. In fact, the airy Haapsalu Shawls were prized by the Russian aristocracy in the 19th century, including the Romanov family, for their beautiful lacework and warmth on a cool summer's night. The 'nupps' were included into the lace pattern to increase the weight of the finished shawl, as purchase was according to weight and not the skills of the knitter.

The Estonian exhibition shared with festival attendees the beauty of their cultural heritage; a chance to understand the differences and uniqueness of the tiny European country – Estonia.

The Baltic Concert

Then at 2pm the theatre doors opened for the main attraction of the day; 'The Baltic Concert'; the national choirs and folk dancers. The performers belonged to amateur choirs and dance groups, and reflected a broad range of traditional folk songs and folk dances with strong connections to their local traditions and the regional areas of their respective countries.

Third on the program were the Estonian Ladies' Choir in Melbourne. Under the guidance of conductor Hilja Toom, they sang 3 songs the 1st. An old Estonian folk song, sung in dialect "Pill oll' helle "(Music Shines Bright), 2nd "Jooksupolka" (Running Polka) and 3rd a traditional children's song "Vändra metsas" (In Vändra Forest) - in Vändra Forest the old bear was killed, the surviving cubs were taken to Pärnu market where they were taught to dance and walk on two feet.

Next on the program were the Estonian Ladies Folk Dance Group 'Sügislilled' (Autumn Flowers). Dressed in their distinctive, colourful folk costumes of their respective Estonian counties, the jovial dancers wove an interlacing tapestry of colour on stage to enthral the audience. With choreographer Milvi Vaikma the ladies performed 2 folk dances 1st' "Laimjala Rahvatants" and 2nd "Aleksandra valss". Then, with the 3rd dance an added bonus, the 'Sügislilled' ladies were joined by the younger generation of the 'Eiderattad' dance group to perform "Kääri käised ülesse"(Roll up your sleeves). "Kääri käised ülesse" is a folk dance that has proven popular with the audience, since it was introduced by the visiting Estonian folk dance group 'KANDALI' in 2005.

Fifth on the program the Combined Finnish and Estonian Choirs sang an Estonian Folk Song "Ma kõndisin vainul" (I walked on the village green). This choir combination was no surprise to the audience, as throughout the lead-up to the festival Finland was "fondly" thought of as the "honorary Estonians", due to the Uralic origin of the Estonian and Finnish languages. The ancient origin of the Latvian and Lithuanian languages is from Indo-European, the largest family of languages in the world. Whether it is because of the difference in the structure of these 2 ancient language origins, or not, the Estonians/Finnish, use different parts of their mouths compared to other Europeans for speech. In particular, they use the soft back palate of their mouths more than the upper and outer regions, which are mainly used for articulation. Thereby, the sound of their voice has a kind of a rolling effect on words in speech and a wave in song. Now, add to that the long, "harmonic" vowels and strong, melodious consonants, combined with folk songs where the verse has a rhythmical theme, as well as, repetitive lines with variations, the Estonian/Finnish vocalist can be, depending on the song, enchanting and mesmerising. Perhaps, the Uralic "celestial" sopranos were the 'Sirens of the Sea' in the Greek epic 'Ulysses'. Thankfully, with the addition of the bass the choir had a more earthly sound.

Finally, just before intermission the popular, energetic, "nimble footwork" of the Estonian Community Dance Group 'EIDERATTAD' with choreographer Megan Kiviväli performed 4 folk dances – 1st "Jämtspolka" which is believed to have originated from Finland, 2nd "Tõmba Jüri" (Pull George), 3rd "Kolonntants" (Column dance) using a waltz step couples weave different patterns as they dance, and 4th "Virupolka" a dance from Northern Estonia.

Four different national identities, yet the similarities in the cultural heritage of the Baltic Region were undeniably evident for all to see at the Baltic Festival. These countries have been interlinked and interacted for centuries and the region is blessed with an unbelievable wealth of cultural heritage. The yearly Baltic Festival is a means of celebrating that 'Baltic Identity' and was, undoubtedly, a unique experience for all who attended the event.

So, come along and join the Estonians for the 2016 Melbourne Baltic Festival; feel that incredible Baltic Spirit captivate your senses.

2015 Melbourne Baltic Festival – ‘Nuts about Balts’
2015 Melbourne Baltic Festival – ‘Nuts about Balts’