by Danguole Razutyte Varniene

Los Angeles Lithuanian-American youth ensemble LB Spindulys took on the challenge to host the XIII Lithuanian Folk Dance Festival. Spindulys, registering as the largest of the 40 participating groups from the North American continent, welcomed the task of planning and presenting the upcoming festival. Preparations for this huge event, which would feature over 1000 dancers in a large amphitheater performing to an audience of three thousand, took over a year of planning. This was to be the 13th such festival, occurring only every four years in North America, and now it was to be held for the first time in Los Angeles. What a challenge!

The leadership of this event was handed to our local talented Spindulys dance leaders who, together with the organizing Committee, took up the most difficult tasks to pull this festival together in a very short time! Members of the Committee were enthusiastic parents of our present dancers who had once been folk dancers themselves! They had danced in many festivals elsewhere and "knew the drill."

By trusting the good graces of fellow Lithuanian-American "Los Angelenos" and arming themselves with the determination to make this dance production and festival a class act, the preparations began. In less than two years, this kind of challenge had to be met by careful planning, continuous rehearsals, "soulsearching" while "testing the waters" with mini performances for the locals.

The creative coordination and title of Artistic Director was entrusted to Danguole Razutyte Varniene, our own Los Angeles LB Spindulys director as well as the president of LTSI (Lithuanian Folk Dance Institute). To figure how the many groups, dancing in 15 quadrants at one time, could mix, blend, and alternate into floor patterns, executing intricate polka dance steps, yet keeping the flow of the program to be interesting to the viewers, was the major part of her job. To come up with how to entertain an anticipated audience of many non-Lithuanian people, getting their first taste of Lithuanian folk dancing, was destined to be the ultimate challenge

The immense tasks of the volunteer Organizing Committee, chaired by Jurgis Joga, Rimas Stockus, Donatas Empakeris, Marija (Danguole) Navickas, were to produce the show, get the word out, house and transport the guests, sell the tickets, plan to provide a weekend of fun filled events and celebrations for the dance "conventioneers. To jump start from a zero budget to meet all the costs, sign all contracts, establish and build a brand new website, yet still maintain their daily lives in jobs in the "real world," was a sacrifice beyond belief!

We are pleased to announce, that both sides of the coin, the creative and the administrative, met all their challenges with great success! Over 1000 Lithuanian dancers graced the floor of the USC basketball arena, the Galen Center, on July 6, 2008, and the success of the festival was measured by the broad smiles of the dancers and the standing ovation from the crowd of viewers. The fruits of the labors were reaped in the reward of a most successful show ever presented!

Spindulys dancers make their  entrance at  the XIII Lithuanian Folk Dance Festival - click to  enlarge
Spindulys dancers make their  entrance at  the XIII Lithuanian Folk Dance Festival - click to  enlarge
XIII Lithuanian Folk Dance Festival - click to  enlarge
XIII Lithuanian Folk Dance Festival - click to  enlarge
XIII Lithuanian Folk Dance Festival - click to  enlarge
XIII Lithuanian Folk Dance Festival - click to  enlarge
XIII Lithuanian Folk Dance Festival - click to  enlarge
Conclusion - XIII Lithuanian Folk Dance Festival - click to  enlarge
Perhaps living in Hollywood just makes one know that to have a good show anything is possible and everything should be tried out. Our sophisticated audiences of this century require "pzazz"! Knowing this, and feeling up to the challenge, it was important that we add in some props, special lighting effects, and make use of the Jumbotron screen to enhance the show.

A very special thanks goes to actress Ruta Lee, a long term supporter of Spindulys and Lithuanian community activities, for bringing a 'Hollywood' touch to our opening ceremonies.

Making the show a success

The keys to the success of the show were: the Creative Program Planning Team, under the leadership of Danguole Varnas, and featuring Lidija Ringus, Tomas Mikuckis, Sigita Barysiene, and Linas Polikaitis. The Music Team featured Rimas Polikaitis and Auksuole Jackunaite who together assembled and organized the music content for the show.

The Technical - Staging Team, under the leadership of Aloyzas Razutis (Technical Director - Lighting Director) featured the invaluable assistance of Lina Kontrimas (Assistant Technical Manager - Lighting Manager), Claudia Sumner Kazlauskas (Video and Communications Manager), Gaile Oslapas (Stage Manager), and the Prop Department led by Stasys Pinkus with Erikas Petraitis, "GI-RO's" Gintaras Jocius and Rolandas Kiaulevicius, Chuck Paxton, and others helping to construct, prepare, and operate the props for the show. Festival photographer was Casey Kazlauskas.

The management of dancers featured the assistance of the "Tunnelmasters", our "Spindulys" teachers Daina Zemaitaitis, Regina Polikaitis, Viktorija and Tauras Radvenis, Dana Scola, RIta Zukas.
XIII Lithuanian Folk Dance Festival - click to  enlarge
XIII Lithuanian Folk Dance Festival - click to  enlarge
XIII Lithuanian Folk Dance Festival - click to  enlarge
XIII Lithuanian Folk Dance Festival - click to  enlarge
XIII Lithuanian Folk Dance Festival - click to  enlarge

Live video presentation on Jumbotron was under the direction of Arvydas Reneckis (assisted by Claudia Sumner Kazlauskas and Aloyzas Razutis) and his crew from Chicago. This was a necessary element of the staging and provided viewers with a unique and changing views of the show. Galen House technicians and managers were also on hand to assist in the program presentation. Members of IATSE Local 33 were employed as follow spot operators, and with little rehearsal time, their creativity and contribution was photo (as in the pictures below) memorable.

XIII Lithuanian Folk Dance Festival - click to  enlarge
XIII Lithuanian Folk Dance Festival - click to  enlarge
Ruta Lee on the big screen - XIII Lithuanian Folk Dance Festival - click to  enlarge
XIII Lithuanian Folk Dance Festival - click to  enlarge

Key to the "behind the scenes, smooth workings" were Rasa Hendrickson (creator of the festival logo, and publications graphic artist), Vilija Gulbinaite Joyce (webmaster for, Zita Petkus (major contributor to the program publication), Sigute Miller (festival announcer), and included a LB Spindulys Moral Support and "Everything support" team featuring Kristina Dudor, Vaida Mikuckis, Maryte Newsom, Audra Narbutas, Vita Vilkas, Undine Petrulis, Laima Matulionis and others.

The Organizing Committee included Co-Chairmen Jurgis Joga, Rimas Stockus, Donatas Empakeris, Danguole Navickas, chairwoman extraordinaire, Linas Butkys, Daina Kasputis, Kastytis Norvaisa, Kristina Svarcas, and a whole list of other volunteers found in the Program book.

A photo featuring many of our Festival 'behind the scenes' contributors at the Gala Banquet, Universal Hilton

Revisiting the preparations

In preparation for the Festival, 175 LB Spindulys dancers of Los Angeles rehearsed every weekend for almost a year, at the St.Casimir Lithuanian Parish, meeting in different age group categories (44 children of the Lithuanian Saturday school, 70 youth - "jaunimas", 50 senior dancers, 10 instructors). Every other group from around the United States and Canada - 36 others - and then, adding 3 from Lithuania -- were preparing in their home city as well. The teachers and directors of all groups had received their dance notes, directions and instructions from a workshop in "Dainava", Michigan, only starting up those preparations in August, 2007. Registration for the event was completed by December, 2007. Continuous dialogue between the Artistic Director and over 80 teachers of the various groups was crucial for the next six months. Thank goodness for e mail, on-site visitations, as well as the telephone for ongoing communication across the continent and world.

By the time everyone gathered in July 2008, all hopes and dreams to implement a wonderful gathering of Lithuanians in the "far off" city of Los Angeles, California, would be tried out and tested. Everyone wanted to know, would our vision of this festival and the understanding of the evolution of our Lithuanian-American lives be successful. On the weekend of the Festival in July, dress rehearsals for the 1000 dancers were possible only once at the Universal Hilton Hotel grand ballroom for half a day, and then, only one day at the Galen Center itself.

The themes of the show

To showcase the great variety of Lithuanian folk dances, a thematic format was chosen by the creative team. The theme of the show was selected to say, "Let's strike up a JOYFUL DANCE - from the happiness of spring to the labors of summer... "

Young women welcomed the audience in the graceful, traditional KEPURINE dance with straw hats, whereas young men showed their agility dancing with sticks in MIKITA. Little children added to the fun frolicking as little geese, PLAUKE ZASELE, or holding wooden spoons to slap the beat of a children's rhyme, VIRU, VIRU KOSE. Senior dancers danced the waltz to SIUNTE MANE MOTINELE and surrounded the floor bringing in props to make the wreath garden for springtime, SIDIR VIDIR ZOLYNELIS, then later, the rye garlands in RUGIO GIESME for the harvests of summer.

There were dances telling stories: the elegant flight of the swallows in BLEZDINDGELE, the comical fun with the rooster, GAIDYS, followed by a dance to a most popular song to the lapwing bird, "PEMPEL, PEMPEL", also a dance about the much loved goat, OZELIS. A lovely dance with flowers , SESE SODA SODINO, written by a renown choreographer from Lithuania, Laimute Kisieliene, and a charming young girls' dance with wreaths, VAINIKU SOKIS, written by our own Ona Razutiene (founder of SPINDULYS) were special additions to the festival. The subsequent mixing with the fun were dances called ZILVITIS (The Willow) and KALVELIS (The Little Blacksmith) - old time favorites, where dancers encircled gigantic props of a GOAT and a ROOSTER, especially created for this festival to entertain and acquaint the audience to the uniqueness of Lithuanian dances.

The second half of the program was dedicated to the magic of summertime feelings. Starting with a magnificent dance of circles around a bonfire, DEK UGNIE (also the creation of Laimute Kisieliene), made one think of all nationalities and our pagan roots - people dancing in circles to celebrate life! The geometric floor patterns shown in other dances depicting working in the fields, EISIM SESULES, MINTINIS, or the intricate weaving on the loom to a finished woven sash ("juosta") in ASTUONNYTIS, or dancing with wooden shoes (clogs) for more fun and merriment when work is done - TRAPUKAS, KLUMPAKOJIS - were all part of the celebration of joy!

There were other moments to showcase dances, specific to different areas of Lithuania, such as KLAIPEDIECIU APVALCIUS, IS APLINKUI, VYZELE. The great variety in dances was carefully selected for different age categories as well as for dance movements.

The crowd held their breath, as they watched all age groups surround the Harvest Woman, "Rugiu Boba" (the largest prop ) - in a celebration of the harvest. Now that the rye/wheat was cut, gathered and tied in bundles in RUGUCIAI, next, the bundles were danced around in KUGIUKAS, and finally taken to the WINDMILL, culminating in the most favorite dance of all, the MALUNAS (The WINDMILL). It was then only logical and wonderful, that the favorite dance of all bring in all 1100 dancers to the grand finale -- SUKTINIS -- the most traditional dance for all Lithuanians, favored to be a part of every Lithuanian event!

No matter who dances, or how one wants to dance, big or small, in circles or with couples, this last impromptu explosion into a "sea of people" on the floor really demonstrated fantastic energy and joy of the dancers.

The dancers, teachers, organizers, and enthusiasts marching in under the banner of friendship and comraderie ("bendradarbiavimas") --- under the leadership of Los Angeles LB Spindulys --- successfully completed the journey and are proud to say, "It was the BEST FESTIVAL EVER!" We are sure, that our guests enjoyed their visit, happily participated with JOY in the grand event, and will continue to smile from ear to ear to plan the next festival.

"DIDELIS ACIU" - "SEKMES" to all, and "Iki pasimatymo..."

Danguole Razutyte Varniene, LB Spindulys

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Photos from the XIII Lithuanian Folk Dance Festival