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Heels Together: Contemporary Dance at the 2010 Golden Mask Festival

Contemporary choreography in Russia is evolving at an accelerated rate. The Golden Mask festival added a separate category for this rapidly developing genre.

Modern choreography theater “D.O.Z.S.K.I” of Minsk skillfully interprets the folk dance tradition and the Belorussian national dress. The fluidity of lines characteristic of the Slavic dances is faceted by the inherent firmness of the Belorussian character and complemented with contemporary dance techniques. Olga Labovkina, director of the “Karakuli” Dance Theater of Minsk – a striking and explosive dancer, played the part of the bride in the ballet “The Wedding”, set to the mix of music from contemporary composers, and with it she proved herself as a fearless grotesque actress. Labovkina ponders the feeling of emptiness that haunts the bride at the height of festivities.

In the festival’s competitive program, the Theater of Nations presented Alla Sigalova’s choreographed novella titled “Poor Liza” set to the music of Leonid Desyatnikov.

When celebrities perform contemporary choreography, it draws attention to contemporary dance. And the production of “Poor Liza” features famous actress Chulpan Hamatova and the Bolshoi Theater’s leading dancer Andrei Merkuryev. Merkuryev has a clever, precise and pointedly caustic manner, as he walks through the choreographic language of Erast – a capricious young man, who fell in love with a florist named Liza. Chulpan Hamatova has sharp arms, elbows at right angles, squirrel-like ultrafast gesticulation, back that arches backwards almost to the point of breaking (all joking aside, the “arch of hysteria”, utilized by the female dance modernists of the beginning of last century, was something they discovered in female psychiatric wards). Hamatova performed the part of Liza so brilliantly and in such a dramatically pointed manner that she managed to rise to the level of and even to outdo Merkuryev’s solo, trumping the man that grew up on the ballet classics at the Mariinsky Theater and the contemporary choreography of Neumeier, Ratmansky and Forsythe to become a unique dancer of his time.

Contemporary Choreography Theater under the direction of Irina Afonina made its debut in the competitive program with the production of “The Dormitory” by Yekaterina Kislova. To date the Contemporary Choreography Theater is the best private school in Moscow that teaches contemporary dance to children four years of age and up. “The Dormitory” was performed by the theater’s older students, who have now themselves become instructors. This production brings us back to the simple things – our relationships with our family and friends, our neighbors; the dormitory is regarded as the model for the world order. Performing on stage that evening were Egor Maslov, Lika Shevchenko, Mikhail Kolegov and Ekaterina Nedoseikina – some of Moscow’s best contemporary dancers and the theater’s child alumni.

Olga Pona’s Chelyabinsk Theater of Contemporary Dance demonstrated its new production “A Man Is Muzhik Who Has Found His Identity”. The show illustrates the following quote by Viktor Erofeyev: “A Russian muzhik gets back to his feet from all fours. Let’s switch from the old fingers-throughour- hair to a comb, from an armored car to perfume, from foul language to English, from moonlighting jobs to profits, from literature to television, from collective farm to private business, from drinking sprees to cocktail receptions, from humiliation to male dignity.” During the half-hour of stage time six male dancers get up from all fours and awkwardly but surely move toward the podium, where they perform a spectacular fashion defile – a grand introduction of male conquerors that have grown comfortable in the modern world.

The Boroditsky Dennis Dance Company, a young Moscow ensemble, entered the competitive program of the Golden Mask Festival for the first time. A year and a half ago, their production of “I Wish You Had Understood Me…” received the Grand Prix of the International Festival of Modern Choreography in Vitebsk, Belarus. Dennis Boroditsky has a gymnastic past, and he also worked in Igor Moiseyev’s ensemble. But it was his work in the American dance company Bill T. Jones that became his main aesthetic influence. Borodistky’s choreography is of pro-American persuasion: powerful soft lines, energetic foot and leg work, strong flying hands, American geometry of thought as a whole.

Larisa Alexandrova’s production of “Casting Off” for “Evgeny Panvilov’s Ballet” theater of Perm is compositely arranged, successful from a dramaturgic perspective and tells the story of how girls want to get married and how poorly they later fare in marriage. First there is a band of neat wind-up dolls that march to the rhythm of the “acceptable” contemporary dance, but then everything seems to go mad – the wind-up figurines move discordantly out of time, yearning for freedom and happiness. The grooms pick them up, shower them with flowers, shove them inside the stiff carcasses of the wedding skirt-houses, from which the girls cannot escape without outside help.

New movements appear as more complex in relation to the already established ones. As proof of that is the production of “Dido and Aeneas” by the distinguished American choreographer Mark Morris to the music of Henry Purcell, first performed in 1989 in the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie of Brussels as part of the “Legendary Performances and Names” program. The plot of this ancient Greek tragedy about Dido, who killed herself over Aeneas’s betrayal, is embodied in a historically appropriate dance language: it is as if antique vase drawings suddenly came to life. The musicality of Mark Morris came through full force in “Dido”: one cannot say that music was used in this production. Rather here they serve the music, and the action mostly resembles strict liturgy, filled with the language of modern dance. When watching “Dido”, one can clearly see that the Modern Age originates from Greece, and that the ancient Greek tragedy is best recreated with the language of modernist dance.

It was by lucky accident that Moscow had the occasion to see the choreography of a New York based company “Aszure Barton and Artists”: having found out that “Dido and Aeneas” is heading to the Golden Mask Festival, the U.S. Department of State offered to bring Aszure Barton’s company along as well and took active part in helping with the organization of their tour. The premiere of Aszure Barton’s most recent work – “Busk” – took place in 2009. Both the Baryshnikov Arts Center, which has enjoyed a long and fruitful collaboration with Aszure Barton, and Canadian Consulate’s Fine Arts Department (Barton was born in Canada) took part in the creation of this production. “Busk” is a scintillating mix of musical-inspired jazz style, street dance, elements of cabaret dance and street pantomime (a busker is a street musician) set on a solidly woven lyrical core. Six dancers dressed in baggy black clothing, illuminated brightly enough to reveal all the nuances of the fine plasticity of movement (Aszure Barton actively utilizes the play of hands, the trembling of fingers, the detailed gestures, the expressive isolated movement of parts of the body), demonstrate very eloquent, expressive acting.

Barton’s second production, “Blue Soup”, is a collection of fragments of the more interesting works of the recent years. The most striking episodes of “Blue soup” are mass ritual dances, performed by dancers dressed in bright turquoise lounge suits. The merging of the ballet tradition and ethnic originality resulted in a “centaur”-dancer that triumphs in a macabre pas de deux one minute and exults in a savage prayer the next. Stomping loudly with their bare feet, digging their heels firmly into the floor, the New Yorkers unraveled our perception: an infectious dancer creates a spectator, creates the present, the here and now. Barton’s company energetically realizes the best ideas of dance modernism of the early 20th century. A powerful, strong gesture that awakens the best feelings in the spectator, the will to live. Barton, ever loyal to modernist traditions, expertly gives meaning to the impulse of dance modernism, born in response to the war of 1905.

The rainbow of feelings and the truth of everyday life that was embodied in dance at the 2010 Golden Mask Festival gave great pleasure to all fans of the unorthodox dance mentality.

Article by Yekaterina Vasenina.

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