Fotografas R. Ščerbauskas
© R. Ščerbauskas

A dancer, choreographer, and dance educator Birutė Letukaitė is convinced that Kaunas – which has already had its golden age – can again become a modern city, which sets cultural trends. A conversation with the founder and head of AURA theatre about the daily challenges that many contemporary dance creators meet and inspiration sources that lie in every step.

What are the daily challenges for AURA?
In 1995, we joined the circle of professional theatres – AURA was the seventh theatre in Kaunas. It is disappointing that we still do not have space where we could present our performances. Although we have performed on various stages around the world, it is extremely complicated to have a show in our hometown. From the beginning of the theatre, we are forced to look for spaces for every performance and rent them. It often happens that we cannot have a show because theatre repertory stages are busy.
We have to rent space at VMU, Business Leaders Centre, in abandoned buildings and spaces that are not technically equipped for theatre shows. Then we meet more challenges and installation costs: lighting, audio equipment. There is no floor to dance, nor seats for the audience, so we have „to build“ a theatre in one night.
More than that, the audience tends to identify the building as a theatre. People know what they can see in a particular city theatre. However, this is not the case with AURA. Where can I see AURA performances? Where are you located?” – these are frequent questions that we receive from the audience. They don’t know where they can see the contemporary dance performances because every time we perform in different spaces. We are like a ping-pong ball in Kaunas. The audience is forced to wander between museums and former factories. Theatre employees have an enormous task of bringing the message about the location of an upcoming AURA show to the audience. Meanwhile, dance lovers are not always capable of finding the messages about the changing locations of AURA shows in the tide of events and information.
Kaunas needs an independent platform where both company and independent artists could perform. Vilnius has “Menų spaustuvė“ for that, Klaipėda has “Kultūros fabrikas.“ Most Western European cities have such space. Therefore, an independent theatre platform where – similar to planes in the airport – troupes and creators would change each other is necessary for Kaunas. I speak for all artists, but this is the most pressing issue for us because AURA is a city theatre with a repertoire.
AURA’s troupe includes a lot of foreigners. How does internationality contribute to the shaping of AURA style? What are your usual requirements for your dancers?
Of course, a fully trained body is very important. A dancer must be able to manage his tool of work – body – flawlessly. However, if a perfect body lacks personality, I am not interested in it at all. Bodily and internal synthesis happens extremely rare. It is my ongoing task: pulling out the inherent depths from a dancer. Some give up before they learn this, and others grow up in the process. All people are different. Therefore, some people need more time for that, and some of them need less. However, a person will seek for original expression, if he is inherently sensitive and does not hold unreasonable beliefs that things should be done in certain ways.
Being international, changes the troupe’s face, without a doubt. First of all, new colours show up with Japanese, Korean, or Mexican dancers. Different facial and body features, posture, temperament are encoded in their genes. Cultural experience and differences in thinking add to it too. Therefore, creative range significantly expands when people from various corners of the world bring their experience into creative processes. A repertoire which I am responsible for shapes and completes AURA.
In addition to the usual theatre work, we have started a new activity. We have created a platform “On AURA trampoline“ dedicated for beginner choreographers. The former and current AURA dancers with an ambition to become choreographers can use it for experiments. They can experiment and express their ideas employing AURA troupe dancers that we entrust them with when producing performances.
The annual dance festival AURA, which took place in Kaunas, this autumn, offered the residents and guests the opportunity to learn about the novelties in contemporary dance. What contemporary dance trends dominated in the festival this year?
This year, the festival was dedicated to the memory of Danutė Nasvytytė: it was she who planted the seeds of modern dance in Kaunas, in 1939. We celebrate the hundredth anniversary of her birth this year. I went to Melbourne, Australia, eight years ago and visited D. Nasvytytė’s son, an artist and composer Sigitas Gabrijolavičius. I had an idea to bring her son’s works to Lithuania and produce a show to honour D. Nasvytytė back then. I had a desire to bring back D.Nasvytytė’s spirit to Lithuania using his works and mine – as of the third generation representative, who continues the tradition of modern dance.
This year we presented a performance “Labyrinth“ in the festival and organised an exhibition dedicated to this personality, who has made a huge input into Lithuanian culture and development of contemporary dance. Sadly, she hasn’t received a proper attention and appreciation to this day.
Last year, we presented the festival’s audience “Dance tour 4×4“, which consisted of four performances in different architectural places of Kaunas old town. A tour guide telling the history of Kaunas buildings accompanied audience groups. As this novelty has attracted enormous interest and appreciation of the audience, during AURA 26, we have held dance tour, but this time it took place in modernist architectural objects of interwar Kaunas.
We also introduced the brightest star in the dome of contemporary dance – the troupe L-E-V led by Israeli choreographer Sharon Eyal. I have known Sharon for many years, and I had a dream to show her works to Lithuanian audience. This has financially challenged the festival, but we did it. The L-E-V troupe founded by Sharon Eyal and Gay Behar has a unique style that cannot be confused with anything else. The complete perfection of music volume, perfect lighting, precise moves produced an unforgettable spectacle which sent the audience into an ecstasy.
You seek for the variety in expression. Where do you find inspiration for that? Why do you choose non-traditional spaces for your shows?
I like spaces that are not adapted for dance in a traditional sense. I like collaborating with other artists, searching for a different bodily expression, finding solutions for uncomfortable situations when I encounter unusual musical sounds or space, or the idea of another artist that seem too difficult to realise. Artistic challenges mobilise you, and you have to find a solution right away. That’s the adrenaline filled creative work I have.
Themes for work are born in various ways: after seeing a move in a rehearsal room, shape, hearing the music. Sometimes a person with an odd gait or way that a homeless person lies, branches breaking in the wind or national sashes, our social issues that resonate strongly with my heart – these things can inspire me. Inspiration can come from anywhere: starting with the most modern works of art ending with the most archaic ones, like sashes, which gave the idea for the choreographic stage pattern for „Godos” performance. Sometimes spaces give an idea. The places of a particular concentration are waiting for their turn: I imagine the connections between sacred music and motion in churches.
What is the aura of Kaunas?
I don’t know why, but many people see Kaunas in a negative light, and they mock it. The negative image of Kaunas formed during the Soviet era and the early years of independence when boys in tracksuits showed up in the city. But they showed up in other cities too.
Despite that, we have a rich interwar Kaunas history when from Tsarist province town Kaunas turned into European city with the architecture, art, intellectuals, and artists that were equal to the rest of the Europe. This period received the name of a golden age for some purpose: everybody was bringing their genius to Kaunas as bees bring honey to the hive. We have an opportunity for the second attempt now. Once Kaunas becomes Culture Capital, I hope we will be able to shape a special image for the city – one of life, strength, and vigour. Thanks to art and culture, we can create the picture of energetic, dynamic, and a seeker city.
What would you wish for Kaunas as an ambassador of “Kaunas 2022?” How could the city change?
I would like us to plough the same furrow instead of ploughing a lonely one. I would like us to have a vision. And also, that those who manage the city’s finances were bright and intelligent people and saw what the city needs to become attractive to both city residents and visitors. I would wish for Kaunas try to match the best European and global examples, listen to the opinion of the professionals. New York is the ultimate city to me. It is the second largest city as well, but it is the best, the most excellent and interesting city that everyone wants to visit. People say that America and New York are two separate things. Let Kaunas be the New York.

Video: Marius Paplauskas