Fotografas R. Ščerbauskas
© R. Ščerbauskas

A conversation with Gintarė Masteikaitė about the situation of contemporary performing arts in Kaunas, creative potential that lies in the city, and the barriers that exist between the creators and spectators and are destroying the contemporary art forms.
You used to work at “Menų spaustuvė“. What is the essence of this space, and how do Vilnius and its residents benefit from it?
It is one of the main institutions in Lithuania that are designated for contemporary performing arts. It enables not only the practice of contemporary dance creators but also stimulates the intense activity of the representatives of other fields in performing arts: contemporary theatre, physical theatre, contemporary circus, a new theatre for kids, and so on. The institution’s work directly relates to the growth and strengthening of contemporary dance and circus community. “Menų spaustuvė” programmes help the development of young independent creators, present the pieces of foreign creators, organise international residencies, run two international festivals. These and other activities stimulate local cultural field. The spaces of “Menų spaustuvė” offer an opportunity to see the production of the independent sector and helps to present foreign production in Vilnius. I have to admit that through this institution, residents get a unique opportunity to observe the phenomena of various performing arts in their early stages.
Klaipėda city has a similar institution; meanwhile, Kaunas having a huge potential of young theatre and dance creators, great traditional circus, and a slowly emerging community of contemporary circus, has nothing of that sort. We are the second largest Lithuanian city. Kaunas city is a white spot on the map of foreign performing arts. Only on those rare occasions like International Dance Festival „Aura,” Centro, and other occasional initiatives, the city residents and guests have an opportunity to enjoy the productions of foreign creators. Without an independent platform, which is called black box, the city loses the young generation of performing arts creators, closes itself, and does not stimulate the renewal of the local performing arts scene. These are the times when internationality is not only vitally important but a natural course of things, as well. If we want to intrigue others, we have to open up to the world and create a space where the world could visit us and share its best. The emergence of such a space in Kaunas could offer young creators not only an opportunity to work with the foreign professionals, but would also strongly stimulate Kaunas cultural field and help the growth of the performing arts scene and the development of its novel forms in Lithuania overall.
You have coordinated International Dance Festival “Aura“ in Kaunas for a long time. At the moment, you work at children and youth dance theatre “Dansema“. How would you describe dance culture in Lithuania? Kaunas?
Kaunas is a Mecca of contemporary dance. Dance theatre “Aura” is the strongest dance institution in Lithuania. It has a big support of city residents, and this is unique. “Aura” nurtured its audience because it had invested all of its time into raising and development of contemporary dance audience. It is namely because of “Aura” that young creators emerge in Kaunas constantly. After being raised by “Aura”, they slowly start their own path, begin to implement their ideas and create independently. Mantas Stabačinskas, Marius Pinigis, Liza Baliasnaja – to name just a few of those creators, and there are many others. I would dare to say that the situation of Lithuanian contemporary dance is improving, there are more strong new creators, the genre is expanding. Working with Lithuanian dance projects abroad, I see that some of our production is competitive in the international market. The results of last year’s foreign tour make me especially happy. I would like to note the dance theatre “Dansema” founded by Birutė Banevičiūtė and her production for babies – it has no equals in Lithuania and the Baltic states. “Dansema” ventures into the international market and I believe that the creators of this theatre will soon join the ranks of the best and most famous theatres that work with babies and children.
In “Kaunas: European Capital of Culture 2022“ project you present the initiative of the Festival of Contemporary Circus and Dance. What would be the spirit of such a festival? How can contemporary dance and circus engage Kaunas society and encourage it to speak?
It was no coincidence that this idea came to life. Frankly speaking, at the moment, it is transforming into somewhat broader context. My activity has always involved the dance, and during recent years, the circus as well. Kaunas is the cradle of contemporary dance, and „Aura” has cultivated this field intensely. Therefore, we have a basis to develop such projects. The contemporary circus is the most social form of art that represents the connections with the other forms of performing arts. In the contemporary circus, you can see anything: all forms of theater, dance, concert, pure or documentary circus, and similar things because the performers usually have the basics of contemporary dance, theater, and circus. Combining dance with circus has become a global tendency by now. The aim is that the artists of these fields met each other, found each other and the ways to create and work together.
Overcoming language barrier is essential if we wish to invite more of foreign creators who could share their experience and work with the local communities and artists as well. Usually, theater employs a lot of spoken language; meanwhile, in dance and circus, only universal visual body language exists. Thanks to it, people of different nationalities can easily understand each other.
The language of dance and circus art makes the communication with the audience very easy. The festival aims to bring performing arts to the environments that are usual and familiar for the city residents: such as parks, yards, markets, schools, and finally to visit them in their homes. The aim of this project is to set up conditions for the direct communication of creators and community. The conditions which make space for the discovery novel languages, ways to create, new forms of art, and finally the activities that promote communality and creativity. We want to break down a wall between the creator and the viewer.
Currently, you mostly work in Vilnius, a city that became the European Capital of Culture in 2009. What kind of cultural changes did this bring to Vilnius after the city received the title, and what this project promises to Kaunas?
I think that every project of this level is a huge opportunity for the city not only to heal its wounds but, also, to take a bold step forward in the realisation of its dreams and ambitions.
“Vilnius: European Capital of Culture” has brought together part of the community, some events have emerged and passed the test of several years, and even after the “Capital of Culture” project was over, they continued, grew, and still are developing and expanding.
Two successful projects could be noted as important not only for Vilnius but, also, at a national level. One of them is „Street Musician’s Day” that united Lithuanian musicians. Another interesting project that acts as a catalyst for urban life is „Culture Night.” On a warm night in June, you can go out and see people thirsty for art and experiences, and many artists who happily take part in all of this. It is a great occasion for discovering culture in the city. Culture reveals the beauty of every square that we are not used to visiting or spaces that are usually closed. On that night, you can see various installations, concerts, and performances there.
“European Capital of Culture” project is a great and unique chance for the renewal of the city and its community. It is a moment not only to rethink the existing potential but, also, to carry out new projects that would offer fresh opportunities that didn’t exist before. I am talking about the establishment of new institutions and spaces (contemporary art centre, a platform for performing arts, creative industry incubators, and such), the emergence of new creative/cultural projects or renewal of the existing ones, stimulation of internationality and mobility in all fields. That would definitely help the city to become more appealing to live and work in, reduce emigration, and raise the level of happiness.
In your eyes, what are the cultural strengths of Kaunas? What makes this city unique in the cultural sense? What can it show to Europe and the world?
Kaunas is full of culture. We have projects that are earning us fame around the world. Those are Kaunas Biennial, Kaunas Jazz, Kaunas Photo, International Dance Festival “Aura,” and others. Our theatre audience is exclusively loyal. Where else can you see so many dressed up and neat people, if it was not in Kaunas theatres? We like classical music and love the jazz, we are a little wary of contemporary art, but we can spend hours in the queue during the openings of Kaunas Biennial. We literally break the records of exhibition attendance. And I could talk for hours about Kaunas boheme and architecture.
Kaunas artists’ community is unique and different. It brings together the artists from various fields, representatives of creative industries, architects. They interact with each other and significantly influence each other, their communication encourages creativity.
The city already has a cultural basis that is a great medium to develop new ideas, take bold steps into the future, and allow new contemporary forms to enter all fields. We need a renewal if we want to go hand in hand with the global processes and open the doors and windows to all city guests.
Kaunas has enormous potential; the city only needs to release it. Kaunas is Lithuania’s geographical centre, but it has to become a cultural centre too.

Video: Marius Paplauskas