TALLINN - Learning how to dance is hard. Learning how to watch dance can be equally as difficult. Especially at Kanuti Gildi Saal, an inspiring culture factory housed in the old Soviet naval radio headquarters in Tallinn's Old Town. Kanuti is an artist's dream. It thrives and bubbles with life and vibrancy. It's that special kind of performance space that attracts an audience by its own atmosphere and reputation, no matter what appears on stage.
Yet for the uninitiated, attending a performance at Kanuti can be challenging. It's hard to know whether to laugh, cry, applaud or heckle, for the so-called "dance" unfolding on stage seems little more than random movement. It takes several performances for a viewer to discard their common understanding of dance and see the beauty behind the artistic expression.
On March 15 's 18, Ka-nuti is offering a crash course in how to understand expressive dance. Called "Uus Tants" ("New Dance"), the festival is an introduction for those who have been too scared to set foot inside Kanuti for fear of cultural ignorance.
"It's everything from modern to contemporary dance, an overview of what has been done in Estonia in the past two years," explains Priit Raud, Kanuti's jovial and straight-talking artistic director.
Everything from modern to contemporary? Is there a difference? As Raud tells it, the words might be synonyms but as dance genres the two differ greatly.
"Modern dance is seen as being beautiful, with well-trained dancing and modern music. Contem-porary dancing is not necessarily dancing at all. It's movement, it's anything the artist wants it to be," Raud says.
That's not to say it's all random body shaking. Contemporary dance is loaded with meaning. Choreographers and dancers spend months and years workshopping their movement and message, imbuing their performances with symbolism and statements. If anything, contemporary dance is the soapbox on which culture-shifters stand to announce their criticism of the world around them, and to offer alternatives to the mass mindset.
Estonia is fast developing a reputation as an incubator of expressive movement. During "Uus Tants," over 30 producers and promoters from across the world will be on hand to scout for talent.
"We've invited them to show them what is going on in Estonia so they can see what has happened here in the past two years. Hopefully they will want to invite performers to their countries or festivals," Raud says.
During this "best-of" festival, the most impressive performers are given an opportunity to re-stage their creations 's back by popular demand, as it were.
"The idea is to bring together the very best after two years. You can see all the diversity of Estonian independent dance 's the kind that is not performed in the big theaters. If people don't go to watch these shows during the season, they can come during this festival and see them all together."
For first-timers, Raud suggests watching the Fine 5 dance troupe's production of "Panus" and "BET 's Body Experience Time." One of the most recognized and respected modern dance groups, Fine 5 is a company of five very different artists who merge their cultural backgrounds on stage. While some were trained as classical ballet dancers, others have no background in dance at all, but rather draw their creativity from fields such as juggling, graphic design and music.
For those who seriously want to challenge their understanding of dance performance, Raud suggests "Algorythm" from Taavet Jansen, which fuses technology, tradition, sound and light. Jansen bases this hard-to-explain performance piece on a slither of Estonian folk culture 's the striped skirts of the national costume, which are still worn today by some women on small islands such as Kihnu.
While Kanuti's program might sound difficult to market, the theater has no trouble filling seats. Most performances during "Uus Tants" are sold out in advance, and Raud advises booking early.
Some performances will take place in Kanuti's 200-seat theater, while others will use bigger spaces such as the Kumu auditorium and Theater No.99.
Head to the website for details on performances and locations. Don't be scared if you don't understand the performance description 's that's the entire point of attending.
Uus Tants 's New Dance Festival
March 15 - 18
Kanuti Giildi Saal, Pikk 20, Tallinn