Scenography and its teaching in Lithuania

In Lithuania scenography as a consistent subject of art has already been taught for 9 decades in various education institutions; for the first time this discipline was lectured at The Art School of Kaunas.  At that time scenographer was thought of as one of the creators of the performance and therefore some exhibitions of the scenography were organized (the first one was opened to the public from 8th to 22nd January, 1933).  On the other hand, the origins of Lithuanian scenogaphy could be tracked down to much earlier times in the Baroque period: In Vilnius Grand Duke and King of Poland Władysław IV Vasa initiated three performances of Italian operas in the first half of 17th century. It is known that the scenography of a few operas was developed by Agostino Locci  1601–1660), who guided local craftsmen while arranging intricate Baroque style shows. In 18th century the Mansion, also called House, theatre gained its popularity – the noble families such as Radziwiłł, Ogiński, Sapieha or Tyzenhaus had theatre troupes living with them at their residencies. The painted background of a theatre stage was produced by painter Konstanty Otoselski (1755–1809) during the late 18th century. The scenography for a play “The Marriage of Figaro” (written by Pierre Beaumarchais), which was performed in Verkiai palace, was designed by professor Laurynas Gucevičius (1753–1798), who worked in the Department of Architecture at Vilnius University. Although, most experience in the design of the stage set had Antanas Smuglevičius (1740–1810). He was quite famous in Poland and after coming and settling down in Vilnius he charmed Lithuanian audience with his scenography for W. A. Mozart’s opera “The Magic Flute”. Even though Antanas Smuglevičius did not have disciples his brother Pranciškus Smuglevičius, who was among the first professors in The Department of Fine Arts And Drawing at Vilnius University, had students that created decorations for a large number of city celebrations.  Moreover, after encountering with the various activities of Mansion theatre Jan Rustem (1762–1835) started painting decorations and surprised citizens with his work in operas such as Niccolò Zingarelli’s “Romeo and Juliet”, Luigi Cherubini’s “Lodoïska” and decorations for tableaux vivants (“living pictures”) during the performance of “Amida”. Pranciškus Smuglevičius’s helper and student Juozapas Hiliaras Glovackis (1789–1858), who painted decorations for stage set at The Vilnius Theatre, later became a famous painter at The Theatre of Warsaw. One more sceno­grapher who was appreciated greatly in Vilnius is considered to be Vincentas Dmachauskas (1807–1862). He was a student at The Department of Fine Arts And Drawing, Vilnius University. Dmachauskas was noticed for sceno­graphy for operas such as Gioachino Rossini‘s opera “The Italian Girl in Algiers” and Stanisław Moniuszko’s opera “Halka” and gained popularity because of the perspective in scenographic decorations and good sense of lights.

In the beginning of 20th century Ferdynand Ruszczyc (1870–1936) was one of the most innovative scenographers. It is said he actively tried to reform scenography and even directed few plays himself (Juliusz Słowacki’s play “Lilla Weneda” and Stanisław Wyspiański’s play “November Night”). Ruszczyc changed the principle to design stage set in naturalistic way into abstract scenografic expression. He also was the head of newly reopened Faculty of Arts at Stephen Báthory University, which was established in the building, which now is Vilnius Academy of Arts. For performances at The National Theatre in Kaunas scenography was created mostly by The School of Arts professors such as Petras Kalpokas (1880–1945) and Vladas Didžiokas (1889–1942). The scenography as a separated subject at Kaunas School of Arts is usually associated with at that time widely known scenographer Mstislav Dobuzhinsky (1875–1957); among his students were Viktoras Andriušis and Vytautas Palaima. Dobuzhinsky produced many costumes and stage deco­rations for nearly 40 operas, ballet and drama performances at National Theatre in Kaunas. His creation was recognized among younger generation artists – Liudas Truikys (1904–1987) valued Dobuzhinsky’s works and drew attention to his opinion. After the graduation from Kaunas School of Arts Liudas Truikys continued his studies in Paris and Berlin but came back to Kaunas and was praised greatly for his scenographic works that later were developed into the synthesis of music and visuals. Furthermore, in 1931 Stasys Ušinskas (1905-1974) came back to Kaunas from his studies abroad in Paris. Usinskas stood out for his original conception of space, decorative forms and stylized costumes. He was also teaching the composition of scenography class.

In 1944 Vilnius National Institute of Arts was established where was opened The Department of Monumental painting. Students could enter programs such as frescos- mosaics program, stained glass studies or theatrical design studies. Simultaneously The Department of Monumental pain­ting was founded in Kaunas Institute of Applied Arts and its head became S. Ušinskas. For a while professor L. Truikys taught a 2-years-long class of the history of costume as well as the history of theatre and the technique of stage.

In 1951 both schools were merged and The State Art Institute of Lithuania was established where students were taught subjects of stained glass, frescos-mosaics and scenography at The Department of Fine Arts. For a long time Vytautas Palaima (1911–1976) was a supervisor of this institution. He is also considered to have supported the idea of scenography being the supplement of the performance. The graduates from The State Art Institute of Lithuania are Feliksas Navickas (1922), Vitalijus Mazūras (1934), Janina Malinauskaitė (1935), Dalia Mataitienė (1936), Adomas Jacovskis (1948), Virginija Idzelytė (1949), Galius Kličius (1950) and others. They are considered to be “the old generation” of Lithuanian scenographers.

The head of the department Henrikas Ciparis (1941) was also a graduate at The State Art Institute of Lithuania. At the end of 80’s the basics of theatre directing, stage technique and technology, the history of costume courses were included into scenography studies. But most attention was paid to the composition of theatre design. These were taught by Vitalijus Mazūras, Adomas Jacovskis, Virginija Idzelytė. During this time the middle generation of scenographers was raised (Jūrate Paulėkaitė (1962–2011), Vega Vaičiūnaitė (1962–2004), Vytautas Narbutas (1962), Rasa Krikščiūnaitė (1964)).

Department of Monumental Arts and Scenography was established. Until 1993 and 1995–2002 Romas Dalinkevičius (1950–2001) supervised the department. 1993–1995 and 2005–2007 the head was Bronius Bružas (1941) and 2002-2005 the position was given to Algirdas Dovydėnas (1944), 2007–2013 head was Gintaras Palenonas Janonis (1962). Since 2013 the department has been led by Ieva Skauronė (1978). During this period many scenographers were prepared for work in theatre and most of them are famous not only in Lithuania but also oround the World: Vilma Galeckaitė-Dabkienė (1970), Marijus Jacovskis (1972), Renata Valčik (1973), Giedrė Brazytė (1974), Julija Skuratova (1974), Artūras Šimonis (1976), Marta Vosyliūtė (1976), Laura Luišaitytė (1977), Andželika Šulcaitė (1972), Medile Šiaulytytė (1979), Kotryna Daujotaitė (1981), Simona Biekšaitė (1985) and others.

At present graduates Virginija Idzelytė, Adomas Jacovskis, Julija Skuratova, Giedrė Brazytė and  Artūras Šimonis teach various scenography courses. All of them are well-known scenographers who have great experience in working in theatre. Adomas Jacovskis worked with Eimantas Ne­krošius and recently has participated in projects with Rimas Tuminas; he created set design for operas and ballets. Virginija Idzelytė started her career with Henrikas Vancevičius and also worked together with Irena Bučiene. She created scenography for numerous performances and is also known as an expert in costume. She published a book called “The history of costume”.  Julija Skuratova works in the field of puppets and objects in the theatre. She did projects with Rimantas Driežis, Gintaras Varnas. Giedrė’s Brazytė’s works are diverse in genre; she creates scenography for plays in Lithuanian and Polish theatres. G. Brazytė also worked with Jonas Vaitkus, Algirdas Latėnas, Ewa Piotrowska, Jacek Malinowski (Poland).

The aim of scenography professors is to help one to become a matured, independent and creative artist who would be able to shape modern Lithuanian theatre and be an equal partner to a director.

Helmutas Šabasevičius