JUVENTUS IV Lithuanian Folk Dance Festival 2023 – a Feast for the Soul!


Summer in Cleveland came roaring in with Juventus IV – the fourth folk dance festival sponsored by the Cleveland Lithuanian Folk Dance Group ”Švyturys”, (Beacon). Over two hundred Lithuanian folk dancers representing five countries brought one unforgettable afternoon to Cleveland on June 17, 2023, at the Berkman Hall Auditorium of Cleveland State University.  ”Švyturys” leaders Aušrinė Širvinskienė and Eglė Žukauskienė, together with their organizational committee, as well as all of the participating groups, spent countless hours preparing for this unique event, and their efforts resulted in an exceptional, emotionally moving performance with a rousing show of audience appreciation.

Lithuania – Can you hear me?

A riveting, deeply symbolic Prologue to the performance, “Lithuania – Can you hear me?” was written, composed and choreographed especially for Juventus IV. As the multitude of dancers entered the stage, the leaders of all of the dance groups carried in torches and lit an ancient pyre, accompanied by the echoing words “My Lietuva, can you hear me? We are all together now”, with a projected display of the paths to Cleveland from Sweden, Lithuania, Argentina, Canada, and Illinois. (Poem by A. Sirvinskiene, composition R. Klioriene, arrangement by K. Daugėla, choreography E. Zukauskiene, video D. Cepulis, translation V. Kliorys, recorded by the choir “Exultate”.)

The first half of the festival showcased the individual groups presenting dances they had prepared for Juventus, and began with the “Ratelinis” group from Kaunas, Lithuania, accompanied by their very merry folk ensemble, consisting of accordion, violin, folk instrument “dūda“ and drum. They were followed by “Nemunas“ from Berisso, Argentina, a group which hosted South America‘s Lithuanian Folk Dance Festival last December. Their rendition of “Two Little Brothers“ was exceptionally charming and brought a smile to all in the audience.

As in many cultures, Lithuanian folk dance themes are representations of life, nature, work, celebrations, love and of the storied past. The “Spindulys” group from Lemont, IL, presented “The Land of My Forbears”, and the high-spirited “Lelenderis”, and later returned with wooden shoes to show us “The Threshing Dance”. “Baltija”, from Stockholm, Sweden, is a group which this year is celebrating its 20th anniversary, as is “Švyturys”. It is fitting that at the 10th anniversary, “Svyturys” visited “Baltija”, and now “Baltija” reciprocated, regaling the audience with “The Silver Lark” and “Gumbinė”.

A delightful embellishment was brought to the program by the Master and Mistress of ceremonies, Edvinas Vaičikauskas and Kristina Kliorys Stankevičius! They provided some background information about the dances and the performing groups, and did so with style, grace and humor, so that the entire audience was able to get a deeper understanding of what they saw. The beautifully designed festival program also provided a more detailed history of the dance groups, as well as many letters of greeting and congratulations.

There is a Lithuanian saying: “ Young dancers make the floorboards rattle, old dancers make their teeth chatter”. And in the case of the Toronto, Canada group “Gintaras”, their youthful dancing did rattle the floorboards as they danced the whirlwind “Polka Op Op”. “Gintaras” hosted a midsummer festival celebrating the feast of St. John – “Gintarinės Joninės” in the week following Juventus, at which the groups from Cleveland, Argentina, Lithuania and Sweden performed.

What a happy group of very young dancers we saw when “Suktinis” from Chicago took the stage! It was impossible not to smile watching the youngest dancers show us “On the Swings“, and also “The Little Clock“. The juniors group reminded us of the sheer joy when young folks dance with their friends in “Treptinukė“ and “Polka for the Big Night“.

You may know that the Lowlands or “Žemaitija“ area of Lithuania has its own dialect. The group “Suvartukas“ from the town of Plungė introduced themselves with a few sentences in this dialect –summed up with the phrase “Esam vėina kraujė“ – “We are one blood“. They performed a dance depicting an old tradesman – “The Potter“, and also a dance for when work was finished – “Gegužinė“ – “The Picnic“ to the enjoyment of the entire audience.

The end of the first half of the festival was crowned by the performance of Chicago‘s premier dance group “Grandis“, which is well-known for its precision, high-spirited steps, and the ability to draw the audience into the theme presented in the dance.  In this case they treated the audience to the sprightly  “Trandipolke“ Polka, “Three Threads“,  which illustrates the story of flax being grown, spun and woven, and a dance of youthful love and longing –  “Moonlight“.

As the lights went up for intermission, the audience marveled at how the the professionnal lighting, sound engineering, and set design complemented and enhanced the program. Compliments to Marius Juodišius, Ričardas Širviskas, and Dominic Alberto. and Ryan Laubenthal.

The second half of the festival opened with a unique glimpse into “Švyturys“ at 20 years: the great number of dancers who had passed through the ranks, the travels, concerts and hundreds of friendships formed, and the resulting miles of smiles. When the audience was invited to light up their cell phones if they were previous dancers, parents of dancers, or supporters, the audience lit up like the Milky Way… Then the entirety of the current group of  “Švyturys“ dancers, from youngest (4 years old) to the adults, delighted the viewers with the dance especially created for Juventus IV –  “We are all Švyturys!“ and followed with four additional dances.

 “Spin, ‘Švytury‘ in your friends‘ company!“ was the introduction to the final part of the program, in which the dance groups merged to perform dances together – for what would a dance festival be without that? And after the final dance, “Lithuania, you are mine”,  the still lively and smiling contingent of dancers and their leaders filled the stage, and the audience applauded…and applauded… and applauded… And as the music to “Polka Op Op” was heard, the dancers formed into little lines and circles and danced with each other, with their leaders, even with some audience members, not wanting the whirlwind of music and dance, the kaleidoscope of colors, and the youthful jubilation to come to an end…

After the Juventus IV performance, the dancers and their friends gathered at a banquet with a special appearance by Lithuanian singing sensations husband and wife Jeronimas Milius and Karina Krysko , folk songs accompanied by the country folk music instrumental groups from Kaunas and Toronto, a fun sing-along, and much more dancing to the tunes of local musician and radio personality Augis Dicevičius. Toward the end of the evening, the merrymakers noticed that the iconic Terminal Tower of Cleveland was lit up with the tricolors (trispalvė) of the Lithuanian flag… and the chanting began, getting louder and louder, until all you heard was  – “Trispalvė, trispalvė, trispalvė”…

A true festival, and a feast for the soul…

Postscript: one of the Sound Engineers, Marius Juodisius, who is also one of the principals in the Cleveland Lithuanian Radio Program “Šiaurinis Krantas“ (Northern Shore), made arrangements for the sold-out Juventus IV festival to be live-streamed and available on YouTube, and the stream very quickly got a significant number of views… so many, that the next morning he got a message that the channel was blocked – in Russia and Belarus!

Juventus IV is still available to view at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kj_lUtc7eOw

Vilija Nasvytis-Klimas, Cleveland, OH

                                           Photo by Tom Turner