University of Tartu gives the contribution to Estonian national identity award to Lea Tormis

On the 101st anniversary of Estonia’s national university, Rector of the University of Tartu Toomas Asser announced the laureate of the award for contribution to Estonian national identity – the theatre researcher and historian, critic and lecturer Lea Tormis.

“By selecting this year’s recipient, the national university makes itself greater, we are once again widening the scope of national thought, the actual semantic field of this concept,” said Rector Toomas Asser in the video greeting on the anniversary of Estonia’s national university. According to the rector, the people who nominated Lea Tormis for the award have aptly said that her “thread” in the Estonian theatre is very bright: it is the culture of thinking of theatre, of creation, of national culture.

Tormis has been a theatre historian and teacher for more than 60 years. In Estonia, she has influenced, to some extent, every person working in the theatre, and probably also every theatre-goer, through lectures, research, theatre reviews, the activities she has initiated or supported, or through her disciples.

The art of theatre is intrinsically connected with time – the performance is born in the current moment and the meaning is created by the spectator. Thus, theatre history speaks of the society from which the audience comes to the theatre and the actor to the stage. “Theatre in its own time,” Lea Tormis has always emphasised the key to watching theatre.

As a culture historian, Tormis is able to have an empathetic position towards modern theatre, as well as to underline the continuity of the process and the wider cultural and social context of theatre. In 1992, when it was possible to open the specialisation of theatre research at the University of Tartu, Lea Tormis offered her expert support to the university, thereby acting as a creator of the continuity of theatre.

Lea Tormis studied at Estonian State School of Choreography, graduated in theatre research from the Lunacharsky State Institute for Theatre Arts (GITIS) in Moscow, and also completed a postgraduate degree there (candidate of sciences in theatre research, dissertation “Soviet Estonian Ballet Theatre”). She worked at the Institute of History of Estonian Academy of Sciences for nearly 30 years. In 1961 she also started work as a lecturer of theatre history at the Drama School of the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre, where she became a professor in 1996, and professor emerita in 2003.

Tormis has written several monographs, for example “Eesti balletist” (“About Estonian Ballet”, 1967), “Eesti teater 1920–1940. Sõnalavastus” (“Estonian Theatre 1920–1940. Drama”, 1978), and the documentary volume “Anton Hansen Tammsaare, Voldemar Panso “Inimene ja jumal” 1962” (“Anton Hansen Tammsaare, Voldemar Panso “Man and God” 1962”, 1988). She led the research for the monograph “Eesti sõnateater 1965–1985” (“Estonian Drama Theatre 1965–1985”). Since 1953, Tormis has published articles of theatre history and reviews, analyses of the theatre process, portraits of actors and roles; she has compiled and edited books on theatre, and written contributions to reference books published in Estonia and abroad. In addition, she has made programmes on theatre on TV and radio, and she still actively participates in the radio programme “Teatrivaht” (“The Theatre Guard”).

Tormis has received a number of awards and titles. She has received the honorary title of the merited cultural figure of the Estonian SSR (1979), the State Prize of the Estonian SSR (1982), Priit Põldroos Prize of the Estonian Theatre Union (1986), the critics prize (1989, 1995, 2002), Order of the White Star, 5th class (2001) and the National Cultural Award of Estonia for outstanding creative activity (2010).

People who nominated Lea Tormis for the award say that as a carrier of national culture, she is a great role model, a woman who combines in herself, in admirable harmony, a systematic researcher and a sensitive interpreter of art, an excellent expert in sources and a tireless enlightener, an open-minded humanity scholar and a determined teacher, a benevolent colleague and a hard-working organiser.

With the contribution to Estonian national identity award, the University of Tartu annually recognises individuals whose creative work has made an outstanding contribution to promoting the national identity of Estonians and Estonia. The University of Tartu has issued the award for contribution to Estonian national identity 17 times. The laureate receives 50 volumes of the series of essay collections “Eesti mõttelugu” (“The Story of Estonian Thought”) and a glass sculpture by glass artist Tiina Sarapu.

Further information: Toomas Asser, Rector, Professor, +372 737 5601, +372 516 6849, toomas.asser [ät]

Sandra Sommer Press Advisor +372 737 5681
+372 5307 7820 sandra.sommer [ät]

Lea Tormis, laureate of the contribution to Estonian national identity award:

An unexpected recognition to your work when you are approaching the evening of life, in the gloomy late autumn, really warms the heart and gives strength. However – the imposing and responsible “national thought” in the name of the award makes me hesitate whether my work really corresponds to that.

National thought, in my opinion, is something intrinsic. It needs neither self-justification nor opposition to others. When you remain who you are, you may be necessary and interesting to others, and you will also understand others better. National culture is viable if it knows and has mastered its basis, its rich heritage and present day, but is not encapsulated within itself. Culture acts through its openness to interactions that, when appropriate, blend in with local tradition in accordance with its nature.

I have perceived it when following and studying the development of theatre and the history of Estonian theatre. By nature, theatre is always connected with live human relationships and the changing society. It always reflects them, sometimes unknowingly.

The theatrical term “role” in our language is “part”. A part in the stage world also reminds of individual’s inherent part in life and the universe. This is related to involvement, and having a share, in something greater than ourselves. Knowing that man is not the king of nature, but should be a responsible part of everything living, the survival of which depends, both in nature and in the theatre, on the preservation and development of biodiversity and species richness.

I am grateful to the university.
Lea Tormis