Past and present
Maintained today by the Foundation of the Finnish National Opera, the Ballet School of the Finnish National Opera was founded at the same time as the Finnish Opera (now the Finnish National Opera) in 1922. In the 1930s, the post of ballet master and head teacher of the School was taken by Alexander Saxelin, who had studied with the Imperial Ballet in St Petersburg and performed with the Mariinsky Theatre Ballet.
The Ballet School was initially a fee-paying school where anyone could enrol to study ballet. Girls and boys were taught together in classes of up to 30 students.
A major change happened in 1956 when the Opera was granted regular government support. This affected the financing of the Ballet School too. Now that the School did not need to worry about covering its costs itself, the time had come to turn the Ballet School into a vocational education institution. The teaching was made systematic, an entrance examination was set up, and tuition fees were abolished.
The upper classes of the Ballet School moved to the new Opera House on Töölönlahti bay after it had been completed in 1994, while the rest of the School remained at the old Opera House, or Alexander Theatre, with rehearsal premises also on Uudenmaankatu, in Salmisaari and on Bulevardi in the facilities of the Department of Chemistry of the University. The largest part of the School was housed at the Alexander Theatre until autumn 2003, when the Ballet School finally obtained premises of its own in Hakaniemi in Helsinki. The old Elanto bread factory had been renovated and converted into an Arts House, to be occupied mainly by fine arts and dance.
The Ballet School today
The Ballet School was officially incorporated into the Finnish education system as of August 1, 1998, becoming a secondary-level education institution to which students can apply after comprehensive school to undertake a 120-credit study programme leading to the Vocational Qualification of Dancer. The programme lasts three years, during which time the student also studies general subjects and has the opportunity to take the matriculation examination. Having been accepted for the Ballet School, the student is guaranteed a place for the duration of his studies; the dreaded annual re-qualification examinations are a thing of the past. A student at the Ballet School is eligible for a study grant and a student loan. The Qualification he completes makes him eligible for further studies.
At the beginning of 2006, the School has 30 secondary-level training places and a total of 220 basic arts education pupils.
Basic arts education is divided into pre-primary teaching for children aged 7 to 8 and primary-level and junior-level teaching. The primary-level teaching is organized in cooperation with the Kaisaniemi primary school. The Ballet School gives also intensive ballet workshops 2-4 times a year nationwide to a selected group of junior-level dancers.
The Finnish National Ballet is the only dance company in Finland performing the classical repertoire, and the Ballet School works in close cooperation with the National Ballet. Graduates of the School can also find employment in the field of dance elsewhere in Finland or abroad. The vocational students have the opportunity to participate in productions of the National Ballet during their studies. Basic arts education pupils are also frequently used as extras and performers in productions of the National Ballet.