Dancing reached the stage of the Estonian National Opera already before the First World War. At that time, dancing was just limited to some movements in musical and drama productions, i.e. it was limited to the so-called evolutions. The first dance composition outside an operetta, the ballet-pantomime “A Dream in the Sculptor's Workshop”, was performed on the stage of the Estonian National Opera in 1914 with Nina Smirnova and Robert Rood in the leading roles. The play was staged by Nina Smirnova. The first salaried ballet troupe was established in the theatre in 1918. The troupe consisted of the following members: Lilian Looring, Rahel Olbrei, Robert Rood, Emmy Holz, and Sessy Smironina-Sevun as the troupe leader. As from 1919-1920, independent ballet evenings were organized in “Estonia”. On March 1, 1919, “Ballet Evening”, consisting of two parts, was performed (choreographer Smironina-Sevun) and the two-act ballet “The Evening of Choreographic Études” was on stage on November 25, 1919, staged by Vera Berting. These were still single attempts.
The first “real” full-evening ballet performance was on stage in 1922 – Delibes' “Coppélia“premiered on September 28. It was staged by Viktorina Krieger (Kriger) from the Moscow Great Theatre who also danced the leading role.
In 1926, Rahel Olbrei established a permanent dance troupe in at the Estonian National Opera. Olbrei led the ballet troupe until 1944. She had learned classical ballet under Sessy Smironina- Sevun and Eugenia Litvinova, and perfected her skills in modern dance in Germany under Mary Wigman and Rudolf Laban. It was Olbrei who gave the ballet troupe of the Estonian National Opera its personal look in the first half of 20th century. Adam's “Giselle” (1926), Tchaikovsky's “The Nutcracker” (1936) and “Swan Lake” (1940), Glier's “The Red Poppy” (1939), the first Estonian original ballet by Tubin “Kratt” (1944), etc were staged.
In the turmoil of the Second World War, several female soloists and the ballet master Rahel Olbrei fled from Estonia. Luckily, the core of the troupe stayed intact. During 1944—1951, the troupe was led by Anna Ekston who had studied in Litvinova's ballet studios and danced in Antwerp. She was also the one to establish the first Estonian national ballet school in 1946. The name of the school was Tallinn National Choreography School (currently Tallinn Ballet School). One of the most remarkable events during the post-war period was the ballet “Swan Lake” (1954) staged by the Russian ballet master Vladimir Burmeister. This stage production stood out because of Helmi Puur who danced the parts of Odette and Ottilie.
The political “thaw” of the 1960s in the Soviet Union led to major changes at the Estonian National Opera as well. Young choreographers Enn Suve, Iraida Generalova and Mai Murdmaa, who had studied in GITIS (the Russian Academy of Theatre Arts), emerged. Enn Suve, who was the Head Ballet Master during the years 1967—1973, brought the works of the 20th century on stage. Shchedrin's and Bizet's “Carmen” (1969) and Shchedrin's “Anna Karenina” (1973) were his best stage productions.
Estonian ballet of the second half of the 20th century has often been called Mai Murdmaa's (she ran the ballet troupe of the Estonian National Opera from 1974 —2001) authorial theatre. In her ballets, Murdmaa focussed mostly on philosophical-existential topics and her choreography was often based on the 20th century music, incl. works by Estonian composers. The following performances were staged with Murdmaa's choreography: Tamberg's “Ballet Symphony” and “Joanna Tentata”, Sing's “The Songs of Death and Birth”, with Pärt's music “Brightening” and “Crime and Punishment”, Sumera's “Story of Anselm”, Tormis' “Estonian Ballads”, etc. But also “Woman” to music by Bero, Prokofjev's “The Prodigal Son”, Ravel's “Daphnis and Chloe”, Bartók's “The Miraculous Mandarin”, Gershwin's “An American in Paris”, Barber's “Medeia”, Stravinski's “The Firebird”, etc. Murdmaa's multi-faceted and stylistically diverse works turned the troupe members into diverse dancer personalities who combined good physical abilities and great suggestive acting skills.
During 2001-2009, Tiit Härm was the artistic director of the Estonian National Opera Ballet Company. Since autumn 2009, the company has been led by Toomas Edur. They both have been internationally recognized dancers.
Very different talented dancers have been active at the Estonian National Opera over different periods of time, incl. Klaudia Maldutis, Juta Arg, Erika Määrits, Veera Leever, Geeni Raudsepp, Inge Põder, Artur Koit, Boris Blinov, Uno Puusaag, Verner Hagus, Helmi Puur, Eike Joasoo, Ülle Ulla, Ilmar Silla, Verner Loo, Väino Aren, Ago-Endrik Kerge, Aime Leis, Tiiu Randviir, Juta Lehiste, Tamara Soone, Larissa Kaur, Jüri Lass, Tiit Härm, Vjatšeslav Maimussov, Jānis Garancis, Jevgeni Neff, Aleksandr Basihhin, Elita Erkina, Irina Fomina-Härm, Inge Arro, Saima Kranig, Olga Tšitšerova, Tatjana Laid, Kaie Kõrb, Tatjana Voronina, Larissa Sintsova, Juri Jekimov, Viesturs Jansons, Meelis Pakri, Toomas Rätsep, Inna Sõrmus, Age Oks, Toomas Edur, Igor Vassin, Stanislav Jermakov, Priit Kripson, Linnar Looris, Viktor Fedortšenko, Eve Andre, Marina Chirkova, Marika Muiste, Galina Lauš, Luana Georg, Heidi Kopti, Olga Rjabikova, Olga Malinovskaja, Vladimir Arhangelski, Anatoli Arhangelski, Sergei Upkin, Aleksandr Prigorovski, Maksim Tšukarjov, Artjom Maksakov, etc. Over the past ten years, young talented choreographers Marina Kesler and Oksana Titova have stood out. Their works have also been internationally recognized.
The troupe has performed in Finland, Sweden, Germany, Russia, Spain, South America, Syria, the Philippines, Jordan, Kuwait, Hungary, Bulgaria, Wales etc.