Contemporary Dance in Lithuania


Vita Mozuraite

Lithuanian Dance Information centre, „Dance News”

Although Lithuanian contemporary dance takes its roots in pre-war Germany, but Soviet years have destroyed almost all process of its development, and in post-soviet times we had to start almost everything from the very beginning.

Of course, there were a couple of dance companies – “Pol?kis” in Vilnius and Aura Dance Theater in Kaunas. Choreographers that worked in different style comparing with the ballet and folk companies also were. And they even paved the way and saved some room for contemporary dance of today. But those two companies were amateur, choreographers – self-educated, style – not accepted in the Soviet Union (something between neo-classical and expression dance), and although Aura Dance Theater in Kaunas in 1989 have organized the 1st International Festival of Modern Dance, anyway looking from the state point of view – alternative dance didn’t exist in Soviet Lithuania. That was too dangerous – too close to freedom. Ballet and stage folk dance with their strongly determinate order  were the only two genres of dance accepted by the state.

In 1995 Lithuanian Dance Information Center, nongovernmental organization was created in Vilnius and Audronis Imbrasas, former ballet dancer and dance journalist, became the Head of the Center. The main task of the Center is to collect and to disseminate information about dance in all possible ways. In 1996 the Center decided to organize the first Lithuanian New Dance Project Festival and announced that is waiting for the applications. Possible sponsors were intrigued; what is it – contemporary dance, and where this young man is going to find Lithuanian choreographers that might create that strange sort of dance.

The Center has got almost 20 applications, 12 choreographers have showed their performances. Among them just one choreographer Anželika Cholina was professional – with the background of ballet school and diploma from GITIS (State Theater Institute in Moscow), others were amateur dancers (librarian, school teachers, gymnast, students, two pharmacists), pantomime actor, drama actor and film director who have created the only dance film. Almost all of them made their first dance creation.

Interest was huge, for three days audience house of Lithuanian National Drama Theater was full. Although now I understand that the biggest part of the audience were parents and other relatives, friends, school children and even the clientele of the pharmacists, but anyway we all were proud (I was among the choreographers) that such a young art already has its audience.

So, even if some modern and contemporary dance creations already were made before this first Lithuanian festival, but quite often Lithuanian dance community keeps in mind the year of 1996 as the starting point. Conditionally we can say: contemporary choreography was born.

Contemporary dance evolved from quite narrow understanding of what contemporary dance is and came to what we have today. It was influenced mostly by British and American choreographers. The latter ones had a special program West-East for the artists and dance teachers who easy could get a grant to come to the former soviet countries and organize here seminars, lectures etc. They were impressive – those Americans – tall, strong and plastic dancers, always smiling and in white sweat suits. They brought understanding what is nice in contemporary dance; they have talked about Jose Limon and Paul Taylor. We were overcome by them because we didn’t see and didn’t know too much about contemporary dance. So in the late 90-ies just a couple of choreographers dared to do something different, to find their own way how to create dance and express themselves. Others followed American understanding of modern dance and tried to look nice, tall and smiling on the stage.

In 1997 the first International festival “New Baltic Dance” was organized by the Lithuanian Dance Information Center and despite predictions “this one will be the last one” and promises of the organizers “never any more” the festival still exists, has many friends and audiences and educates young choreographers and critics. The main thing is that this festival and dance seminars organized by the choreographers and dance teachers from different countries have changed the attitude of the dance creators towards “beautiful dance”. I am sure – thanks to the Lithuanian Dance Information Center contemporary dance in Lithuania have got many faces.

Another factors that influenced development of contemporary dance in Lithuania are Bachelor and Master study program in the Music and Theater academy of Lithuania. After a few years of persuasions the administration of Faculty of Theater and Film decided to take 15 people to study dance and drama acting. After graduation those people get diploma with the inscription dancer-actor (Stage Arts – since 2010). This double specialty complicates studies because the programs are overloaded with drama disciplines, and students complain, they feel lack of dance classes. Master’s studies are even more complicated because students have no dance classes at all, just theoretical courses. Besides that Academy still doesn’t love dance and dance students and doesn’t pay enough attention to the dance studies, premises for the dance classes are badly equipped, cold in winter, and a huge lack of teachers of different dance techniques affect unsatisfactory preparation of students.

But anyway this program helped to fill our small dance market with dancers and choreographers, dance performances and small dance pieces and also contribute to the development of new dance. And academy has a plan to separate dance and acting.

More mature performances were created by the young choreographers, who studied dance in foreign dance schools – in the United States, Great Britain, Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium, Finland.

Recently we had a round table where choreographers dance creators and dance critics met and talked about the situation of contemporary dance and its criticism in Lithuania. There we came to the conclusion that dance today is on the “pray” level, critics – on the way of seeking for objectivity, and choreographers at last understood that nobody except of themselves will help them to win the place under the sun.

What does it mean “pray” level? As I have mentioned above in the very beginning choreographers created nice dance with high jumps, high lifted legs, long arms, graceful run and few drops of elegant acrobatics. But quite suddenly after a few seminars with non-American dance teachers and choreographers Lithuanian dance creators felt down on the floor and forced their dancers to crawl and to roll. Everyone tried clearly convince others that he or she is very, very far from the ballet – any – classical and neo-classical, that they trust Martha Graham and are very self concentrated. Now we call that period “worm period”.

Later one after another choreographers started to seek for new forms. We had “furniture period” when one could see chairs, tables and benches on the stage. The “period of beauty” was replaced with the “period of ugliness”, and the mood of self love was replaced by the mood of self-hate. Water, salt and sand replaced each other during the “nature period”.

A couple of totally shaved heads were seen on the stage in the very end of the 90-ies just. In the very beginning of the 21st century one half-naked body appeared on the stage, a couple years later – one totally naked. A couple of choreographers forced their dancers to open mouth and talk during the dance performance, but it didn’t work well, probably because drama theater is very string in Lithuania and dancers hardly can “overtalk” actors. So we had “open body” period but avoided “speech on stage” period.

So now Lithuanian contemporary dance is in the “period of pray”, because more and more performances about pray and rituals appear. The main idea of the performances is loneliness with the hot spice of self-flagellation (sometimes even physically). Indispensable attributes on the stage – darkness, water, smoke, incenses. Once – conkers and once – stones were used for the same idea.

As far as Lithuanians are sad people, they are happy just when they can find the reason to be unhappy, the same mood we can feel on the stage. Crying or praying lonely women in black, white or violet, softly sad couples in light dress, two people that never find common language, lonely men unsatisfied with their sexual, spiritual and intellectual life, strange creations, surviving just wrapped in some material, Medea, daughters of Bernarda Alba, Anna Karenina, Chio-Chio san, Carmen, Romeo and Juliet, poor raped Erendira, Othello and Desdemona – they all are the main characters of Lithuanian dance. As you understand, many of them are damned to die.

Due to the Lithuanian character the niche of joyful and funny performances for a long time was empty. But two choreographers – Cholina and her former student Gytis Ivanauskas fulfilled this niche with their creations – plotless, light, superficial, but wanted by the audience. Both use situational humor, both are slightly ironic, both work not only with dancers but also with popular young drama actors from TV serials, both are famous and love to be seen on the dazzling covers of glam journals. Fun on the stage is quite uncommon event in Lithuanian theatre.

I want to say, that Lithuanian contemporary dance is like it is in many other countries. Aira Naginevi?i?t?, the outstanding Lithuanian choreographer, creates full evening dance theater performances with many people on the stage, solid stage design, iron walls, live carps and huge balls. With slow movements-words she speaks about extreme situations in one’s life. Agnija Šeiko cites Nietzsche and Jung in her philosophical creations about women’s life. Vytis Jankauskas always seeks for quietness and peace.

Mikhail Fokine joked: 16 fouette in ballet means “I love you”, 32 fouette – “I love you very much”. Probably it is the truth (usually we see all fouette only when the ballet ends up with marriage), but in fouette I see just the demonstration of ballerina’s physical readiness. When Lithuanian choreographer and dancer Loreta Juodkait? turns on non-stop for 5 minutes in Here and Now she speaks about the physical readiness as well as ballerina does; when she turns non-stop on for 8 minutes in Salamander’s Dream she speaks about the turning up from primal being into cold fearless creature; and when she turns on non-stop for 18 minutes in Sybil she speaks about the ritual of communication with the God and takes your breath away.

We have one choreographer – Andrius Katinas, who dares to create conceptual dance, which is absolutely unpopular in Lithuania. We have a choreographer – Andrius Pulkauninkas – who even creates butoh dance and shocks anyone who starts the acquaintance with contemporary dance attending his performances. This year two dancers – Airida Gudait? and Laurynas Žakevi?ius  – got the stage with the full evening performance of street dance.

We have not many but quite promising young dance creators, who are looking for new ideas and put them on the stage sometimes wrapped in unexpected membrane.

But the main thing is that we have quite well educated audience who attend all performances of contemporary dance and loudly discuss the performance in the foyer. Choreographer and dance teacher Birute Banvi?i?te two years ago started to organize an international festival “Dansema” of professional contemporary dance for children.

And we have two and a half dance critics.

Lithuanian dance in images (photos by: Dmitrij Matvejev and Michail Rashkovskij)

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