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  Vol. 16, No 1, 2008
A Dizzying Rise to the Top

Author:
Kristina Savickienė

Art critics say that Lora Juodkaitė is the most interesting dancer you can see on the Lithuanian stage today. Journalists note that an exceptional feature of her work is quality, which crosses the boundaries of dancing and reflects many facets of art.

In their emails, viewers comment that what she does hypnotises, enchants and surprises. Over several years, she has not only earned the love of viewers and the respect of colleagues, but also much critical acclaim. In 2007, she received the Golden Cross of the Stage, a prize for the season’s best debut.

Besides participating in international festivals for several years now, at the end of last year she became the first Lithuanian dancer to perform on the stage of The Place, one of the most famous modern dance venues in London.

 

Dance means work

Juodkaitė’s appearance as a dancer was unexpected. She stirred up great excitement in several jazz projects in which she improvised. She shaved her hair during a performance, danced and painted at the same time, or hung on a wall, defying the laws of gravity.

Another time she shocked audiences at the New Baltic Dance Festival with her painted naked body. She radiated and pulsated with such energy that her dance became the highlight of the festival, overshadowing many other interesting performances.

Despite her sudden leap to the stage, it took her a long time to get to where she is now. Although she says that she came to love dancing in her childhood, on leaving school she chose the visual arts. She graduated from Vilnius Academy of Art with a diploma in scenography. While still a student, she formed a dance club, which she still leads.

Having realised that dancing is her calling, she entered the Salzburg Experimental Academy of Dance. There she worked hard, devoting all her time to practising. She knew that she would devote her life to contemporary dance.

“Dancing is like any other work. I’ve found my way of expressing myself through my body, through movement. I love dancing as work.”

Her strong will and her determination are her keys to success.

 

How it is born

Juodkaitė’s work is outstanding in the context of contemporary Lithuanian dance. Her dancing cannot be attributed to any one category. On her return to Lithuania, she joined interdisciplinary music and dance projects. She improvised with Vladimir Čekasin, the godfather of avant-garde, Jean-François Laporte, the French creator of experimental music, the singer Andrė Pabarčiūtė, and the percussionist Tomas Dobrovolskis, who plays musical instruments of his own making.

She kept looking for like-minded people and teachers. One of them was the charismatic actor and theatre director Valentinas Masalskis. The two artists staged a performance called Salamandros sapnas. Paveikslas (Salamandra’s Dream. A Picture) at a disused printing house in Vilnius’ Old Town. It was a production which united dance and theatre, choreography and directing. This performance and the composition with jazzmen Čia ir dabar (Here and Now) brought her the country’s highest award for drama.

“Dance, for me, is inseparable from rituals, from communicating with an audience, musicians and other dancers. Dance is born here and now, not in a text.

“For the thing which floats in the air to be born, but cannot be defined or named, the energy of all the people who are taking part in the ritual has to coincide. With my dance, I want to talk to people.”

And this is what she does, alone and with other dancers, with images and metaphors, and movement. The process of creation is constant in her mind, taking place on the stage and in the street, even when she picks up a cup of coffee or applies some hand cream. She also acts in films. With her dancing, she has charmed audiences in Lithuania and elsewhere, at festivals in Ukraine, Armenia and the Russian Federation.

 

Denial of human anatomy

When watching Juodkaitė’s performances, a critic has pointed out, all your knowledge about human anatomy is turned upside down. Managing to dance with her fingertips and her spine, she can become a headless reptile investigating what is around it, a butterfly larva which is afraid to leave its cocoon, the hands of a clock or the doll in a musical box. Her most impressive talent, however, is her ability to spin for a long time without stopping or losing her balance.

The British theatre critic Andrew Hayden wrote after seeing her performance in London: “She spins for minutes at a time, arms variously flailing, pinioned and seemingly suspended, in a display that is dizzying and hypnotic to watch. In the final sequence she rolls herself into a length of paper, so she is totally bound from head to foot in a paper cylinder, and then gradually tries to free herself again.”

He finished by making a heartfelt recommendation: “I would strongly urge anyone with an interest in performance and the possible future of theatre to check it out.”

The Lithuanian dance critic Helmutas Šabasevičius has called her spins “fantastic and superhuman”.

The people in the hall hold their breath when she is spinning. The feeling you get is like falling into a trance in a dervish ritual. The emotional tension is so strong that you stop asking “How does she manage to do it?” The dancer’s perfect performance is always superseded by the spiritual load, and her belief in her mission as an artist, which she emanates.

Being praised for her mastery, for her knowledge of the techniques of contemporary dance, she always, nevertheless, emphasises that the essence of dance is not being able to use the body to perfection.

“Feeling your body, even every finger, is not enough. If you could feel it in your bones … what could you do then?”

 

For her country

Juodkaitė, who is constantly on the road, has to keep to a tight schedule, as otherwise she would not achieve what she has planned. She puts all her energy into her work.

“My everyday life consists of a cup of coffee, sleep and food. Everything else, love, anger, struggles and hatred, exists for me on the stage. Dance is my life.”

She believes strongly that the worst a dancer can do is to be satisfied with what she has achieved. Juodkaitė is one of those young artists who went abroad to study but returned to her homeland. She knew well that it would be difficult to work here, but she was not put off by lack of funds, traditions or the absence of a school of contemporary dance, which was banned under the Soviets. The fact that it is taking its first steps is not an obstacle for her, but rather a challenge.

“Lithuanian drama is already known outside the country. But contemporary dance is not. I believe that we are a spiritual and energetic people. We can achieve a lot.”

And that is what she has been doing, with great determination, joining dance with arts that have deep roots in the country, namely, music, painting and theatre, and sharing her experience with other artists.

The contemporary dance niche in Lithuania is still not filled, as so far there are very few professional dancers. Juodkaitė’s dream is to have her own company. Always full of ideas, she radiates enthusiasm, and is ready to share it with others.

“It’s necessary to help people get out of their cocoons, to open up and discover new things in themselves.”

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