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HELĒNA TANGIJEVA-BIRZNIECE'S CONTRIBUTION TO LATVIAN BALLET

Helēna Tangijeva-Birzniece (1907–1965) worked on all aspects of the Latvian ballet art: choreography, teaching, preserving of classical values and Latvian folk dancing tradition.

Tangijeva-Birzniece’s productions of classical ballet stood out with their subtle sense of style and sophisticated taste in variations, duets, and corps de ballet dances alike. According to critics, the most spectacular classical production was Adolphe Adam’s "Le Corsaire" with Edīte Pfeifere and Osvalds Lēmanis dancing the leads (conductor Jānis Kalniņš, set and costume designer Ludolfs Liberts). The production was styled after the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, consistent with the traditions of Russian classical ballet. After the premiere in Riga, the ballet troupe of the Latvian National Opera (LNO) went on a tour to Sweden where, with great success, they presented "Le Corsaire" as well as J. Mediņš’s "Mīlas uzvara", un "Divertisments." The ballet troupe received several Swedish state awards and  Tangijeva-Birzniece  was awarded the "Literis et Artibus" gold medal.

After successful productions of classics, in 1947 Tangijeva-Birzniece staged Anatols Liepiņš’s "Laima", her first Latvian original.  The production had its highlights: the synthesis between classical ballet and Latvian folk dancing and outstanding dancers. The arrangement of "Gatves deja" and the spectacular "Rucavietis" from the finale now are considered national treasures and are included in the repertoire of every Dance Festival.

Tangijeva-Birzniece’s masterpiece was Ravel’s "Bolero" staged in 1958.  Dance historian Elza Siliņa wrote: "This production belongs to the choreographer’s greatest achievements. It shows the unique approach of an independently thinking personality to the pattern of dance images. "Bolero" : it is one color, one facet of a character, one feeling to be filled with hitherto unknown intensity. The laconic narrative of the dance highlights one intense and dramatic experience"

1959 saw the collaboration with the composer Romualds Grīnblats in staging the next Latvian original, the ballet "Rigonda".  The unique character of the music prompted innovations in choreography. "Rigonda", to be later followed by Sergei Rachmaninoff’s "Symphonic Dances", could be considered the first attempts at symphonic choreography in Latvian ballet.  

Tangijeva-Birzniece’s ballet miniatures are considered Latvian golden classics: Vītols’s "Dārgakmeņi", Dārziņš’s "Melanholiskais valsis", Straus’s "By the Blue Danube".  

For the development of Latvian ballet, the pedagogical work of Tangijeva-Birzniece was of great importance; she taught all her life: at the Leningrad ballet school, at her private ballet studio, at the ballet school of the Latvian National Opera, and at the Riga School of Choreography. Over a period of forty years many outstanding dancers have benefitted from her professional advice: Anna Priede, Mirdza Griķe, Velta Vilciņa, Ināra Gintere, Ausma Dragone, Ināra Ābele, Sarmīte Jakse, and many others.

Gunta Bāliņa

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