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Just Smile and Wave. Russian-European Contemporary Dance Festival “Intradance”: Why and What For?

After two years of preparation, a grant from the European Union in the amount of one million Euros, shortlisting of 120 choreographers from 18 European countries and 38 companies from Russia, premieres in Russian cities the Intradance Festival finally arrives in Moscow. Seven European choreographers, who wanted very much to work in Russia, staged their productions in seven Russian contemporary dance companies that were willing to try any type of an experiment. The diplomatic level of this event is capable of changing the political will with regards to Russian contemporary dance.

As a result, the European contemporary dance understood that everything in Russia is not as hopeless as it seemed, and the Russian one understood that everything in Europe is not as rosy as it appeared. The new combinations of common advantages and disadvantages can now be created directly, on a private level. Productions created within the framework of Intradance remain in theaters’ repertories, the European Union wants to take them back to Europe (the grant didn’t plan for these expenses) in order to test the viability of those productions on its own public and see whether it is worth to continue supporting the choreographers.

Wake up and go to work

The Danish choreographer Lotte Sigh set her production of “The Good, the Bad and You” in collaboration with Nail Ibragimov’s Kazan chamber ballet “Panther”. Thanks to Intradance Moscow's general public saw this wonderful team for the first time. “Panthers” always managed to impress with their magnificent technique, delicate artistry, palpable stream of energy. Lotte Sigh wrote for them a very “physical”, very spectacular show with high injury risk – the dance lexicon proposed by her presupposes traumas. The theme of violence and suppression of one man by another continued to manifest itself in a number of other productions as well. Violence and loneliness is the leitmotif of contemporary European dance choreography, which has pinned it as timely for years, while lacking the resolve and the responsibility to express its attitude toward it. The blurred ethical evaluation of oneself and the surrounding world does little to help contemporary choreography develop. The artistic search splashes about in stagnant waters of caution and lack of clear aesthetic manifestations. In that context the arrival of European choreographers to Russia can be viewed as an attempt at developing new aesthetic forms with new human material.

“True Style” by German choreographer Christoph Winkler was produced in collaboration with the Ëd Physical Theater of Saint Petersburg, which wrote funny texts for the show on the subject of “Why we are here”: “Artyom is here because he left the Eifman ballet,” “Sasha is here because he moved from Cherepovets,” “Tanya is here because she dropped gymnastics, and because she is compact.” Winkler created a charming medley of everything that interests him – folk and disco dance, hip-hop and conceptual performance. Ëd’s strength is its clownery. Our contemporary dance is so serious with regard to itself, so unsmiling – and Artyom Ignatiev, Alisa Panchenko, and, especially, Alexander Lyubashin and Tanya Tarabanova have every prospect of forming its unique image following the path of dance clownery.

“Cow Parsnip… A True Story” by Rachid Ouramdane is co-produced with Irina Brezhneva’s Migrazia Project from Kirov. There is no music or choreography in “Cow Parsnip”. There are sounds and the swaying, which can be considered as the characteristic oriental meditative “sway”, but the majority viewed the performance, where somnambulist dancers walked around on stage for an hour, as a challenge and a provocation. “I was interested to see how viable my work would be with the new audience,” says Ouramdane. “I did what I usually do on principle. The ensemble from Kirov is not much different from a company from the suburbs of Paris. I always try to change the level of sensitivity of the company and the audience, and I don’t always choose an easy way to do it.” It’s an admirable statement, but the production had about as much audience appeal, as one would get from watching someone sleep.

As a matter of fact, Ouramdane’s words characterize very well the persistent fixation, canonization of aesthetic successes of European contemporary dance of the last decades. From that perspective Russia is just another local market, where one can “sell” the already formed language of the dance and also check that language’s viability and flexibility.

The picturesque world and plasticity of movement in the production of “This Is Not a Love Song” by Dutch choreographers Uri Ivgi and Johan Greben in collaboration with Tatyana Baganova’s Provincial Dances Theater of Yekaterinburg originated from performances of Israel’s Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company, where Ivgi worked. We saw the defense-capable Israeli choreography, powerful and filled with elements of Middle Eastern pagan dances, with “squatty” springing legs, collective shamanistic rituals. In “This Is Not a Love Song” those were transformed into dances of protest aimed at the enemies of Israel and totalitarianism in general. The overarching social metaphysics were present only in the music. The aggressive lexicon of the dance, the grey prison-camp clothes and pistol fingers defined the theme, but the production didn’t quite make it as a show about totalitarianism. By its very nature contemporary dance captivates the audience only when a performer lives it, when they lend it their breath, their energy, their personal attitude toward its subject. “This Is Not a Love Song” is not the only production we would like to wish this upon.

Portuguese choreographer Victor Hugo Pontes produced his “Far Away From Here” in collaboration with Moscow’s Liquid Theatre. Famous for its street performances, its plays with space, the Liquid Theater now needed to develop its acting technique, and it managed to do just that. The small and light Svetlana Kim, who danced her parts better than everyone else, also turned out to be a wonderful singing dramatic actress: her willingness to experiment and to overload was fostered in her by Gennady Abramov’s Class of Expressive Plastic Movement.

We would like to recognize as successful the production of “Mirlifor” by Belgian choreographer Karine Ponties in collaboration with the Dialogue Dance Company from Kostroma. “Mirlifor” was memorable thanks to its well-structured and psychologically sound human relations, the irony-filled dance on the subject of people embittered with each other. The performance has delicately ridiculed puerility, so incredibly tiresome in the adults.

Olga Pona’s Chelyabinsk Theater of Contemporary Dance performed the choreography of Asier Zabaleta of Spain in the production of “Next” that talks about the power of the collective, about how it can endow a man with strength one minute and spit him out the next. The theme of loneliness is resolved without aggression, by means of comprehensible lexicon.

A discussion between people, who have different perceptions of the dance, is anything but simple. All-in-all we were disappointed by the use of only a small part of the dance alphabet. The isolation of contemporary dance from the process of development of the world culture is both strange and sad. Such isolation contradicts the original ideas behind the free dance, for it must and can be understood by anyone who is interested in experimenting with movement. Ideally contemporary dance is infinitely diverse and unpredictable, like the utopian “free man”, and nothing prevents us from furthering that ideal, enriching it and aspiring to it.

Article by Yekaterina Vasenina.

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