Stepping Out: Loving Latvia
Always on the go, dancers often find themselves hopping from one city to another either to perform or to take a much-needed break. This series highlights the various places that Ballet Manila dancers have visited, along with some tips that travelers of all trades would appreciate.
Ballet Manila principal dancer Katherine Barkman was in Latvia for only three days, but that’s all it took for her to fall in love with the place. Seeing the vast blue expanse that is the Baltic Sea, exploring the resort town of Jurmala, and walking on the cobblestone streets of the capital Riga’s Old Town were among the high points of her brief stay in the Eastern European country.
But it was dancing at the 17th International Festival - Ballet Stars in Jurmala that made her trip truly unforgettable. Invited along with fellow Ballet Manila artist Rudy De Dios to the festival in August 2016, the pair danced the Le Corsaire Pas de Deux and Arachnida to a wildly enthusiastic crowd at the Dzintari Concert Hall.
The overwhelming response more than made up for the kinks the pair had encountered along the way such as a lost passport (Rudy’s, which was later found) and lost luggage (Katherine’s, which was eventually returned to her).
Looking back, Katherine says the whole experience actually taught her to focus on her performance even if the situation she was in had gotten quite unsettling. “It changed everything for me,” she reveals. “It was one of the shows where I felt truly free. I felt myself completely light up! That’s when I said no matter what happens, I’m going to share my dancing because that’s what I’m here to do.”
LATVIA IN A NUTSHELL:
Breathtaking views. Katherine stepped off the plane in Riga to wonderfully cool spring weather. Though feeling worried as she had to leave Rudy back in Turkey, she couldn’t help but marvel at her surroundings. Clear, blue skies and lush greenery seemed to be the standard wherever she went. While resting in her room in Jurmala, being driven to Riga and taking class at the Latvian National Opera and Ballet, she was treated to scenery that energized her.
Cobblestone streets. Some free time on her first day meant seeing a bit of the area near the National Opera theater in Riga. She strolled through the cobblestone streets, passing by quaint restaurants and shops. She also chanced upon a roadside market with booths that sold all sorts of goods from jewelry to magnets. One was selling woolen accessories where she bought a pair of hand-knit socks. “It’s a charming place and I felt so happy to be there. My spirits brightened and I was reunited with my partner just in time for our rehearsal!”
Open-air concert hall. “Jurmala is like Tagaytay; it’s a vacation town, the place for a weekend getaway,” Katherine notes. On her first day, she was able to see the Dzintari Concert Hall complex – dating back to the 1930s – where she and Rudy would be performing in. While the venue has an indoor theater, the stage of the annual Jurmala Ballet Festival is located outdoors. There’s a roof over the stage and seats, but there are no walls, making the setting literally and figuratively cool. Katherine had time to see the surroundings and even found a poster announcing the festival and showing her name and Rudy’s as performers.
Performance night. Rudy and Katherine had a technical rehearsal on the stage at the concert hall. She was thrilled to see her name on the dressing-room door along with those of ballerinas from Stuttgart Ballet, Slovenia National Theatre and Latvian National Ballet.
Katherine describes dancing Le Corsaire as a “wow moment” for Rudy and herself. “The audience was cheering and clapping that when Rudy and I went backstage, we were grinning and wondering – “Did that just happen?’ The performance was a huge success and we all celebrated after with the other dancers.” Joining them at the reception was Aivars Leimanis, artistic director of the Latvian National Opera and Ballet. Footnote: Aivars was a former partner of Ballet Manila artistic director Lisa Macuja-Elizalde and was instrumental in inviting Katherine and Rudy to the Jurmala gala.
Deep blue sea. Katherine spent the morning after their performance walking along the Baltic Sea. She was simply captivated by it. From the first glimmer of the water while walking on a wooden path to the whole panorama stretching before her, she made sure to capture it all in pictures. She also made sure to take a selfie by the sea! “It was a beautiful place!” she enthuses.
National theater. The Latvian National Opera and Ballet building is, as Katherine puts it, a huge place that one can easily get lost in. This was where she rehearsed on her first day, taking class and using a barre by a window that offered her such an inspiring view. She also enjoyed walking down the halls, seeing the costumes and getting a peek at the dancers’ dressing rooms filled with personal mementoes. “It’s where they live – not just perform in!” Katherine says of the close ties the dancers have with their space at the theater, making it seem like a second home.
Katherine and Rudy were able to set foot on the stage here where they did the requisite ballet poses, with an empty theater as backdrop. But the big highlight for Katherine was getting to hold the same barre being used by ballet superstar Mikhail Baryshnikov who, as it turned out, was having a series of contemporary dance performances at the theater then. “It’s the picture of all pictures! I stood at the barre he was using to warm himself up each day!” Katherine shares, still giddy from the recollection of the moment.
Vintage architecture. Before Katherine and Rudy headed for the airport for their return flight to Manila, they were taken on an informal tour of Old Town in Riga by Aivars Leimanis. Old Town is the city’s historic and geographic center, boasting stunning architecture, some dating back to medieval times. “I would say Riga in the Baltic area looks like Germany meets Italy. It’s enchanting!”
Among the old structures they saw were St. Peter’s Church and the House of the Blackheads. The latter, iconic for its opulent brick façade, was built in 1334 for unmarried German merchants and used for meetings and banquets. Aivars also showed them a landmark he thought would thrill the dancers – the school where Mikhail Baryshnikov (born in Riga to Russian parents) had first studied ballet. But of course, Katherine had to have her photo snapped there too!