Ballet Master Aleksandrs Lembergs (1921–1985) and Latvian Ballet, 1960s–1980s
Largely thanks to ballet grand Aleksandrs Lembergs, the 1960s−1980s are among the brightest moments in the history of Latvian ballet. During this time, the Opera and Ballet Theatre of the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic (now − the Latvian National Opera and Ballet) launched numerous productions and became known for its guest performances abroad.
Lembergs invested a lot in the development of a new generation of dancers who went on to receive acclaim at ballet festivals around the world. Many international choreographers, including Boris Eifman (1946), also worked with the troupe at this time.
Dancer and choreographer Lembergs first studied under Alexandra Fedorova (1884−1972), a former soloist at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, and the founder of ballet in Latvia. He started his career as an artist under the guidance of choreographer Osvalds Lēmanis (1903−1965).
Having spent a year studying and dancing in Paris, in 1939 Lembergs became a soloist at the Ballet of the Latvian National Opera. He was a very versatile dancer and held lead roles in most productions, from classical ballet to national romanticism, to dramatic Soviet ballets until the early 1960s.
Lembergs could adapt to very varied character roles with romantic, dramatic, tragic or comic storylines. Latvia’s then-leading choreographers Jevgeņijs Čanga (1920−1999) and Helēna Tangijeva-Birzniece (1907−1965) saw and appreciated this ability. Their influence on Lembergs’s own later choreography is obvious.
In 1968, Lembergs became the chief choreographer of the Opera and Ballet Theatre of the Latvian SSR and remained in this post until his passing in 1985. During this time, Lembergs staged nine full length productions, nine single act ballets, one ballet-opera and three classical ballet interpretations.
Even his very first productions – “Pan and Syrinx” (Pāns un Sīringa, 1963), “Peer Gynt” (Pērs Gints, 1966), “Inca Gold” (Inku zelts, 1967) and “Notre Dame de Paris” (Parīzes Dievmātes katedrāle, 1970) − won acclaim for Lembergs. Through them he successfully demonstrated his choreographic style, which focused on the classic fundamentals of dance, the expressiveness of the body and grace of movement.
The dancers’ acting skills were also important to Lembergs. He put a lot of trust in his dancers, thus allowing them to develop their artistic intuition and assigning them equal responsibility over the production.
The 1971 production of “Carmen” (Karmena) with music by Georges Bizet (1838−1875) and Rodion Shchedrin (1932) is considered one of Lembergs’s career highlights. In it, Lembergs mixed classical dance language with contemporary elements.
Some of the best ballerinas of that time played Carmen but Larisa Tuisova’s (1948) performance was rated as world class. The production travelled the world with guest performances in Mexico, Egypt, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Switzerland, Italy and France. In Moscow, in 1979 the legendary ballet dancer Māris Liepa (1936−1989) played Jose.
Lembergs partnered with composer Arvīds Žilinskis (1905–1993) to produce two original children’s ballets – “Sprīdītis” (1968, renewed in 1983) and “Lolita’s Wonderbird” (Lolitas brīnumputns, 1979). Both ballets were based on the work of writer Anna Brigadere (1861−1933), became hugely popular and ran for many years.
International choreographers visited Lembergs’s troupe, opening their eyes towards different creative approaches. Boris Eifman (1946) of St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad) left the most significant mark on ballet in Latvia. The talented artist produced a number of performances in Riga – “Gayane” (Gajanē, 1976) with music by composer Aram Khachaturian (1903–1978), Two Voices (Divbalsība, 1978) with music by “Pink Floyd” (founded in 1964) and “The Interrupted Song” (Pārtrauktā dziesma, 1978) with music by Imants Kalniņš (1941) from his “Fourth Symphony” (1973), which is itself included in the Cultural Canon. Eifman’s choreography was contemporary and original, yet still intertwined with elements of classical dance language.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Lembergs helped a number of unique dancers grow to become recognised stars. Zita Errs (1952), Genādijs Gorbaņovs (1950), Aleksandrs Rumjancevs (1952), Lita Beiris (1952), Viesturs Jansons, Gunta Bāliņa (1955), Aivars Leimanis (1958) and Inese Dumpe (1955) won acclaim at international competitions and festivals. The so-called “Lembergs’s dancers” are considered one of the finest generations in the history of Latvian ballet.
Some of them continue to influence the contemporary ballet scene. Aivars Leimanis has been the artistic director of the Latvian National Ballet since 1993, Lita Beiris is the director of the International Baltic Ballet Festival and Gunta Bāliņa is one of Latvia’s most active dance theoreticians.
Translated by Lelde Beņķe
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Baiba Beinaroviča par Aleksandru Lembergu Latvijas kultūras kanonā, 2017.
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