Hoping for Miracles. A Conversation with Agris Daņiļevičs
We meet Agris at the “Dzirnas” choreography school before a rehearsal. We hear children’s voices behind the door as Agris is telling us that he decided to participate in the project, a dance performance featuring not “Dzirnas” dancers but children from municipal day care centres, after approached by the “Latvijas koncerti” Director Guntars Ķirsis. “Of course, it could have been any kind of a project involving these kids, but dance proved to be the best way to reach them. It was also clear from the very start that the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra would be part of the event, and shortly after that we learned that the popular Swedish trombonist and conductor Christian Lindberg would be the conductor at the concert, and that the Norwegian stage director Sigrid Strøm Reibo would also participate in the project. Now the project is in the final stages, but the work on the performance, which will have its premiere on Saturday, has continued for twenty months, or over one-and-a-half years,” notes Agris.
How easy, or how hard, has the project been? “Initially, of course, these children’s response was, well...
They were full of energy, but when it comes to dancing – it’s no secret that the better you dance, the harder it gets, and the more you dance, it makes it all the harder. And the material, Bernstein’s “West Side Story” and Ravel’s “Boléro”, is no walk in the park either.
So it’s been not easy at all,” Agris sums up, and then goes on to praise the performers who have learned very much during the process – to concentrate, mobilise, listen to the music. “With Ravel, it was still possible for us to count something, but Lindberg’s composition and other new pieces were full of surprises, with multiple tempo changes, metric modulations, no two bars alike… That’s why dancing to such music is not easy, not at all!” Undeniably, this has been a great challenge to the choreographers – to find a way for the children to live it out. “We did it by identifying other reference points, not just counting – one, two, three, four five, but learning to hear some particular sounds in the music, some emphases, silence, so we would have something to hold onto. Very complicated!” Agris emphasises that his team, which greatly helped him with the project, deserves high prise. “I don’t want to consider all this to be my choreography – it has been very good teamwork! Jeļena Jekimova, a teacher at “Dzirnas”, contributed the most, she invented a lot of things for the performance. Kristaps Ceļmalnieks, Līga Kavaca, Kārlis Bošs also actively participated in the work – all teachers from “Dzirnas”, the current and former dancers. Given the very tight schedules we had, the project could be feasible only if the team of “Dzirnas” teachers was involved. I alone would be simply unable to manage it all,” says Agris, adding laughingly that, if not for “Dzirnas” teachers, this conversation would be taking place in a lunatic asylum and his sleeves would be a bit longer.
Commenting on the performers, Agris indicates: “We have not asked the children about it, but I suspect that many knew who Bernstein was, or Ravel. We should not think that these children come from the gutter. They are what they are, yet there is an enormous contrast between now and the start of the project, the rehearsals we had then, the struggle for their attention, concentration, co-operation…” The creative team came to know the children very well, however, no team member ever had the idea to probe into their private lives by asking questions such as “who, why and how”.
“We simply wanted them to come here and live the life that we live at “Dzirnas”, hoping that may be they would grow to like it.”
We ask Agris if he has found a new star in these one-and-a-half years whom he would like to see join “Dzirnas”, and he replies, smiling, that “Dzirnas” is not necessarily made up of stars. “If some of the children want to continue to dance at “Dzirnas” after the project, it is very likely that they will. Of course, we will have to alter our pricing policy, or let him or her come for free. I do expect that some of the project participants could want to stay and to continue dancing.”
He also says, with a sense of great satisfaction, that these children have been “infected” with dancing, although the participants in the project probably do not realise yet the immense feeling of emptiness they will feel once it is all over. “They should have the feeling that they need something to fill up this void. That’s why I hope that the joy of the performance and the atmosphere on the stage will achieve this. Something has to change in their value system, and something has changed already, I believe. But the moment they communicate directly with the LNSO, the conductor, the director, set designer, the audience and they are on the real stage at the National Opera – it should be an enormous adventure to each and everyone of them!” Agris Daņiļevičs reminds that the slogan on the T-shirts the project participants wear says: “Music, Dance, Adventure!” – which is also the motto of the project. “These three words describe, in the best possible way, what we do.”
The fact that the performance will only be staged once, Agris believes, is all for the better. “They may think now that there has to be more, but it is better this way – the only performance will give the children joy and make them feel the energy flow, but I hope they will not be satiated. They need to be hooked, and left wanting more!” he says, adding that one powerful, emotional dance performance should be enough for these children.
“It does not have to be diluted into countless components! For an amateur to dance in six or ten concerts may be too much, the energy and the emotions will be gone. This one-off performance will be the concentrate and the essence of all what we do.”
Agris also agrees that this is a social project, and a highly important one. Every person participating in the project has contributed to making the world a better place, he believes.
However, a lot of hard work has gone into the project, and Agris has come to realise that this is not his calling, and he would rather want to stage a performance with professional ballet dancers at the National Opera. “But I accepted it because I saw it as a kind of a challenge, an opportunity to learn new experience, and I was truly interested in what we could do, what the results of the project would be.” There is one more factor – a dance instructor who works at “Dzirnas” usually has a vision of how the performance will look in the end. In this case, although Agris did have a vision, he was still unable to envision what it would become eventually. “I don’t know what will happen to the performers when they are on the stage, there are all kinds of surprises we see on a daily basis. Maybe they will stiffen and not move at all, you never know.
All we can do is work, work and do our best, and hope that there will be something of a miracle in it at the end.”
For this reason, the performance will also include ten dancers from “Dzirnas”: “I am 99 percent sure that all will be fine, but… I give one percent that there may be all kinds of surprises, which you would never see when professional artists perform. We’ll see, but people should not expect the performance to be an artistic event with dancers improvising to create a work of art on the spot.”
Right after the premiere of the “Music, Dance, Adventure!” performance at the National Opera, Agris will hurry to Mežaparks where the grand dance performance “Lec, saulīte!” (“Raise, Fair Sun!”) will have its premiere in the evening of the 21st of June, as he has also contributed to this project and wants to see what it is like. On the 9th and 10th of July, choreography by Agris will be showcased at the World Choir Games’ concerts at the “Arena Riga” (and, by the way, this is also where “Dzirnas” performance to “Adiemus” by Karl Jenkins will take place later on), and he is also part of the creative team working on the World Choir Games’ closing concert in Mežaparks on the 13th of July. “I’ve got my hands full,” concludes Agris.