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1978–1990: Between classical ballet and innovation
Helmutas Šabasevičius
The 1980s were a significant period in the history of Lithuanian ballet not only for the new productions staged that decade, but also for the clearly evident divide that had developed between classical ballet and contemporary choreography. A deliberate exploration of new, fluid forms began, departing from the canons of classical ballet and emphasizing creative individuality as the most important artistic quality. Of particular importance during this period was the emergence of new opportunities for Lithuanian ballet and solo artists to organize international tours, allowing both soloists and entire companies to break out of their previously restricted environment and benefit from a more comprehensive and diverse reception by audiences and professionals alike.
As before, the Lithuanian Opera and Ballet theatre planned its season according to repertoires outlined in advance. A list of recommended pieces and productions was usually prepared and circulated, including sixteen ballets written by composers from the various Soviet republics. These ballets featured productions with diverse storylines, some based on legends rooted in the folklore of the numerous Soviet nations, while others derived from classical (Dubrovsky, by Valeri Kikta, based on Alexander Pushkin’s novel) or Soviet (The White Steamship, by Alexander Soynikov, based on the novel of the same name by Chingiz Aitmatov) literary works, or Soviet history (Vitaly Kireika’s ballet Sunstone, about the Zhurbin dynasty of mineworkers and, as described in the official list, “the heroic glory of labor in the Donetsk region”, or Yevgeny Stankovich’s ballet Sparks, on historic and revolutionary themes). None of these, with the exception of Antanas Rekašius’ Amžinai gyvi (Eternally Alive), was ever staged in Lithuania.
Toward the end of the 1970s and in the early 1980s, Lithuanian ballet was most profoundly influenced by choreographer Vytautas Brazdylis Vytautas BrazdylisVytautas Brazdylis was born into the family of ballet artist Vytautas Brazdylis Sr., and began studying at the Choreography Department of the M. K. Čiurlionis School of Art in 1960 (under the tutelage of Pranas Peluritis). He studied for three years (until 1966) at the Moscow School of Choreography, and danced with the Lithuanian Opera and Ballet Theatre until 1973. In 1973–1978, Brazdylis attended the Choreography Department of the Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) Conservatory, studying under the renowned late 20th century classical choreographer and Professor Pyotr Gusev, as well as with choreographer Igor Belsky.  (b. 1947), who became the ballet company’s senior choreographer in 1980. His first work as lead choreographer was a production of Ludwig Minkus’ Don Quixote in 1978. Though the production’s choreography was based on a version created in the early 20th century by Russian choreographer Alexander Gorsky, Brazdylis sought to smooth out the previous version’s dramaturgical disparities by approaching the production as a choreographic treasure, which is why he staged the final pas de huit based on a version of Don Quixote first mounted at the State Theatre in Kaunas by its former lead choreographer Alexsandra Fyodorova. In his design for this ballet from the classical repetoire, Brazdylis avoided conventionalism and naturalism. One interesting choice was a vision that appeared during the prologue, an interlude from a knight’s novel that emerges from Don Quixote’s imagination while he is reading, portraying a stylized version of the abduction of the story’s heroine. The sets proposed for Don Quixote by designer Henrikas Ciparis featured stylized graphic imagery with Spanish and Moorish architectural motifs, while the battle with windmills was composed using special lighting effects, including projections to create the illusion of approaching or receding windmill outlines.
Another Brazdylis production opened in December, 1978—the premier of Juozas Gruodis’ ballet Jūratė ir Kastytis (Jūratė and Kastytis). Due to time constraints, the ballet could not be performed in one single evening. The production did not remain in the company’s repertoire for very long but it did serve to showcase the restraint and lyricism that came to characterize Brazdylis’ work, as well as the choreographer’s pursuit of musicality and a symphonic style.
Brazdylis’ most popular production was his 1979 ballet Baltaragio malūnas (Whitehorn’s Mill)—based on the extremely well-received 1970s musical by Vyacheslav Ganelin—which was later turned into a musical film by Arūnas Žebriūnas under the title Velnio nuotaka (The Devil’s Bride) in 1974. This was the ballet company’s first contemporary production, in all respects—in dramaturgical concept, choreographic plasticity, and set design. It was also likely the first time (not including tours by the company to smaller Lithuanian cities) that a ballet production was performed using a recorded score. The complex choreographic text focused on the characters of Baltaragis (Whitehorn), Pinčukas, and Jurga, using choreography designed by Brazdylis that allowed dancers performing the roles to showcase their acting and dramatic skills. For the first time, Brazdylis and set designer Vytautas Kalinauskas gave audiences a glimpse into the stage wings with all of their technical structures and lighting fixtures revealed, creating the sense of a “production within a production.” Though no continuity of plot was intended, scenes flowed organically from one to the next while minimalist, light sets permitted rapid transition from one setting to another. The ballet’s mournful finale was merely the end of the “production within the production”, as the entire ballet culminated in a musically contrasting, vivid rendition of Léo Delibes’ Coppelia waltz, performed by the entire company. Such a post-modernist approach to ballet dramaturgy was a novelty not just for Lithuanian ballet, but also for Soviet choreography in general. The plasticity of Whitehorn’s Mill was distinguished by organic movement combinations and demi pointe positions. Only scenes depicting visions by the characters Marcelė and Whitehorn were based on classical dance and pointe technique.
After Whitehorn’s Mill, Brazdylis revisited Lithuanian choreography history by working on a new version (premiering in 1980) of his first ballet, Delibes’ Coppelia. Brazdylis presented the comic ballet, usually staged using pantomime, as a more complex psychological drama, with the protagonist forced to choose between reality and his own fantasy (two women—a simple girl named Svanilda and an automated doll by the name of Coppelia.) Although the production ended on a happy note, it was permeated by a gloomy, Hoffmanesque spirit, emphasized by Ciparis’ set designs and costumes.
Such a directorial and visual approach was apparently perceived as being too serious for Delibes’ light music, so a new version of the same ballet was undertaken several years later, with the premiere of a fundamentally changed production opening in 1983. Changes were made to the choreography for the solists while ensemble pieces and dances were arranged on the principle of choreographic symphonism, but the more inventive pantomime scenes were retained. Light and decorative costumes and colorful sets for the production were created by Estonian designer Eldor Renter. The new production proved easy to take on tour: in 1983 the company performed in Kaunas, Alytus, Panevėžys, Šiauliai and other Lithuanian cities, and discussions began over possible tours to Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Russia, and Poland. In 1987, Brazdylis was invited to stage Coppelia at the Gdansk Opera and Philharmonic—the first time the choreographer’s work was performed abroad.
In the early 1980s, choreographers began conceptualizing contemporary ballet works based on current events and issues. The first such production was Antanas Rekašius’ Amžinai gyvi Amžinai gyvi The production’s two acts were divided into 8 tableaus: the globe of the Earth is illuminated in the stage space, Mother Earth (the origin of life) gives the world the gift of an infant, whose childhood evolves into youth and the arrival of a first love; a shining circle of life—harmony, joy, fulfilment—is obscured by a cloud of misfortune; fathers, sons, and brothers become soldiers.

The abstract narrative of the first tableaus later took on more specific, illustrative, perhaps even declarative traits associated with the ideological politicization of culture and the arts prevailing at the time, of which the most important theme was the emergence after the Second World War of the conflict between the Soviet Union and the rest of the world: the storm of war looms, women and the elderly wander through burning villages, exhausted figures of prisoners rise above the barbed wire of a concentration camp; soldiers fall and rise, sheltering the earth from subjugation with their lives while their “courage, sacrifice, humanistic truth, and the justice of their lives quells the mad Walpurgis Night of war”; life awakens as war widows, mothers with lost sons, and war orphans “reach out to touch a helmet, honoring the fallen Soviet soldier.”

The ballet’s second act was dedicated to the memory of the fallen soldiers and was considerably more abstract: “a woman, mother, and daughter search for the grave of a loved one,” “a soldier emerges onto the surface of the earth,” his “visions and thoughts are echoed by images of nature, childhood, love, family, and war;” life continues on the Earth, “various generations, merging into one unending procession, gather to touch a helmet, honoring fallen soldiers,” while on the horizon “arms appear, holding aloft humanity’s sunlit, green planet” (from Amžinai gyvi [Eternally Alive], production program, Lithuanian SSR State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre, 1982).
  (Eternally Alive) based on the graphic artwork of the same name by Stasys Krasauskas, using sets designed by Elena Poželaitė, a graphic artist and former student of Krasauskas. The production’s choreography relied on simple movements that emphasized graphic silhouettes, employing dance to express human emotions and ideas with expressive, original hand movement plasticity and repeated use of the “arms as wings” motif. The fluidity of free dance was intertwined with classical dance poses.
In a revival of Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake in 1983, Brazdylis framed the production with poetic groups of “living tableaus” emerging from the darkness, creating the impression of a lyrical, dreamlike fairy tale. While he retained the choreography of the traditional and central episodes of the production (the pas de trois of the first tableau, the dance of the small swans in the second, and the black pas de deux in the third tableau), Brazdylis created his own arrangements for the ensemble dances of the first tableau.
In a second Tchaikovsky ballet, The Nutcracker, Brazdylis again accentuated motifs of transcience, fragility, and dreams, but time constraints did not permit the full realization of his concept for the production (leading to the exclusion of the second act’s Dance of the Shepherd Boys and the Arabian Dance), and less than satisfactory performances during the ballet’s ensemble pieces.
In 1988, Brazdylis had begun work on the staging of Bronius Kutavičius’ ballet Pasaulio medis (Tree of the World), but he later abandoned the project and resigned from his duties as senior choreographer for the Opera and Ballet Theatre on October 18, 1989. Under Brazdylis’ leadership of the Lithuanian Ballet, many significant productions from the classical repertoire were staged and other Lithuanian choreographers representing different generations of dance were also given the opportunity to bring their concepts to the stage.
In 1983, one of the members of the ballet’s repertory company, former solist Česlovas Žebrauskas (b. 1930), who had already demonstrated his own talents as a choreographer, directed Benjaminas Gorbulskis’ two-act ballet for children Mikės nuotykiai (The Adventures of Mikė). Žebrauskas’ choreography was based on classical movement but it lacked innovation and, on the whole, the production merely served to highlight producers’ doubts about any real future for such childlike creativity.
Vytautas Grivickas, who was particularly active in the 1950s and 1960s, directed Užkeiktieji vienuoliai Užkeiktieji vienuoliaiLike many of Grivickas’ librettos, this narrative was rather complicated—a combination of motifs around love, patriotism, as well as topics typically explored in Soviet culture of the mid and late 20th century: atheism, religion, and the various institutions seeking religion’s demise.

A young man from the mountains is brought to a monastery by his parents so that he may join their order. Once at the monastery, “the young man is still unable to comprehend the purpose of his ordination,” but a celebratory feast (with guests “drinking the wine brought by the faithful, divvying up the offered treasures that take on fantastical shapes in the form of dancing women”) soon opens his eyes: as warning bells toll, the young man “seizes the sword his father has given up as an offering and escapes into the valley,” where he takes up leadership of the mountain people and is later captured by a shah. He is saved from a deadly arrow fired in an ambush only by the well-aimed shot of his beloved, who appears suddenly. The shah agrees to spare his prisoners if the young man agrees to bring him gold and his beloved submits to him. After seeing her beloved off on his journey, the young girl kills herself.

In the second act, the mountain man’s friends die, one after another, while the vision of his beloved encourages him to travel to the monastery and fetch the gold, upon which the fate of the people depends. However, “fantastical women once again emerge from the treasure chests.” Upon seeing the gold, the monks decide to hide it in the mountains while the young man “unsuccessfully beseeches [them] to take pity on the people left in the valley.” The young man, “cut down by an ambush,” collapses under a cross, but with his last breath is able to curse the monks who have betrayed their people; the monks freeze “like the crest of a mountain range” and the people come to understand that both the monastery and their belief in the cross have been destroyed (cited from Užkeiktieji vienuoliai [Cursed Monks], production program, LSSR State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre, 1986).
 (Cursed Monks) by Justinas Bašinskas, a ballet of two acts (seven tableaus) and an epilogue, in 1984. Grivickas wrote the libretto for the production based on the works of Antanas Vienuolis. The story’s narrative overshadowed the ballet’s choreographic choices and came off as old-fashioned against the context of modernizing Lithuanian dance, helping to explain why the ballet was poorly attended and was soon removed from the repetoire.
Grivickas’ final project at the Lithuanian Opera and Ballet Theatre was The Blue Danube, based on the music of Johann Strauss. The production consisted of many pantomime scenes but its choreography lacked innovation. The ballet’s finale was illustrative: the composer Franz ascends on top of a riser and turns into a statue, while his beloved Francisca and Anna lay flowers at his feet.
Known for his pursuit of modern plasticity in the 1970s, Elegijus Bukaitis directed Antanas Rekašius’ ballet Aura AuraThe production’s libretto was written by Balys Sriubas, who replaced the characters Ąžuolas, Giedrė and Aistrė from the ballet Aistra with Jis (He), Ji (She), Aura, and the groups Chaosas (Chaos) and Bareljefas (Bas-Relief). The producers maintained that lines borrowed from the poetry of Vincas Mikolaitis-Putinas in the new libretto were meant to serve as the ballet’s story line itself, not just illustrations of its narrative: “man’s eternal struggle with himself – a fight between his heart and his mind and with the external world in which we exist today, one in which we see the horrible threat of global annihilation and the horrifying consequences of totalitarian regimes” (from Aura, official production program, LSSR State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre, 1984). in 1986. The production was a recomposed version of the 1971 ballet Aistra (Passion), but the choreographer’s attempt to appeal to audiences in the late 1980s with abstract philosophical concepts failed to attract their interest.
Under Brazdylis’ direction, the Lithuanian Opera and Ballet Theatre produced its most complex classical ballet production with Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty. Pyotr Gusev undertook the redesign of Marius Petipa’s production in 1981, presenting Sleeping Beauty as an intricate combination of prologue and three acts, including a panorama and musical intermission in the second act. The production sought to revive classical choreography and staging, with students of the M. K. Čiurlionis School of Art’s Choreography Department taking part in the ballet.
Brazdylis’ efforts resulted in closer ties between the Lithuanian Ballet Theatre and the senior choreographer of the Kirov Theatre in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), Oleg Vinogradov (b. 1937) and the Kirov’s associate artistic director, Yelena Vinogradova. In 1985, the ballet La Sylphide, by early 19th century Danish romantic composer Herman Severin Løvenskiold with choreography by August Bournonville, was presented for the first time in Lithuania, based on a version by Elsa-Marianne von Rosen, and in 1985 Vinogradova revisited the choreography of Jules Perrot and Petipa in a revival of Adolphe Adam’s Giselle.
In 1987, Vinogradov brought an originally choreographed production of Louis Hérold’s La fille mal gardée (titled Tuščias atsargumas in Lithuanian) to Vilnius. The ballet had both classical and contemporary elements. As he worked on the production, Vinogradov studied the dance lexicon and style of the 18th century, which incorporated numerous detailed leg and foot movements, and created original duet choreography for Lise and Colas.
Estonian choreographer Enno Suve (b. 1940) staged Sergei Prokofiev’s Cinderella in Vilnius in 1984. Because it was meant as a production for the students of the M. K. Čiurlionis School of Art’s Choreography Department, Suve presented an abridged version of the ballet, but his choreography was still quite musical, subtle, poetic, and classical.
Alongside productions of classical choreographic pieces, the 1980s also witnessed a bold foray into modern, contemporary choreography that Brazdylis sought to support with the help of foreign choreographers. In 1982, Estonian choreographer Ülo Vilimaa (b. 1941) staged a laconic, reserved production of Anatolijus Šenderovas’ Mergaitė ir mirtis Mergaitė ir mirtis Mergaitė (Girl), the ballet’s heroine, was identified with the Creator and artist Creation, while Death was presented as Creation’s polar opposite. The brief summary of the production was full of abstract concepts and categories: “the call of beauty,” “the wheel of time,” “the Great Unknown.” The production also featured abstracted characters and symbols from the animal world: Bear-Earth, Elk-Sky, Wolf-Destroyer, and Owl-Eternal Balance. The Girl also encounters a character known as her Double-Lifeless Form, and Death’s messengers Auksas (Gold), Sidabras (Silver), and a world of lechery, but “love—that eternal force—clears the way for the Girl’s path of life.” (From Mergaitė ir mirtis, official production program, LSSR Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre, 1982). (The Girl and Death) that gave artists exploring contemporary plasticity the opportunity to showcase their skills.
By the 1980s, greater effort was being directed toward the training of a new generation of choreographers and the organization of concert evenings featuring contemporary choreography. On June 30, 1981, a special concert entitled Choreografinės akimirkos (Choreographic Moments) showcased the one-act ballet Kelias (Path), a production by the ballet dancer Jurijus Smorginas Jurijus SmoriginasJurijus Smoriginas graduated from the M. K. Čiurlionis Art School’s Choreography Department in 1974 (studying under Pranas Peluritis), and from the Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) Conservatory’s Ballet Direction Department in 1987. While at the Lithuanian State Opera and Ballet Theatre he performed the roles of Girdvainis (Baltaragio malūnas [Whitehorn’s Mill]), Silvio (The Servant of Two Masters), Death (Mergaitė ir mirtis [The Girl and Death]), and Madge (La Sylphide), and later established the “Vilniaus baletas” choreographic project theatre. (b. 1955) based on the music of Igor Stravinsky. Shortly thereafter, the Lithuanian Opera and Ballet Theatre officially requested that Smorginas be accepted to the Leningrad State Conservatory.
In 1987, Smoriginas showcased his work in an evening concert held at the Lithuanian Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre, and in May, 1988, he choreographed and staged the one-act ballets Serenada, Phaedra, La Casa de Bernarda Alba, and Requiem. In early 1989, Osvaldas Balakauskas staged a version of Smoriginas’ final choreography degree dissertation—a two-act adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The play’s narrative unfolded through abstract concepts, combining a plastic language with an often fluid technique that illustrated the internal monologue of its characters, using the scenery and sets design by Adomas Jacovskis.
Another of Smoriginas’ works was staged in 1989: Bronius Kutavičius’ ballet Paskutinės pagonių apeigos Paskutinės pagonių apeigos Smoriginas sought to give more concrete shape to the production’s more abstract, philosophical motifs by laying down an imaginary path leading from ancient paganism (through the image of the Girl Priestess), through the golden era of the Lithuanian Grand Duchy in the 16th century (by including such historical figures as Bona Sforza, Žygimantas Augustas [Sigismund Augustus], Elizabeth of Hapsburg, and Barbora Radvilaitė [Barbora Radziwiłł]), to the present day (in the form of three “girls”). All of the deliberately deconstructed narrative themes were unified by the character Frakas (Fate), who took the form of Bona Sforza in the production’s second act. (Last Pagan Rites), but the production was met with some skepticism by musicologists, primarily for the use of a complicated narrative to “illustrate” Kutavičius’ music, though the choreography did seek to augment the neoclassical ballet lexicon with elements of modern dance.
Two productions were staged in Vilnius by the Hungarian choreographer Antal Fodor (b. 1941). In 1989, he presented the two-act ballet A próba based on the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and Gábor Presser (using recorded music), attempting to create an abstract “theater within a theatre” concept showing a rehearsal for a staging about Jesus Christ taking place against the background of a drama about betrayal. The production’s choreography was stylistically varied, using elements of classical dance with modern plasticity. Set designs were also rather eclectic: the stage showed a bare back wall upon which were hung abstract decorative elements, some illuminated, emphasizing a musical esthetic. For the first time in Lithuanian ballet theatre, the production featured biblical characters: Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Judas.
Katarsis (Catharsis), another of Fodor’s productions based on the music of Andreas Pflüger, was also stylistically and visually diverse. The production featured the characters of Adam and Eve as well as Shiva and Kumara, whose choreography was created based on ancient Indian sculpture. As with the ballet A próba, Fodor employed a wealth of stage effects such as lighting and smoke to emphasize a ballet style characterized by a fragmented, postmodernist esthetic.
In the 1980s, ballet concerts and, on occasion, full productions also took place outside the Opera and Ballet Theatre, in regional Lithuanian cities. In the autumn of 1984, as renovations to the Opera and Ballet Theatre in Vilnius dragged on, the theatre’s ballet company spent an entire month performing in Klaipėda, at the Fishermen’s Hall of Culture and Sport. Many ballet concerts also took place on other stages in Vilnius and in smaller Lithuanian cities. Some of these were so-called “patron’s” events, featuring limited repertoires (showcasing several operatic arias and fragments of a ballet), held in halls that were poorly suited for ballet performances, including the Vilnius Officers’ Club, the “Kuro apartūra” factory and elsewhere.
The main ballet theatre stage, meanwhile, hosted ballet soloist evenings, for which performers rehearsed extensively. An evening of dance by Jonas Katakinas and Nina Antonova was held in 1981, and a similar concert was given by Neli Beredina and Petras Skirmantas in 1985. In an attempt to gain official favor to hold the latter event, the production was dedicated to the 27th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party. Ballet concerts and productions were also sometimes dedicated to agricultural workers, laborers, even high school seniors, and were sometimes held at the Lithuanian Concert and Sports Hall.
The Lithuanian ballet company established a stronger footing for itself between 1980 and 1990. In 1984, the company employed 85 people, 48 of whom were younger than 30. Concerts were held not only throughout the Soviet Union’s republics, but also abroad. Baltaragio malūnas (Whitehorn’s Mill) appeared in June, 1982 at Vera Komissarzhevskaya’s theater in Leningrad, while Kopelija (Coppelia) traveled to Erfurt, East Germany, in 1983. In August of that year, the Lithuanian ballet received an invitation from the Athens International Festival Organizing Committee, on the condition that the company include Moscow Bolshoi Theatre dancers Maya Plisetskaya, Viktor Barykin, Vyacheslav Yelagin, and Boris Yefimov. In Greece, the Lithuanian company performed the second act of Giselle and the Anna Karenina suite from Rodion Shchedrin’s ballet, with principle roles danced by Plisetskaya, Yefimov, and Barykin. On February 5, 1984, the Lithuanian ballet company left for a concert tour of Sweden, where they planned to visit 12 cities, giving some 30 concerts in under two months. The company toured Jordan and Syria in August, 1984, and attended the Bosra Arts Festival and the Damascus International Fair in the autumn of 1985.
The Lithuanian Opera and Ballet Theatre’s prestige benefited greatly from a tour at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre, the first in decades. The tour repertoire was approved in the spring of 1986, and included four ballets: Sleeping Beauty, Coppelia, La Sylphide, and Amžinai gyvi (Eternally Alive). The company received numerous positive reviews following the tour.
In 1987, the company toured Argentina, visited the 15 largest cities in Zaire, Congo, and Zimbabwe, and gave concerts in Köln and Emmerich (in then West Germany), and in 1988 it performed in Kuwait, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates. That same year, the company took La Sylphide, Sleeping Beauty, and Coppelia to the Grand Theatre in Warsaw, Poland. The 1980s also saw the rise of new ballet talent at the company. Alongside dancers from the senior and middle generations, such as Leokadija Aškelovičiūtė, Svetlana Masaniova, Nina Antonova, Rūta Krugiškytė, Gražina Sakalauskaitė, Vytautas Kudžma, Raimundas Minderis, Jonas Katakinas, Voldemaras Chlebinskas, and Aleksandras Semionovas, a new generation of soloists emerged, including Loreta Bartusevičiūtė, Rūta Railaitė, Aušra Gineitytė, Jolanta Valeikaitė, Egidijus Domeika, Petras Skirmantas, and Eglė Špokaitė. The company also incorporated new performers in the 1980s who had studied at different choreography schools throughout the Soviet Union, including Neli Beredina, Olga Fedosova, Aleksander Molodov, Valeriy Fadeyev, Nikolai Tikhomirov, and others. By the end of the decade, the Lithuanian Opera and Ballet Theatre company had 77 dancers, 28 of whom had studied outside Lithuania. Despite their varied training backgrounds, the company’s performances on tour clearly demonstrated a uniform style of dance, achieved largely through the efforts of the company’s répétiteurs: Tamara Sventickaitė, Henrikas Banys, Ada Nasvytienė, Česlovas Žebrauskas, Liana Dišlerė, Lidija Tamulevičienė, and Natalija Šekštelienė.
Toward the end of the 1980s, Lithuanian ballet soloists began participating in Soviet Union-wide young ballet artists’ competitions. In the spring of 1988, Jolanta Valeikaitė took second place in the All-Union Ballet Masters and Ballet Artists Competition in Moscow, earning her the chance to represent the USSR in international ballet forums along with the other competition winners. In the summer of 1988, Valeikaitė took third prize at the international ballet competition in Varna, Bulgaria.
Lithuanian ballet dancers were often included in concert productions for foreign tours. The most frequent participants in such programs were Beredina and Skirmantas, Bartusevičiūtė and Katakinas, as well as Valeikaitė.
Various dance companies from around the world performed in Lithuania between 1980 and 1990, helping to expand the horizons of both audiences as well as dance professionals, motivating the latter to challenge themselves and their work.
The Leningrad Ballet Ensemble visited Vilnius in 1982. In 1983, dancers from the “Estonia” theatre performed an evening of miniatures. In 1984, Vilnius hosted a tour by the Vanemuine Theatre Ballet Company from Tartu, Estonia, the Moscow Classical Ballet Company, and a Swiss ballet troupe headed by Oscar Araiz, and in 1985 Vilnius was visited by Leningrad’s Kirov Theatre soloists Irina Kolpakova, Galina Mezentseva, Nataliya Bolshakova, Vadim Gulyayev, Yelena Yevteyeva, and Sergei Berezhnoi, who performed classical duets as well as pieces of contemporary choreography: Maurice Béjart’s duet Bahti, and a fragment from Roland Petit’s ballet Notre-Dame de Paris.
The 1987 tour of Lithuania by Béjart’s ballet company was particularly well received. The “Ballet of the 20th Century” arrived in Vilnius by way of Leningrad, presenting a program titled Love and Death (including selections from Bolero, Mephisto’s Waltz, and other ballets), and select performances of the ballets The Fairy’s Kiss and Malraux, or The Metamorphosis of the Gods. Soloist Jorge Donn, who performed the lead role in Bolero was “showered with summer flowers by his fans”, according to a review in Komjaunimo tiesa (Communist Youth). Six Lithuanian dancers were among the thirty dancers accompanying Donn in Bolero on the stage of the Vilnius Sports Hall.
In late 1987, Vilnius hosted the José Russillo company, and in 1988 the Warsaw Grand Theatre (performing selections from Bits and Pieces, with choreography by Hans van Manen, and Béjart’s Don Juan). In 1989, Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo performed a repertoire that included early 20th century modern choreographic pieces that had never before been seen on Lithuanian stages: Sergei Prokofiev’s ballet The Prodigal Son (choreography by George Balanchine), Jacques Offenbach’s Gaité Parisienne (choreography by Leonid Miasin), as well as works from the second half of the 20th century, such The Leaves Are Fading, an abstract neoclassical ballet by Anthony Tudor based on the music of Antonin Dvořák, and Dennis Wayne’s The Next Dance, based on the music of Camille Saint-Saëns. Many soloists also performed in Lithuanian ballet productions in the 1980s—from other Soviet republics (Estonia, Latvia, Belarus, Ukraine) as well as from beyond Soviet borders. Internationally renowned Russian dancers appeared in guest roles as well, including Maya Plisetskaya and Farukh Ruzimatov, as did foreign dancers from other countries, including the Australians Elizabeth Toohey and David McAllister, Argentinian soloists Julio Bocca and Raquel Rossetti, and American dancer Lynne Charles.
The social and political changes that began in the late 1980s impacted the ballet world as well, leading to the pursuit and exploration of new themes, new music, and a new choreographic language, as in Paskutinės pagonių apeigos (Last Pagan Rites). Efforts were also initiated to expand the circle of guest choreographers beyond the Russian orbit (as with A próba and Catharsis), but these initiatives were infrequent and had no lasting impact on the development of Lithuanian ballet. 
Modern dance was still developing within the amateur cultural sphere, shaped primarily by the amateur expressionist dance company Sonata, in Kaunas, led for many years by Kira Daujotaitė. In 1979, Birutė Letukaitė (b. 1953) and ten other dancers left the Sonata company and began working independently at the Artificial Fiber Factory Culture and Sports Hall in Kaunas. This marked the beginning of a new era in Lithuanian dance culture: the renegade dance group became the core of the future Aura professional contemporary dance company.


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Sources and links

Petras Skirmantas
Neprarastas laikas: laiškai
Vilnius: „Krantų“ redakcija, 2014
Helmutas Šabasevičius
Lietuvių teatro istorija. Kn. 4: 1980–1990, sudarytoja Irena Aleksaitė, Vilnius: Kultūros, filosofijos ir meno institutas, 2009
Audronė Žiūraitytė
Ne vien apie baletą
Vilnius: „Krantų“ redakcija; Lietuvos muzikos ir teatro akademija, 2009
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