Finally, a Kosovar woman leads Kosovo's National Ballet | Arts & Culture | Al Jazeera

Finally, a Kosovar woman leads Kosovo's National Ballet

At 28 years old, Teuta Krasniqi is the dancer behind 'No Walls', a performance about the isolation of her country.

by
    Teuta Krasniqi in her dance studio at the National Theatre of Kosovo [Valerie Plesch/Al Jazeera]
    Teuta Krasniqi in her dance studio at the National Theatre of Kosovo [Valerie Plesch/Al Jazeera]

    Pristina, Kosovo - The stage didn't have many props. An ensemble of 20 dancers moved slowly to the electronic music, weaving in and out of each other, sometimes beating the wall but unable to move past it. 

    A man dressed in black, "Injustice", disrupts the flow of the dancers, while a woman representing all Kosovars in a light beige dress emerges.

    She tries to speak to the audience but the words don't come. She joins the other dancers to hit the wall, but Injustice returns to stop them.

    A week before Kosovo marked its 10th anniversary of independence in February 2018, the Kosovo National Ballet premiered a contemporary dance performance - "No Walls".

    From this shadow that covers our nation, we often feel isolated and buried, like someone is throwing dirt on top of us.

    Teuta Krasniqi, choreographer

    Teuta Krasniqi is a 28-year-old dancer and the Ballet's first female choreographer from Kosovo - and the only one from Kosovo to date. 

    Krasniqi often asks herself: "Is our Kosovo, even after 18 years of freedom, a state or a ghetto?"

    In Kosovo - Europe's newest nation - citizens are isolated from the rest of Europe.

    They are the only western Balkans who cannot travel freely to the 26 European nations in the Schengen area without a visa.

    Krasniqi receives a standing ovation the night of her show, No Walls, which premiered at the National Theatre of Kosovo on February 8, 2018 [Valerie Plesch/Al Jazeera]


    "From this shadow that covers our nation, we often feel isolated and buried, like someone is throwing dirt on top of us. All of this feels like someone is burying us. I believe that any nation that would be in the same circumstance would feel the same as us," Krasniqi said from her ballet studio, in the basement of the historic National Theatre of Kosovo in Pristina.

    "It's the feeling of our country and our people: we are isolated and we feel like we are in a grave."

    Hopelessness and anger

    Her dark but poignant portrayal of Kosovo's isolation is set against the backdrop of growing anger and hopelessness among Kosovars cut off from the rest of the world, despite promises made by politicians and European Union (EU) officials over the last decade that they will soon be able to travel freely. 

    Kosovo is not a member of the bloc. 

    Dancers from the ballet perform No Walls, Teuta Krasniqi’s first piece as choreographer [Valerie Plesch/Al Jazeera]


    In the meantime, Kosovars are forced to wait in long lines outside embassies in the capital to schedule an interview for a travel or business visa, and pay hundreds of euros for the chance to visit Europe.

    Krasniqi digs out opportunities to travel abroad as she seeks inspiration from other shows or workshops. The French embassy in Pristina has rejected two of her applications.

    She began dancing just shy of her 17th birthday, relatively late in the world of dance.

    Teuta Krasniqi rehearses at the Kosovo National Ballet’s studio in Pristina [Valerie Plesch/Al Jazeera]


    Born in Pristina, which was then part of Yugoslavia, in 1989, Krasniqi spent three months in Canada with her family as a refugee while NATO launched air strikes to remove Slobodan Milosevic's army out of Kosovo.

    When the war ended in June 1999, Krasniqi journeyed back to a newly liberated homeland along with the hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanian refugees. 

    "From that feeling of happiness that I had, it started slowly, slowly, slowly going down," Krasniqi said. "We didn't wait to see if it is good or what is happening [in Kosovo], we just thought there is freedom now."

    No Walls is about the isolation of Kosovo from the rest of the world [Valerie Plesch/Al Jazeera]

    As the nation began to rebuild, a series of political killings scarred the new landscape, parties began to form and rampant corruption stalled growth.

    By the time she entered high school in Pristina to focus on music, she already felt trapped; many young people were stuck and families struggled financially amid a job shortage.

    She began to think of the walls within her own country.

    'Break this wall'

    The international community should "break this wall", she said, so people today would not have to leave Kosovo in search of better economic opportunities in Western Europe.

    In early 2015, nearly 100,000 Kosovars fled the nation on buses heading to Serbia, from where they crossed the border with Hungary.

    Many have also died trying to make it to Western Europe.

    We are showing to Europe and everyone else that we really are part of Europe. We want the EU and our government – everyone – to be with us.

    Teuta Krasniqi, choreographer

    Krasniqi remembers watching news reports on the suffering Kosovo Albanians endured at the Tisa River that straddles the Serbian-Hungarian border in 2009. Fifteen people drowned while trying to navigate the cold river. 

    Through tears, Krasniqi describes the drowning incident depicted in one of the scenes of No Walls.

    The Injustice character stands over the others and does nothing as they struggle against imaginary waves of the river, desperately trying to reach the Hungarian border.

    "I tried to imagine how cold the water was, and what the women and little kids [had to endure]. What did they feel?"

    Since 1972, all previous male and female choreographers were flown in from around the world, from Cuba to Russia [Valerie Plesch/Al Jazeera]


    By the end of the scene, Injustice apologises to Kosovo.

    The dancers join together and walk slowly towards a dim light at the back of the stage, never turning back. 

    For Krasniqi, the light symbolises hope for Kosovo.

    "If we are all together, we can do something. We just want to continue to break this wall," Krasniqi said. "We are showing to Europe and everyone else that we really are part of Europe. We want the EU and our government - everyone - to be with us."

    'I had goose bumps the whole time'

    Bardhe Neziri, a graphic designer, was in the audience when No Walls premiered.

    "I had goose bumps the whole time because it's based on a true story. Even though Teuta is a new choreographer, she achieved to express great emotion to the audience," she said. "The play transmitted segments of our everyday life and I felt glimpses of our reality here."

    Krasniqi's progression of dance in Kosovo, where citizens are still grappling with its wartime past, is being widely celebrated.

    I just think she's kind of a genius at best. Her mind is like a steel trap, you can put any material out there and she just remembers it.

    Christie Coleman, dancer and choreographer

    "I think that if there's an issue that you're not aware of and then you see it come to life in front of you, it evokes your empathy, your sympathy and human qualities that move you to be the person you want to be and usually a better person," said Christie Coleman, an American dancer and choreographer from New York City who uses contemporary dance to portray global social justice issues, such as domestic violence.

    Coleman has also choreographed two performances at the Kosovo National Ballet over the last two years and worked closely with Krasniqi.

    "I just think she's kind of a genius at best," Coleman said. "Her mind is like a steel trap, you can put any material out there and she just remembers it."

    Christie Coleman, an American dancer and choreographer, describes Teuta Krasnqi as a 'genius at best' [Valerie Plesch/Al Jazeera]


    A nimble dancer, Krasniqi's promotion to choreographer was no simple feat: it rides on the heels of the Kosovo National Ballet celebrating its 45th anniversary last September. 

    Over the years, all previous male and female choreographers were flown in from around the world, from Cuba to Russia, as there weren't any trained choreographers in Kosovo. The Ballet itself had a tumultuous history.

    After forming in 1972, in 1990 it was forced to shut down during the Serb occupation in Kosovo. 

    After the war, the Ballet started from scratch with all new dancers, led by former dancer Ahmet Brahimaj.

    Despite the Ballet's rocky past, Krasniqi is determined to bring her ballet troupe onto different world stages.

    "Every time we go out of the country, we represent Kosovo. The best way to represent your country is with culture."

    Teuta Krasniqi dances on stage during the premiere of the French ballet 'La Fille mal gardee' on May 11, 2017, in Pristina, Kosovo [Valerie Plesch/Al Jazeera]


    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


    ABOUT THE AUTHOR



    YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

    Interactive: Coding like a girl

    Interactive: Coding like a girl

    What obstacles do young women in technology have to overcome to achieve their dreams? Play this retro game to find out.

    The State of Lebanon

    The State of Lebanon

    Amid deepening regional rivalries what does the future hold for Lebanon's long established political dynasties?

    Exploited, hated, killed: The lives of African fruit pickers

    Exploited, hated, killed: Italy's African fruit pickers

    Thousands of Africans pick fruit and vegetables for a pittance as supermarkets profit, and face violent abuse.