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2008 4 IREKS


Ida Ranniku Eesti Küla Simman

East Coast Estonian Village Festival

                                            Overview of the

East Coast Baltic Festival in Baltimore

28 April 2008


On the 26th of April 2008, the second East Coast Baltic Festival (IREKS – Ida Ranniku Eesti Kula Simman) found its niche in the Baltimore Lithuanian Hall due to its spacious rooms and amazing location.  It turned out to be an ideal place for such a large and well respected folk festival.  The initial plan was to carry out such a function every two years but due to the inertia of IREKS 2007, it was decided to keep the festival in motion by having it again in 2008.  Over 400 people gathered in the Lithuanian Hall in Baltimore with close to 100 performers in colorful national dress!


Upon entry, each guest received a colorful program in which all the dances and dancers were listed as well as advertisements and greetings from people who supported this rich Baltic program.  Right past the entrance there were many sale items: t-shirts and paraphernalia from the last IREKS; lottery tickets for Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian handicrafts, bountiful baskets of fruit and crafts, and the book by Priit Vesilind called “The Singing Revolution". 


Tasteful fragrances of Lithuanian food swirled from the main hall - dutifully prepared by the Lithuanian cooks.  Two bars were set up from which one could purchase any kind of refreshing drinks including indigenous beers fromEstonia (Saku!), Latvia, and Lithuania.  Adjacent to the main bar, the basement level housed a very large room dedicated to the selling of Baltic and Scandinavian handicrafts.  A small room in front of that offered a pool table for those wishing to try their hand in a few rounds.

A very large main hall with a stage was set up with 40 tables which were garnished with beautiful flower settings in each of the country’s colors.  To accent the mood of the festival, sounds from the Baltic String Band (leader David Pivorunas) were echoing from the main hall as one stepped in the front door to purchase a ticket!  The string Band consisted of violins, accordions, a string base, a home-made washtub base, bagpipes, and sundry rhythmic instruments.  Various plucked string instruments peppered the band: kannel (Estonian name for the kantele, a traditional Finnish plucked string instrument); kankles (Lithuanian plucked string instrument related to the zither - similar in construction and origin to the Latvian kokleRussian gusli,Estonian kannel, and Finnish kantele); kolke (Latvia’s traditional instrument in the form of a triangular box made up of a max of 33 plucked metal strings and traditionally played by women); Lithuanian cimbolai (hammered dulcimer) and birbynes (Lithuanian aerophone producing sound primarily by causing a body of air to vibrate, without the use of strings or membranes, and without the vibration of the instrument itself, sometimes considered the national instrument of Lithuania, a status shared with the kanklës).

The program began with the entrance of the three Baltic flags and Anu Oinas, the organizer of this event, began with the opening speech about a common heritage and love for our living culture – folk dancing – with a hope of embellishing and keeping alive the tradition of our folk dances with this ongoing festival.

The program announcer, Rima Vesilind, also a member of the Pillerkaar Estonian Folk Dancers, introduced all the dance groups along with providing some background on their groups and translating the dances they were to dance.

The children’s groups performed first: the Baltimore Estonian School Youth (leader Lea Kiik) with Mulgipolka, Kaera Jaan, Jämptpolska, Naljapolka, and Kahetuuriline (translations of all dances were listed on the program). Following them were the Kristionas Donelaitis Lithuanian school youth (leader Rasa Kasetiene) with Duja, Malunelis, and Trepsiukas.

The Philadelphia Latvian Folk Dance group Filadelfijas Dzirkstele (leader Astrida Lizinz) then performed with three combined groups, many of whose dancers had participated in the previous summer’s Latvian Song and Dance Festival.  Especially noteworthy was the older group’s performance of Spideklitis and Gredzentins, which astonished the audience with their decorative and spinning effects.

The Baltimore Lithuanian Ensemble Malunas (led by Rytis Grybauskas) was, at that time, preparing for the XIII International Lithuanian Folk Dance Festival which was held in the beginning of July 2008 in Los Angeles,California.  They performed three of the planned dances for the LA Festival for our audience.  It is clear that IREKS brought together the elite dance groups from the Baltic Countries.

Performing with traditional songs and dances, the Lithuanian Folk Music Ensemble, Jore (leader Vaida Meizys) displayed their versatility and talent with several complex harmonious folk songs.  Joining them for their final song was Sudrabavots (leader Daiga Rutins) who also performed after that with several Latvian folk songs.

For a change of pace, two Baltic String Bank members performed a duet on the violin and kannel (David Pivorunas and Ed Hopf).  Soon after, the riveting folk dancing continued with the Latvian Folk Ensemble, Vasingtonas Namejs (leader Alberts Ozols) with four lively dances.  Namejs has also performed at the WashingtonDC Kennedy Center and many Latvian song and dance festivals.  Still another Latvian group performed after that – Ausrine (leader Darius Sypalis) whose motto is “Polka arba Mirtis!” or “Polka until Death!”.

Lastly, the creators and sponsor of the IREKS program, Pillerkaar (leader Anu Oinas), performed with Mustjala pulmarong, Tule aga tule, Piibumeistritants, Vöötants, Meie Mari, Kosjalugu, Jõgeveste polka, and Vanaema venna polka.  The performers were radiating with dancing joy while the audience shared their joy by clapping along with the music.

All the dance leaders were called to the stage at the end of the program where they were presented with a bouquet of flowers and thanks for all their diligent work for IREKS.  The spirit of the whole IREKS event was Anu Oinas whose tireless work and unending spirit for creating and organizing such an industrious event to bring the Baltic countries together was rewarded with a beautiful bouquet of yellow flowers.

Singing in unison, performers and audience members from all three Baltic countries sang from songbooks specially made for IREKS, in their own languages, traditional songs from each country.  They were accompanied and directed by select singers from each group and ended the “official program” and began the “unofficial program”.  Music is truly an international language since it seemed that no one in the audience had any trouble following the words of the songs in each of the languages!

Accompanied by the Baltic String band, the audience then got up to dance along with a dance from each of the Baltic countries.  There was much laughter when people went the wrong way, stepped with the wrong foot, or plain stepped on someone else’s toes! 

The tireless Baltic String Bank played for several more hours with people doing energetic polkas and dynamic waltzes.  Slowly, the people scattered, whether to go home, downstairs to buy crafts, drinks, or food until the dance floor held only those eager to continue dancing until the stars came out!  It was amazing that the String Band was able to play almost anything the audience requested until the dance floor sparsely displayed its final debut.

Many thanks goes to the supporters of this IREKS event:  the Lithuanian Hall Committee for its spacious and gracious hall and catering service; the Estonian National Committee and Estonian Aid, Inc.; for their generous donations; to all the people who placed ads in the program; to Priit Vesilind for the beautiful design of the program; and to Epp Kai Minnick for the advance ticket ordering. 

Special thanks goes to Pillerkaar, Estonian Folk Dancers of the Washington,DC Metro Area for their energy and love of folk dance which has given birth to such a happy and joyful event as IREKS.

Written by Tiina Ets in Estonian and Translated by Anu Oinas