‘The Confusion’ Released the Beast of Kaunas: the Cultural Heart of Europe Started Beating here

“Maybe not just the impressive figures and other facts, but the fire in the eyes of each and everyone is proof that the vision which we spent five years on has come to life, and that Kaunas has been inspired to move forward,” said Virginija Vitkienė, the Head of the project ‘Kaunas – European Capital of Culture 2022’ after the last bars of ‘The Confusion’, Act I of The Contemporary Myth of Kaunas Trilogy, and after the ovation ended. She invited everyone to continue celebrating both on the evening of 22 January and throughout the whole year and the entire life to come.

In the eyes of an audience of thousands gathered together in the centre of Kaunas, including the city inhabitants, Kaunas district communities, and guests from other Lithuanian cities and abroad, Žalgirio Arena, the largest in the Baltic States, was transformed into a screen of unprecedented size. Before the big kick-off, the most important persons of our country and the continent addressed their greetings to Kaunas and Kaunas District.

In her video message with greetings, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen looked back to interwar modernism, which stood for more than an artistic style: it represented a new vision for Lithuania and its people, built on pragmatism, progress and independence. President of the European Commission stressed that 100 years later, we were again at a crossroad, and we could only succeed if we use all our talents in art, culture, technology and innovation: “Our European Capitals of Culture can help lead this change. Especially with the support of young people. And this is why I decided to make 2022 the European Year of Youth, to promote youth engagement at all levels. Like with ‘Emerging Kaunas’, your city’s programme for young people,” said Ms von der Leyen, who expressed her wish to visit Kaunas herself in the near future.

Charles Michel, President of the European Council (EC), also conveyed his cordial greetings in his video message. “And just as no man or woman is an island, alone, in a vacuum, we are all much bigger than ourselves. Because we are part of our community. We are part of our country, our continent. A part of humanity,” said the politician. He said that there was no centre and no periphery in the European Union, and that more than ever, that day Kaunas was the beating heart of Europe.

“Communities thrive, come together and share experiences through collective artistic endeavours. Their people share stories, share histories, share a common living memory that will outlive them and pass on to future generations. This is how traditions are forged and propagated. This is how culture is created. And each of these cultural exchanges — no matter how big or small — helps us better understand each other and brings us closer together. As Lithuanians. As Europeans,” President of the EC thanked Kaunas and Lithuania for their enthusiasm.

Thanking the people of Kaunas and the team together with which they have spent five years working towards the goal, the Mayor of Kaunas Visvaldas Matijošaitis assured that the growing city of Kaunas is thrilled to take over this honourable title.

“The trilogy and any other -logy only gives when you want to take something, in other words, the European Capital of Culture project is based on everybody walking their own part of the way, and us meeting together in the centre. We, thousands of us, are invited to reflect on what the myth, Europe, and the values mean to us, and to ask ourselves what message this endless team of creators wants to convey to us,” said Rytis Zemkauskas, a member of the core team of Kaunas 2022.

The action of ‘The Confusion’ that intertwined music, images, animation, movement and other forms of artistic expression told the story of our inner transformation while migrating in the space surrounding the arena. Here, dancer movement interpreted the modernist architecture, while Merūnas Vitulskis and Joana Gedmintaitė performed solo parts of the ‘Šaipėrantas’ symphony by Antanas Jasenka written especially for the occasion. The symphony was performed by Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra and Vilnius Choir conducted by Modestas Pitrėnas.

Chris Baldwin, the author of the unique directorial solution, revealed that turning the very city into a stage was critical for him when staging ‘The Confusion’, so not to hide what Kaunas really was and to use every little part of it for creative solutions. Thus, the symbolic act of collapse became a crucial part of ‘The Confusion’. For two days, hundreds of volunteers were building a 22-metre-high cardboard version of a ghost hotel created by French artist Olivier Grossetête, only to be destroyed to mark the beginning of a new phase of Kaunas.

At 08:22 pm, under the tolling bells of all Kaunas churches, the participants of ‘The Confusion’ continued their explorations of the Kaunas myth, as well as other cultural and artistic experiences. Thousands searched for symbols with maps in their hands and deciphered mysteries of the Beast of Kaunas game, while others got together in Nepriklausomybės (Independence) Square peppered with ice sculptures under the sounds of rhythmic electronic music.

Excerpts from the Kaunas Cantata, which will premier next September, were played in the windows of the cafés on Laisvės (Freedom) Avenue near the restaurant Miesto Sodas (City Garden). Other windows spread across Laisvės Avenue, shone with artefacts of Lithuanian design history, causing many a curious visitor to pause.

Together with Kaunas taxi drivers, a handful of the most persistent rehearsed for the upcoming performance ‘First Stop. Little Paris’. The finally opened William Kentridge’s exhibition at the National M.K. Čiurlionis Museum of Art and Kaunas Central Post Office, which has become a mecca of modernist architecture, were particularly popular among visitors. An installation by Yoko Ono ‘Ex It’ developed in 1997 intrigued the visitors of the Palace of the Bank of Lithuania.

The opening night in Kaunas was full of sounds: With the rhythms of drums playing in Vienybės (Unity) Square, the Beast’s voice invited everyone to climb the stairs of Šilelis leading to Žaliakalnis, for the crowd to meet again at the top, where the Christ’s Resurrection Basilica was transformed into a spectacular installation of light and sound. Meanwhile, the sound installation and audio-visual performance reminded us to also awaken the creative Beast within us.

The opening events of the year of European Capital of Culture both in Kaunas and Kaunas district were scheduled for 19-23 January. Many of the exhibitions and other initiatives presented this weekend will continue to run, so it is always a good time to visit Kaunas and Kaunas district that have turned into one large European stage.

‘The Confluence,’ Act II of The Contemporary Myth of Kaunas Trilogy will take place on 20-22 May, during Kaunas’ birthday and the 50th anniversary of the commemoration of Kalanta, while the ‘The Contract’ event on 25-27 November will consolidate the transformation ‘From temporary to contemporary’.