From April 7 to May 7, the Latvian prima ballerina and choreographer Lita Beiris welcomes an array of world ballet companies and noted ballet dancers to Riga for the 21st International Baltic Ballet Festival “From the Classics to the Avant-garde.”
The event has been staged since 1996.
Beiris, the founder and director of the festival, still enthusiastically drives forward with the festival’s mission to popularise ballet in the Baltics, all through performances which range from classical ballet ensembles to modern avant-garde.
Beiris originates from a long line of distinguished ballet dancers who have been nurtured and trained in the Baltic States. Somewhat uncomfortably, the world class development of ballet here must be seen as being intrinsically linked with the days of the Soviet Union. Though the harsh veil of Soviet occupation has long been lifted from Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania, there is no denying that one of the few positive legacies of this period was the intensive development of the beautiful art of ballet.
Back then, as now, there was no lack of talent in the Baltic republics. The region greatly benefited from the establishment in 1952 of the Vilnius Ballet School, and much earlier in 1948 with the Riga Choreography School being founded.
The reputation of the Riga Choreography School was to develop to such an extent that it was considered the most prominent in the USSR, after only the Bolshoi in Moscow, and Leningrad’s Kirov Ballet, as it was known from 1935 until 1991.
These Baltic ballet schools were in part also established to train talented young dancers, to guarantee a pool of talent to the numerous dance ensembles throughout the USSR.
Undoubtedly one could mention the name of Mikhail Baryshnikov, who was born in Riga, and who trained at the Riga Choreography School to become the most renowned ballet dancer that the school has produced.
Other illustrious names have also included dancers as Maris Liepa, Aleksander Godunov, Vladimir Gelvan, and during the postwar period Elena Tangiyeva-Birzniece, who was the region’s most renowned ballerina star in the 1930s, and Evgeny Changa.
Tangiyeva-Birzniece was to lead the Riga Ballet School for a period of 20 years, from 1945 to 1965. As chief choreographer in Riga, she also create the first Latvian-Soviet ballet, “Laima,” with music by Anatole Lepin.
But this festival is much more global in dimension than just world class home grown talent. This year’s 21st International Baltic Ballet Festival will see ballet ensembles from China, France, Belgium, and Estonia performing over the 30 days of the festival.
Festival highlights will include, a charity concert “Art for Inspiration” at the Riga Congress Centre (April 7). Antonio Andrades’ Flamenco Agency from Spain will stage performances of “Carmen” at the Riga Congress Centre (April 12), Ventspils Theatre House (April 13), in Rezekne at the Latgalian Embassy Gors (April 15), and the Vidzeme Concert Hall in Cesis (April 16).
Ballet aficionados will also have the chance to see performances of the Contemporary Dance Company Opinion Public from Brussels at the Latvian National Opera (April 17), the Vanemuine Theatre Ballet from Estonia performing “Midnight in Paris’’ at the Great Amber Concert Hall in Liepaja (May 4), as well as a performance by members of the Pori Dance Company (Finland), and the Riga City Jazz Dance ensemble.
The festival’s Gala Concert on April 25 at the Latvian National Opera and Ballet will be a star studded evening featuring ballet artists from China, the Netherlands, France, Russia, Lithuania, Ukraine, and Latvia.
“This concert always inspires me, and reveals some new ballet secret,” said Beiris in a written note to The Baltic Times. “I believe that the Gala Concert in spring makes every attendee of the festival thoroughly flourish emotionally, because of such colourful and diverse, outstanding dance performances that can only be seen at one place here throughout the Baltic States!”
The Gala Concert also sees two soloists of A. Preljocaj’s company (Clara Marie Desiree Freschel and Marius Maxime Gauvain Delcourt) perform a duet from the first big production of this renowned French choreographer — “Romeo and Juliet.”
Audiences will be given during the gala what promises to be an exhilarating performance by Gao Jing, Zhang Qiang, and Zheng Jie, dancers from the Beijing Dance Theatre, performing “Hamlet.” Shakespeare’s revenge-filled play, which is considered one of most powerful and influential tragedies in English literature, will be performed as a ballet version. The work was choreographed by Wang Yanyuan on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the founding of the Beijing Dance Theatre.
Li Tao, of the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China to Latvia noted: “This year will mark 25 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of Latvia. With participation of artists from the Beijing Dance Theatre in the 21st International Baltic Ballet Festival, we are introducing a series of exciting cultural events dedicated to celebration of this historical event.”
Latvian ballet fans are expected to be delighted by a duet performance by Maia Makhateli and Jozef Varga from the Dutch National Ballet Theatre.
Makhateli was born into a family of ballet soloists of Tbilisi Ballet in Georgia. Having studied in the US, Makhateli has been dancing with the Dutch National Ballet since 2006.
Dancers Oksana Kardasz and Ivan Mihalov from Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre will also be participating in the Gala Concert.
French contemporary dance will at this year’s festival be represented by Angelin Preljocaj Company. The company, which marked its 30th anniversary last year, has implemented a true revolution in contemporary dance by leaving imprints on the international scale as well.
“The power of the choreography of Angelin Preljocaj lies in his openness — his art is deeply rooted in classical ballet tradition, he has always tried to be contemporary by using any shape that corresponds to the theme and era selected,” said Dita Podskocija, Cultural Project Coordinator and Assistant Manager of French Institute in Riga, Latvia.
Festival program www.ballet-festival.lv
Tickets available from Bilesu paradize, and Bilesu serviss.