The first folklore ensembles, which had already begun to manifest themselves in barn theaters and similar events, formed around the turn of the century. In 1906, P.Puskunigis founded the still functioning Skriaudžiai kanklės ensemble. Soon after, many kanklės, skudučiai and ragai ensembles and kanklės playing courses began appearing. One of the first significant ethnographic plays was called "The Kupiškėnai Wedding". It was first presented in 1932; all of the performers were local farmers.
In the post-war period stylized folklore was the only folk-like form acceptable for the official Soviet culture. In the early 1960's, however, conditions were favorable for the birth of a folklore movement which would draw from Lithuanian traditions and roots. Interest in traditional culture arose as a quasi-politically acceptable patriotic movement and as an alternative to official culture. Young students living in cities, especially those of Vilnius University, were most active in these undertakings.
In 1967, Lithuanian Ramuva Society was initiated with the first celebration of Rasa (summer solstice) on the castle mound at Kernavė. Celebrating Rasa, Jorė (the first greening), equinoxes and other ancient Baltic occasions, the crafting of archaeologically-based clothing and jewelry reconstructions became quite popular in folklore circles.
Town folklore ensembles began forming in the early 1970's. At first, there were only a handful, mostly based in several of Vilnius' educational and other institutions. In the early 1970's, local folklore reviews, contests and festivals began appearing. The first city folklore festival (still alive and popular) was "Skamba skamba kankliai", held in Vilnius' old town each year since 1975. In the 1980's, folklore ensembles grew in number. They appeared in smaller towns and children's groups began forming in schools. This encouraged talented village performers to gather into ensembles as well. In 1980, the first republic-wide folklore ensemble contest called "Ant marių krantelio" (On the Sea Shore) was held in Rumšiškės Skansen. Later summer folk workshops in Rumšiškės, Kelmė and other places appeared. In 1987, the International Folklore Festival "Baltica" was first organized in Vilnius. Since then, it has been held each year alternately in all three Baltic countries. The folklore movement reached its maximum in late 1980’s, at turnpoint to Independence. At that time city and village ensembles numbered approx. nine hundred.
After getting Independence the folklore movement, as almost the only way to express national values in previous time, has decreased. Folk ensembles now count stable number - some five hundred. City ensembles indirectly adopt or recreate traditions, while village ensembles usually consist of older singers, dancers and musicians who draw from their own local folklore and unbroken traditions. However, now the border between city and village ensembles is vanishing.
Some of the most prominent village ensembles: Marcinkonys (Varėna dst.), Žiūrai (Varėna dst.), Kalviai-Lieponys (Trakai dst.), Luokė (Telšiai dst.), “Linkava” (Linkuva, Pakruojis dst.), “Šeduviai” (Šeduva, Radviliškis dst.), Užušiliai (Biržai dst.), Lazdiniai-Adutiškis (Švenčionys dst.). Some of the most prominent town folklore groups: “Ratilio”, “Ūla”, “Jievaras”, “Poringė” (Vilnius), “Kupolė” (Kaunas), “Verpeta” (Kaišiadorys), “Mėguva” (Palanga), “Insula” (Telšiai), “Gastauta” (Rokiškis), “Kupkiemis” (Kupiškis), “Levindra” (Utena), “Sūduviai” (Vilkaviškis). Children folk groups: “Čiučiuruks” (Telšiai), “Kukutis” (Molėtai), “Čirulis” (Rokiškis), Antazavė (Zarasai dst.).
Besides folklore festivals “Skamba skamba kankliai” and “Baltica” that count already their history, several other (mostly local) international festivals also appeared: “Griežynė” (instrumental folklore, Vilnius), “Suklegos” (post-folklore, Kaunas), “Parbėg laivelis” (Klaipėda), “Ėr paauga žali lėipa” (Telšiai), “Ar žiba žiburužiai” (Marijampolė), “Martynas” (children folklore, Visaginas) and others. Folklore Day is included in the programs of huge Lithuanian Song Festivals that are held every fourth year and contain performances of choir music dances shows and so on.
By Rytis Ambrazevičius
Vilnius University Folk Group Ratilio
This Folk Group boasts a long history. The Group was founded in 1968. Young people studying various subjects - philology, physics, medicine, biology, mathematics, etc., take part in these activities. Many of them come from cities, but others tell tales and legends in their local dialects during performances. At present, there are 30 people in this Folk Group.
Songs, dances, and rounds are learned from folklore collections and from compatriots met during annual folklore expeditions.
One can listen to ancient music instruments such as ragai (horns), daudytė, skudučiai (pan-pipes) and kanklės (a type of nine or five-stringed zither). A special part of their program is formed by the archaic Lithuanian folklore genre of polyphonic harmonious singing the “sutartinė”.
In 1980, their first record was made, entitled “Lietuva - dainų kraštas” (“Lithuania Country of Songs”). A second release was recorded in 1987. In 1990, an audiocassette was made.
Vilnius University Folk Group Ratilio gives performances during national or University events, and visits different towns of Lithuania. Performances have been held in Italy, the USA, Canada, Latvia, Poland, France, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, and Germany.
The Ratilio artistic director is Zita Kelmickaitė. The head of the instrumental group is Antanas Fokas.
Vilnius Pedagogical University Folk Group Poringė
The Folk Group started in 1973, when University professor Marija Baltrėnienė rallied Lithuanian language students to sing national songs. Later, students from other departments joined the Group. The number of Folk Group reaches increased up to 30-35 people. Since 1992, the leader of the Folk Group has been Vladas Černiauskas. Eugenija Venskauskaitė is a dancing consultant.
During the existence of the Group, more than 1000 concerts have been organized, a recording was made, and performances for TV and radio were given. With the participation of Poringė two TV films entitled “Atvežė vežė dieveriai marčią” (“Brothers-in-Law Brought a Bride”) and “Viešnagė Žilinuose” (“Staying in Žilinai”) were made. The Group has performed during international song festivals in Lithuania, Azerbaijan, and Slovenia. Concerts have also been held in Latvia, Georgia, Russia, Germany, Bulgaria, France, Portugal, Italy, and Denmark.
Folk group “JIEVARAS”
The folk group started rehearsing in 1979. Evaldas Vyčinas who later became the leader of the group joined it the same year.
The group gave over 300 performances in Vilnius, Kaunas, Panevėžys, Utena, Ukmergė, Biržai, Šiauliai, Rumšiškės, and other Lithuanian towns. “JIEVARAS” took part in international festivals in England, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Latvia, Poland, India, Moldavia, Norway, The Netherlands, Franc, Western Siberia, Moscow, and Germany.
In the summer of 1995 the group participated in the international folk art contest in Middlesbroug, England. Of nine areas they competed they won seven awards.
“JIEVARAS” released a record in 1988 and recorded two audiocassettes in 1990 and 1992 respectively.
The group performs on smuikas (violin), basetlė (bassetel, a kind of cello), būgnas (drum), cimbolai (cymbals), lumzdelis (type of flute), ragas (horn), and dūdmaišis (bagpipe).
Vilnius traditional and catholic ethnic music group “ŪLA”
The group was founded on February 15, 1987. There are 19 women and 11 men in the group. The leader of the group is Janina Bukantaitė. Different ethnic region (Žemaitija, Aukštaitija, Dzūkija) songs are performed. “ŪLA” has created programs devoted to harvest, spring, Christmas (Kalėdos), marriage, and Samogitian (žemaičiai) themes. The group has released several audiocassettes and a compact disc.
“ŪLA” gives concerts in Lithuania and abroad, including Austria, Canada, Latvia, Norway, France, and Germany.
Compiled by Eugenija Venskauskaitė