Game changers: ‘Lithuanian Story’ Cultural Festival

“My personal story with Israel goes farther back than Exposure,” laughs Letukaite. “My ex-husband is a Polish composer who used to make work with Ohad Naharin when he lived in New York City."

(photo credit: SVETLANA BATURA)
Every year for the past 18 years, Birute Letukaite has traveled from Kaunas, Lithuania, to Tel Aviv for the International Exposure dance festival at the Suzanne Dellal Center. Letukaite is one of the most loyal and outspoken guests the festival has ever seen. She has watched hundreds of Israeli dance creations in that time. This month, Letukaite will again travel to Tel Aviv, this time to present her troupe, the Aura Dance Company, to the Israeli community that she has come to call her home away from home. The performances are part of the Suzanne Dellal Center’s Lithuanian Story: Cultural Festival, which will shine a light on Lithuanian dance. Over three days, four ensembles from around the country will present their work to local audiences, giving a peek into what’s happening in dance in Lithuania today.
“My personal story with Israel goes farther back than Exposure,” laughs Letukaite via Skype. “My ex-husband is a Polish composer who used to make work with Ohad Naharin when he lived in New York City.”
Letukaite sits at a large desk, an associate sitting just beyond the camera’s range, assisting her with the translation of a word here and there. She has just finished a run of a new piece, which would premiere the following day in Vilnius. “It’s a very intense time now,” she says as she rolls her eyes.
The veteran choreographer and pioneering force in Lithuanian dance is no stranger to these moments. She has weathered ups and downs, tours, performances around the world, trends and budget cuts.
“I started the first festival in Lithuania in 1989 in Kaunas. I have Israeli dances every year that I invite. Many artists create pieces for us. Our audience is growing together. After six years, people in Vilnius started to organize the first new Baltic Dance Festival. Now we have two big festivals in Lithuania. In such a small country we have such a big dance community,” she explains.
Aura Dance Company was formed as a ground-breaking group. Prior to its establishment, Lithuania had little by means of modern and contemporary dance, from training to performance.
“We didn’t have schools. With Aura we started from zero, from nothing. We just said, ‘Come and we will turn you into dancers.’ Our theater was like a school in the beginning.”
Today the company is completely international, with only one Lithuanian dancer in the cast of nine.
While in Israel, the company will dance Game Changer, a striking work created in collaboration between Letukaite and visual artist Guda Koster. “She lives in Netherlands. We made one project together before. She’s a textile artist. She makes installations of textile in different forms. When I saw it, I was very interested.”
One year later, Letukaite approached Koster about coming together to make a new work for Aura.
“She had never done costumes for dance before. We started to talk and she accepted my proposal. We started to work and she made the costumes, but it was very difficult to move with these costumes. They are big, big, big!”
With the limitation of Koster’s creations, Letukaite started to ponder freedom – freedom of movement, spirit and body. She constructed the piece in two parts, the first with the constructs Koster had contributed, and the second with the dancers’ unencumbered bodies. She found that after working with the limitations of the costumes, choreographing without them felt joyful, light and easy.
 “I start to think what to do, how to move. The dancers couldn’t be free and I thought about freedom as a deeper idea. We had to find the way to express these ideas with these costumes. We started to think that in the second part we could take off the costumes. We had an open stage with no wings. We found how to slowly one by one take out the costumes and now it’s freedom. So we are free, what does that mean? I used the idea of American street dancers, the music they dance to. I asked my composer to create hip hop music for me. After that, we started to look for movements that related to this new freedom.”
Also presenting in the Lithuanian Story: Cultural Festival will be Low Air Dance Theater with Game Over, WE Compagnie/Vilma Pitrinaitė with Somaholidays, and Seiko Dance Company with The Seasons.
Aura Dance Company will present Game Changer on Friday, May 24, at 9 PM. For more information: