Mario Schröder and a team of 40 dancers prepare for Leipzig Festival of Lights

Calm and low profile but highly focused – Mario Schröder is a special kind of leader with his own distinctive leadership style. It’s one that has gained the respect of 40 dancers with strong personalities from 25 countries. The director of the Leipzig ballet looks relaxed as he stands in the midst of his company during rehearsals for PAX 2014. The work has a unique significance, being also about him and his own life. The piece will be performed at Leipzig Festival of Lights, and for him personally, 25 years of peaceful revolution means 25 years in which he has been free to develop artistically and, above all, without restrictions. How did he feel back in 1989, in those autumn days full of chaos and uncertainty? “It tore me in two,” says Mario Schröder, candidly. “I wanted to go on stage every evening, but at the same time I wanted to be out on the streets demonstrating, calling for change and progress.” The constant fear of being arrested left its mark, something that is reflected in Schröder’s artistic work to this day. Schröder is a graduate of Dresden’s Palucca dance school and his career took him to Würzburg, Kiel, Japan, the US, Russia, Mongolia, France and several other European countries before he was appointed to his current position at Leipzig Opera House. The dance performance at Leipzig Festival of Lights on the evening of 9 October will stir emotions close to his heart. “It’s about freedom, a force that moves people in every country of the world to this day,” says Schröder. Back in October 1989, when the fate of the peaceful revolution against the East German regime hung in the balance, the crowds on the streets of Leipzig spontaneously sang two songs in particular: The Internationale and We Shall Overcome. It wasn’t a performance and nor was it art, but rather the expression of a shared desire for freedom that had finally prevailed. Leipzig’s artists and various international visitors aim to explore this tradition and these values, turning the Festival of Lights into a stage for art and much, much more.