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Siauliai University’s folk ensemble “Saule” returned from concert tour in the USA at the very beginning of October. They were invited to participate in the 50th anniversary celebrations of Omaha Sister Cities Association. The University of Nebraska in Omaha and Chicago’s Lithuanians arranged magnificent concert and exploratory tours for Siauliai University representatives. The ensemble performed in altogether nine concerts.
 
26 members of “Saule” – musicians, singers and dancers, took part in this trip. They had been preparing for it since last summer: the program needed to be extensive and entertaining both American and Lithuanian audiences.
According to the artistic director of the ensemble Darius Daknys, the programme in Omaha was the most challenging, as the major events of the 50th anniversary celebration took place there. The ensemble made even five performances in six days. “We received a very warm welcome and loads of applauses. We performed in solemn OSCA anniversary events, also, in the Strauss Performing Arts Centre hall of the University of Nebraska, at Omaha’s Westside Middle School, in St. Peter and Paul’s parish hall. Representation of the traditional Lithuanian music and dances amused every student of the University of Nebraska, especially the international ones; what is more, together with the University’s Jazz Orchestra we lead dance lessons, which were great fun. Americans taught us how to dance swing, while we showed them peculiarities of the Lithuanian dances”, Darius Daknys said.Saulusa4
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The ensemble participated not only in concerts, but also in exploratory tours and official events; official delegacy of Siauliai city municipality leaded by the
mayor of Siauliai Arturas Visockas also participated in them. The vice rector BJ Reed honoured mayor Arturas Visockas, initiator of cities’ friendship doc. Alfredas Lankauskas and project manager of ensemble Zenonas Ripinskis by giving them the most supreme University’s awards – memento medals, while the head of UNO Music Department, Melisa Burke, awarded artistic director the ensemble Darius Daknys, director of the choreographic group Adele Gruziene and director of vocal group Eugenijus Andrulis.

The department of international programmes of the University of Nebraska held warm reception and official dinner. Director of UNO international programmes Ms. Ellen Turner congratulated everyone with this nice cooperation with Siauliai University and gave remembrance gifts.
Lithuanians also had an opportunity to take a tour in “Lauritzen Gardens” botanical garden, where A. Simkus’s wooden sculpture “Egle the Queen of Serpents” was newly built. Students were mostly fascinated by Omaha’s Zoo - one of the most remarkable zoos in the USA.

Siauliai University’s honour member, OSCA friendship committee president dr. Gediminas Murauskas, OSCA council member and Siauliai city’s honour citizen Nally Sudavicius McCalum and other members of OSCA and Omaha’s Lithuanians Society were very hospitable with the Lithuanian guests.
“On behalf of all our ensemble members I would like to thank the leaders of Nebraska University in Omaha and of the Faculty of Media and Art, who budgeted for our trip to South Dakota, also, many thanks to the director of jazz studies (Music Department) dr. Pete Madsen, who accompanied our ensemble during travels”, - Zenonas Ripinskis said.

The ensemble had been in Omaha before. Lithuanians participated in the Celebration of the 100th anniversary of the University of Nebraska in 2008. Friendly basketball matches are held every time the members of the two universities (Siauliai University and the University of Nebraska) meet, which is a beautiful tradition. Our students celebrated the victory 56:37 this year.

Omaha Women's Club arranged an exciting event in St. Peter and Paul’s parish hall. Consul-general in Chicago Marijus Gudynas was pleased because of the great cooperation between the members of Siauliai University and the University of Omaha and defined it as model cooperation. Performance of our students touched the hearts of all Omaha’s Lithuanians who participated in the meeting.

Lithuanian delegation was invited to the reception event, which was held in “Fred Simon Gallery” and to formal dinner in Alumni Centre of the University of Nebraska for all delegations of sister-cities from Lithuania, Ireland, Germany, Japan and China.  Symphony orchestras from Omaha and Japan made beautiful performances in Omaha’s “Holland Centre’s” hall, and our ensemble had the honour to represent the Lithuanian culture in solemn OSCA anniversary evening, where a number of USA and international members of government and non-government organizations participated.  

After staying in Omaha, our delegation travelled to South Dakota, where “Saule” arranged a concert in Homestake Opera House in Lead. Other activities in Lead included visits to impressive Badland Black Hills national parks, to “Mount Rushmore” and “Crazy Horse” memorials.

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The last stop of “Saule” concert tour was Chicago. Former members of the ensemble Ausra ir Ramunas Paulauskai living in Chicago arranged concerts and accompanied Lithuanians warmly. The best Lithuanian folk ensembles of Chicago “Suktinis”, “Laume”, “Grandis” took part together with “Saule” in a grand concert in Lithuanian World Center in Lemont. What is more, guests participated in St. Mass in Lithuanian parish “Marquet Park” church; after that, a valedictory concert was arranged in parish hall.

Five days in Chicago went so fast due to the intensive programme. There are many friends of “Saule” in Chicago. They arranged a number of city tours and we had an opportunity to sail in Michigan Lake, to participate in entertaining concerts. “Saule” members did not miss a chance to explore Chicago’s blues clubs and to have a luxurious ride by limousine along night streets of the city centre.
 
“I am very glad that the trip was really great and all ensemble members were concentrated in the rehearsals and performances. All attempts and hard work before the trip revealed to be fruitful. Some extra rehearsals in Siauliai Culture Centre helped us to prepare better for this important trip. Applauses and feedbacks of audience were the biggest award for us, and the memories of the trip were the ones to remember for a long time”, said director of choreography group Adele Gruziene.
The ensemble travelled to the USA at their own expense, also, financial support was provided by the Lithuanian Culture Council, Siauliai city municipality, farmers Ilona and Petras Baristos’ and Siauliai University.
“Saule” Lithuanian folk ensemble is a member of the International Organization of Folk Art (IOV).

Laima Juzulėnienė
Zenonas Ripinskis’s photographs