The Riga Choreography School was founded as the ballet school for the Latvian National Opera on 2 September 1932. The Project development for the school and its operation, including financial Harijs Plūcisestimates and curriculum, was made by the premjer danseur of the Latvian National Opera Harijs Plūcis. He becomes the teacher and leader of the school. Since 1944, Harijs Plūcis’ activities are linked with Europe. At the end of World War II he was in Germany, then he went to France and later moved to London where he worked as a teacher with the soloists of the English Royal Ballet and students of the ballet school. Later he was invited to Switzerland, to the newly established Ballet Academy in Zürich, where after a few years the conductor Herbert von Karajan made a proposal to Harijs Plūcis to go to Austria where Plūcis worked as a ballet teacher and repetiteur at the Vienna Opera, the Ballet School and Ballet Academy until 1970 when he unexpectedly passed away.

In the 1932-1933 season, Anatol Viltzak worked in Riga as a ballet master and danAnatols Vilzakscer with the Riga Latvian National Opera. He was a soloist with the St.Petersburg Mariinsky Theatre, but from 1921 onwards he was dancing in Europe – in the troupes of Sergey Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes (1921-1925) and  Ida Rubinstein (1928-1929). He was appointed the first manager of the Ballet School of the Latvian National Opera. Teaching staff included Harijs Plūcis, Helēna Tangijeva-Birzniece, Osvalds Lēmanis, Sira Jirgense and Erna Ošina.

The formation of the Latvian national ballet was influenced by many factors, however, most crucial impact was made by the St.Petersburg classical ballet school, the teaching methods of which were deeply integrated in the ballet school. The Moscow style had a considerable influence, too.

The first ballet artists of the Latvian National Opera learned their fundamentals of classical dance in private ballet schools representing different styles – both in Russia and Europe, and here in Latvia, where at the beginning of the century especially popular were the ballet studios of Mārtiņš Kauliņš and Marietta Balbo was a representative of Italian school.

The Latvian National Opera commenced its activities in 1919. In 1922, Nikolai Sergeejev Nikolajs Sergejevsarrives in Riga, the former soloist and ballet director of the St.Petersburg Mariinsky Theatre, he opens here a private ballet studio, and at the same time works with the ballet troupe of the National Opera, where he produces Peter Ludwig Hertel’s “La fille mal gardee”, Ludwig Minkus’ “Paquita” and other ballets.

He was succeeded by Aleksandra FjodorovaAlexandra Fjodorova (1925-1932), who choreographed all the major classical ballets in Riga – Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake”, The Sleeping Beauty” and “The Nutcracker”, Delibe’s “Coppelia”, Minkus’ “Don Quixote”, Adan’s “Giselle”, A.Glazunov’s “Raimonda”, and others. The repertory was enriched by ballets choreographed by Mikhail Fokine – Stravinsky’s “Petrushka”, “L’Oiseau de Feu” (The Fire Bird), Glinka’s “Jota Aragonesa”, “The Polovtsian Dances” from the Borodin’s opera “Prince Igor” and “Chopiniana”. Mikhail Fokine made his second appeared as a dancer in performances.

Alexandra Fjodorova, too, opened her private ballet school. It was open in Riga until 1939. Many students of this studio continued their studies at the Ballet School of the National Opera.

In 1940-1941, Helēna Tangijeva-Birzniece Helēna Tangijeva-Birzniecetook over the leading position at the ballet school. In 1925 she graduated from the Leningrad Ballet School where she was student of the famous teacher Agrippina Vaganova, and since 1927, she was prima ballerina and ballet mistress of the Latvian National Opera. After World War II she was the Artistic Director of the ballet studio for the National Opera, and from 1948-1965 she worked as a teacher at the Riga Choreography School.

As time passed, many former students of the School joined the teaching staff and continued the established traditions of teaching.The second half of the 40s was marked by an influx of new teachers representing both schools – St.Petersburg and Moscow. Ņina Gavrilova, Marina Sizova, later followed by Vera Švecova, Igor Koshkin  and Nina Beļikova arrived from Leningrad. In their time, the first ballet master Voldemārs Komisārs and premier danseur Harijs Plūcis started to learn classical dance in Moscow with Mikhail Mordkin, Leontij Novikov and other teachers. Being teenagers, they found themselves in Russia as refugees during World War I. After World War II several young dancers, who had graduated from the Ballet School in Moscow, were dancing at the Opera. In Riga they focused on ballet pedagogy and become long-term teachers at the Riga Choreography School. They are: Palmira Dzērve, Valentin Blinov, Vladimir Cukanov and others. Irēna Strode and Tamāra Vītiņa, too, went to Moscow to further improve their skills. The renown teacher of men’s dance Boris Rahmanin also taught at the Riga Choreography School.

Naturally, many dancers went to Europe to study dance – in Paris, Berlin and London where they studied with Olga Preobrazhenska, Lubov Jegorova, Alexander Gzovski, Leonid Miasin, Doloresa Moren, and other masters. The experience gained there was, put to practice in ballet training in Latvia.

Ballet pedagogy is undergoing a continuous development, integrating the latest trends and findings, new dance types, etc. Traditionally, the Riga Choreography School  is based on an eight-year training program of classical dance. Additionally, the school teaches classical duet, character dance, historical dance, Latvian national dance, modern and jazz dance, fencing, acting, make-up, piano, history of art and theatre and other subjects. The number of students is approximately 100-120. Their teachers and instructors are excellent specialists-experienced ballet dancers, including ballet BA, MA and Professors. Long-term staff members include Palmira Dzērve, Valērija Kutena, Ludmila Turajeva and Juris Kaprālis. Especially succesfull teachers to be noted are: Sarmīte Jakse-Graudiņa, Zane Lieldidža, Indra Lapšina, Maruta Grosberga, Regīna Kaupuža, Ludmila Vikanova, Ināra  Gintere, Olga Žitluhina, Valerij Vikanov, Alexander Kolbin, Ignats Ančāns, Jānis Žerdiņš.

Haralds RitenbergsThe first directors of the Riga Choreography School after World War II, Rūdolfs Ozoliņš and Olga Aināre were not connected with ballet, they came from the theatre, cinema and literature fields. The next – Alexander Lembergs, Tamāra Vītiņa and Haralds Ritenbergs are the graduates of the RCS.

For 76 years the Riga Choreography School has ensured the development of dance in Latvia, providing continuity for generations of dancers at the Latvian National Opera, who’s ballet company can be justly proud of its integrity of style to this very day. When there were several troupes in Latvia, the school provided dancers for the Liepāja Opera Theatre, Rīga Operetta Theatre, and the State Dance Ensemble “Daile”.

The most celebrated graduates of the RCS include: ballerinas – Mirdza Griķe, Anna Priede, Janīna Pankrate, Velta Vilciņa, Ināra Ābele, Marta Bilalova, Ausma Dragone, Larisa Tuisova, Zita Errsa, Lita Beiris, Lora Ļubčenko, Gunta Bāliņa, Inese Dumpe, Jūlija Gurviča, Margarita Demjanoka, Viktorija Izotova, and Viktorija Jansone; premier danseurs – Jānis Grauds, Alexander Lembergs, Haralds Ritenbergs, Artūrs Ēķis, Laimonis Šmits, Juris Kaprālis, Vladimir Gelvan, Genadij Gorbanov, Alexander Kolbin, Alexander Rumjancev, Aivars Leimanis, Viesturs Jansons, Marians Butkevičs, Pavel Vasilchenko and others.

Mihails BarišņikovsA number of graduates have worked and are still working outside Latvia – in Russia, Estonia, Norway, the Czech, Germany, the USA, etc. Among them are several outstanding dancers the names of which have gained international acclaim – Māris Liepa, Alexander Godunov, Mikhail Baryshnikov (in Riga heMāris Liepa studied with Natalia Leontjeva and Juris Kaprālis, and in Leningrad – with Alexander Pushkin).

Aleksandrs Godunovs

Since the thirties, the students regularly participate in various ballet competitions – in Moscow, Kiev, Yalta, Tartu, Varna, Vienna, London, Tokyo, etc.), where they consistently receive recognition and high awards.

The Riga Choreography School has established friendly relations with many educational establishments abroad – in Germany, Sweden, Denmark, The Netherlands and the USA. Our teachers have given classes in Germany, Austria, Finland, Turkey, France, England, Switzerland, Canada, Argentina and the USA.

The Riga Choreography School has always been open to its audience – students take part in public performances at Christmas and Easter concerts, they test their dance skills in afternoons of variations, and in spring they participate in a showcase concert at the Latvian National Opera. Teachers and students have staged severall full-scale ballet productions of differing styles – Lovenkjold’s “La Sylphide”, a poetic ballet “Butterflies” choreographed by Regīna Kaupuža to music by the Danish composer Gunner Möller Pedersen, text by Ingera Kristensena and Vizma Belševica, „Alice”, choreographed by Olga Žitluhina to music by Andris Vilcāns, „Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”, choreographed by Regīna Kaupuža to music by Uģis Prauliņš, „Shepherdess and the Chimney  Sweep”, choreographed by Indra Lapšina, music by Jules Massenet, and „The Little Match Girl”, choreographed by Indra Lapšina and Astra Stern (Denmark), music by R.Drigo, L.Delibes, L.Minkus, G.Bise.

In the 21st century, the credo of the Riga Choreography School continues to be professionalism, the fascination of personality, harmony and beauty.

Ija Bite-Krauliņa