The Song and Dance Celebration
The Song and Dance Celebration is a remarkable phenomenon that has taken place in Latvia since 1873. It cannot be explained how 14 000 singers can sing a capella with such nuance, technical skill, tonal colour, and style. How a swarm of 15 000 dancers can so gracefully form patterns inspired by ancient Latvian designs cannot be explained. UNESCO has recognized this unique event as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. 15 000 dancers have spent five years immersed in sublime choreography, each dancer becoming a perfectly whirling piece in a puzzle. Latvian Song and Dance Celebration is an event that already for 140 years is a kind of a callout for the nation to develop and strengthen its identity. I to V Celebrations (1873 – 1910) took place when the territory of Latvia was under the rule of tsarist Russia, and therefore singing in the Latvian language was an especially uniting factor. VI to IX Celebrations (1926 – 1938) were an attestation to the free state of Latvia. In the period of occupation (1948 – 1985, Celebrations X – XIX,) the ruling power tried to convert the Celebration into an instrument of communist propaganda, but the people demonstrated the hidden power of self-confidence and unbreakable spirit. The Latvians in exile also asserted their unity and belonging to the Latvian nation in their Song Celebrations. XX Celebration (1990) was one of the apexes of the Third Awakening when many of the compatriots living in exile joined in. XXI – XXV (1993 – 2013) Celebrations in their tradition nurture the strength of the past and seek for contemporary interpretation of festivals. In just less than a century, the interest in folk dance has grown so much as to be called phenomenal. Latvian folk dance has become one of the most widely practised types of amateur art. The celebration also includes a large crafts fair where one can view and buy wonderful Latvian handicraft items. No distinction is made between professionals and amateurs, adults and children, as everybody who is truly part of Latvian culture participates in the celebration. Participants are the most important element of the celebration. In their everyday lives they are bankers, shopkeepers, civil servants, and teachers, like millions of others in Latvia and the world over.
In Latvia many start their preparation for later participation in the Song and Dance Celebration already at nursery school and school where the first skills in singing and dancing are acquired. In the Youth Song and Dance Celebration, also taking place every five years, about 40 000 young people participate. It ensures sustainability and succession of celebrations. Many people in Latvia wish to be participants from their early years up to old age, and many manage to do it. Thus, Latvia maintains and develops its national uniqueness in the globalized world of today. Preparation for Song and Dance Celebration is a continuous process that starts immediately after the final sounds of the previous event. Over a five-year period the concept of the next Celebration is developed, the repertoire considered, new pieces created that are acquired and tested in shows and approved in regional celebrations and special inception events. All singers, dancers, musicians as well as craftsmen in applied arts know that every five years he/she will be proud to represent the village or the town in Riga, the capital of the state, thus testifying to the artistic capability of the nation, its unity in spirit, the strength of traditions. In the week of Song and Dance Celebration a special atmosphere reigns in Riga; everywhere – in the streets, parks, shops, public transport – one can see bright smiles on the faces of people, wearing national costumes. The event looked forward to by everybody is the parade – a three-hour march through Riga by all the participants. The Closing Concert is attended by the greatest number of people, both the participants and the visitors. Several thousand dancers participate in the great dance performance simultaneously. The Song and Dance Celebration is unimaginable without such other most significant and core events as a symphony orchestra concert, sacred music concert, the Grand Concert of wind orchestras, a concert of the national musical instrument kokle, song and dance concerts of the Seniors’ groups, the exhibition of the applied arts, the show of national costumes and the Fair.
This celebration gives a fresh impetus to the Latvian culture, embracing the language, songs, dances, instrumental music and visual arts - the broadest expression of the nation’s creative spirit. Each new festival seeks to perfect the practices of earlier events and outlines the direction for future, stressing the need for creativity in each area. There is no similar experience since this is a virtuoso performance in three, four, or eight voices, exquisitely conducted.
The Celebration week is a nationwide ritual, fostering the cultural self-awareness of Latvians and strengthening Latvian identity rooted in culture-based creativity.