Impressions from the premiere of Estonian Games. Tönk (graduate students of the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre and ensemble Trad.Attack! on the 10th of June in Tartu at the Raadi airplane hangar)

The surroundings of the Soviet era Raadi airplane hangar are teeming with cars, there is a queue in front of the entrance. I don’t buy a playbill on purpose. I’ve seen Peeter Jalakas’s plays before and suppose I understand. Estonian games is a very specific topic for Estonians. Only the question of who or what is tönk is bothering me a bit. I hope, maybe it turns out during the performance.

Hustling and bustling youngsters

A bunch of youngsters rushes on a stage where there are only a white cube and a long bench, playing some kind of game with cocks and chickens. I can’t help but wonder how physically fit are the graduates of the EAMT, their movements on the stage are quite complicated and with a great show of energy. Black and white video appear on the screen cube, in which elderly people in folk costumes are diligently playing some ancient folk games in front of the camera. When the film is over, the bustle goes on again – they are already erecting the tent-like objects of the industrial container bags, they are already putting on some eye-catching colourful costumes that remind a folk costume a bit. Simultaneously with the dressing and building, the playful activity is also developing feistily, the young people are storming back and forth on stage, there’s so much dynamic and exciting going on that it’s hard to keep track of everything (unfortunately, in the rear seats, there is also limited visibility). It feels like a hockey game: you are trying hard to follow the path of a puck, but while you stare at the left corner, there are already two goals scored at the right side. Missed it again!

From hockey to Star Wars. Cirque du Soleil!

The designs and costumes are eye-catching, they seem like something from Star Wars – shiny plastic clothes, furry macho-beasts, at the end of the show a tube firing laser beams appears on the stage. (Wow!) Space usage is also fantastic, almost everything (including the stage for the band) is in constant motion, a large part of the activity takes place on ropes under the ceiling and across the room. And there’s plenty of space! Acrobatics is poetic and engaging. It’s like our own local Cirque du Soleil, spiced with (depressive?) humour, ancient spells and counting rhymes, a little clumsy and very playful!

Forest and supernatural beings

The mood is additionally nuanced with black and white video at the back of the stage, which was filmed a couple of months ago, decided by the small buds on the trees in the forest. Of course, the forest, how could it be otherwise – forest is perhaps the most important source of identity for our people right now. The performance is full of clues to the ancient creation myths, the other side and supernatural which is characteristic to Peeter Jalakas. There is also no lack of humour aimed at the public figures (hmm, who is this old woman on the roller skates, a loaf of bread on the hands?) and poetry spiced with irony.

Music and movement on stage melt smoothly into one whole and create a whole new quality, although at times the bustle on the stage seems somewhat disturbing, drawing attention away from music. The band has been pushed to one side of the stage for the most time. Would this performance be such an experience even without the music of Trad.Attack!? Hardly so.

The show is over. The audience stands up and applauds fervently. I hurry to buy a playbill. Before that, I ask one foreigner what they think about the performance and how much did they understand. The answer is that there’s nothing to undertand, everything is obvious: the schoolchildren went to the forest for camping on the Midsummer Day, began to play games and used lots of drugs there.

At home, I read from the playbill booklet that tönk is an ancient monstrous being with tail and horns, usually made during big holidays. There is also an interesting reading about Johan Huizinga’s game theory and homo ludens, the stories of ancient people and the introduction of the team. The booklet could also include at least some descriptions of traditional games. A long summer is ahead, it would be nice to play a little.