By Jennifer Petrie
Jennifer Petrie elected to take the Independent Study option while enrolled in SRAS’s Russian Studies Semester during the spring semester of 2008. While in Moscow, she used her time to not only study the Russian language, history, and culture, but also to explore her area of interest, Moscow’s modern dance scene. She took advantage of SRAS’s extensive support services and, combined with her own energy and initiative, quickly made a wide range contacts and enrolled herself in a series of dance courses in local studios. We asked her to write the following summary of her experience for the benefit of other students who might be interested in following in her footsteps.
In Moscow, a close community of performers and dancers exists that examines and explore body movement. Some choreographers define their work as “modern dance,” while others call their art “nonverbal dramatic theater.” Some choreographers and dancers attempt to avoid definition all together, explaining their art more loosely with terms like “total body movement,” “improvisation,” “free movement,” “release technique,” “authentic movement,” and/or “individual psychological expression.” Each choreographer and dancer seems to evolve their own concept of dance and movement. Delving into this wolrd over the spring semester of 2008, I witnessed both their talent and, as plagues the art world everywhere, their lack of funding. They rely on grants, teaching, and largely upon the support of their community to keep their art alive and developing. The performances and classes I attended revealed both the dilemmas of dance in Moscow and the successes. Below is a very brief look at just a few of the choreographers, dancers, and studios that are exploring and teaching body movement in Moscow.
Members of the PO.V.S. Tanze dance company and duet partners, Alexandra Konnikova and Albert Albert approach their dance and choreography with consistently evolving and changing methods. For the premier in March of Owen and Mei, Albert stated their choreography was inspired by something they noticed about the space between two bodies in motion after dancing at a club for many hours. Albert and Sasha questioned, “is that space a third person?” Other choreographic works sometimes emerge from authentic movement improvisations, or philosophical ideas, and yet Albert recalls, “other times, we like when there are no rules.” Incidentally, the name of their group is a play off the Russian word “повстанец” – a noun that translates to “rebel.”
They are have also experienced remarkable longevity and outreach in the field. They originally danced with Gennady Abramov, founder of the Class of Expressive Plastic Movement, an experimental dance plastics movement that has had wide impact on Moscow’s dance scene. Their touring list is long and includes New York and much of Western Europe. They also traveled to Kenya to work on a series of contemporary dance exchanges. The duets created there continue to be performed at the annual Dance Duets Diversia festival in Kostroma, about seven hours outside of Moscow.
Sasha Konnikova and Albert Albert can be seen performing their contribution to the 7th Moscow Dance Festival from 2008 in a video posted to YouTube. Sasha can additionally be seen dancing in an art film called “Express House” featured there.
Working as a theater and contemporary dance director at The School of Dramatic Art, Konstantin Mishin blends the forms of dramatic art and contemporary dance. His Shakespearean Sonnets have entered the repertoire of the School of Dramatic Art and combine organic improvisations and effective staging. Ira Gonto, the performing soloist, moved with raw dynamics that developed from Ira’s improvisation in the studio.
He has worked for over 15 years in Moscow as a dancer, actor, and director and has another major work planned to premier in February, 2009. Although he originally worked in improvisation classes under Gennady Abramov, his work is distinctly his own creation.
Independent choreographer, performer, dancer, and instructor, Taras Burnashev entered into Gennady Abramov’s Class of Expressive Plastic Movement in 1990 at the School of Dramatic Art. He worked there until 1997. He currently works in the field of improvisation and choreography, dance technology, and authentic movement. In addition to his talent for choreography and dance, he teaches his modern dance class with a tone of compassion that is genuine. He offers a unique pedagogy that engages all the students in the movement experience.
His numerous works have been performed across much of Europe. He is currently presenting Luftmangel with choreographer Daria Buzovkinoy as part of a project called Ohne Zucker (in Russian: ОНЭ ЦУКЕР). The dance delves deep into the physiological interrelationships between the mind and body. The choreographic process used for the dance reminds Taras of the words by Japanese choreographer Min Tanaka: “your body knows more than you.”
Andrei Andrianov, a researcher and performer, has described Luftmangel as “an internal authentic space body, its sensations, physical expansion, care of itself, vague erotic drive, touch, aggression, tenderness, non-vain motor, pleasant and simple movements. I watch unfolded in time the interaction between dancers: their time is closed, meaning interaction hidden from me, but I can feel them, and thus I understand at a more profound level. I realize that their movements are dictated by the need to demonstrate not just one or another form, but something internal, physiological condition, or nearly desire.”
Dancer and choreographer Andrey Andrianov became involved with Gennady Abramov’s expressive plastic movement in 1979. He has studied pantomime, improvisation, oriental martial arts, contact improvisation, and other modern dance. Since 1990, he has been a member of International Creativity Laboratories Saira Blanche Theatre (which posted the entire performance of a project called “Electricity” on Google Video). Currently, he works as a dancer in the group “Before Dance,” under the direction of Japanese choreographer Mini Tanaka at the The School of Dramatic Art. He has spent time abroad in Japan studying improvisation and Butoh methods.
This winter, Andrey performed his solo, “I wish there was a way back to . . .” at a performance for solo works called 7 Fridays in a Week (Семь пятниц на неделе – which literaly means translates roughly to “a week of Sundays.”). The dance was both personal and impersonal through the use of authentic movement. He walked casually onto the theater space wearing a loose red shirt and sunglasses. He tossed a few cans of beers to the audience, which they gladly accepted and opened. The song, “Summers of our Youth” by the pop group A-ha started to play and Andrey started to lip-sync the words in a rock-star manner, pointing both his hands to the audience. As the dance progressed, he worked his body from natural movement to more fluid, individualized artistic movement as outlined by the principles of authentic movement. Most of the festival was video taped and much of this is now available on YouTube.
Anna Kobleva and Nataliya Shirokova
Born in Ekaterinburg, Shirkova’s early career began as a dancer and choreographer at Provincial Dances, a dance theatre in that city run by Tatiana Baganova. Since moving to Moscow in 1999, Shirkova founded the Nash Dance Theater and has developed her own style of choreography and dance that blends modern technique with the individual body movement styles of dancers.
In 2006, she presented the dance work “Monologue: I am a Woman, I am a Flower.” Anna Kobleeva, a dancer who also works at the Bolshoi Theatre, was the soloist who presented the work. The choreography presented the pedestrian motions of a reserved woman as well as more complex movement sequences that highlighted Anna’s distinct range of muscular extension.
Anna is a potential rising star in Moscow’s modern dance scene. After years at the Bolshoi, under a system of strict technique and heavy competition, Nataliya presented Anna with an opportunity to move in her own way. She will continue to perform in Nataliya’s next dance work, which will premier later this spring. Anna’s eager attitude to try new things, and become closer to her own rhythms within her body, speaks volumes for the modern dance community in Moscow.
Nataliya’s performances have also been marked by a creative use of props and technology and have often imported other art forms such as paintings. She also teaches a modern dance class at the Praktika Theatre. She has also taught in Russia at The State Theatrical Institute in Sverdlovsk and Moscow State University of Culture, and in America at Beloit College and The University of Richmond.
Tatiana Gordeeva, performer and teacher, started to dance at the age of 6. In 1990 she graduated from Moscow State Academy of Choreography with honors and danced as a soloist in the Kremlin State Ballet in 1990 – 1999. She joined Sasha Pepelyaev influential Kinetic Theatre Project in 1995. (Kinetic’s last performance was in 2005; it has since been replaced by the Apparatus Theatre Group, which offers an extensive site with video and photography.)
In March of 2008, she performed “Difficult Saturn” as part of the Seven Fridays in a Week festival. The solo stayed true to her release technique style, that critics have noticed in her other solo performances of Swan Lake and To Fade Away Yesterday. After viewing the latter, Jan Mark Adolph from the French site “Mouvement” commented that, “there are no imprints left of her previous academic training; except for the exactness, down to a millimeter, in the body-space relationships. 14 minutes of extremely delicate dancing…”
Tatiyana developed what she calls “release-based un-technique.” She also developed an original pedagogy for this and offers classes at TsEKh. She starts the class by focusing students’ minds on the anatomy of the body by having students examine pictures of the human skeletal body. Then, movement exercises are performed that utilize the parts of the body examined. The class ends by with a longer and more spacious dance phrase that allows students to experience the dynamic of freed movement. Tatiana’s technique is original and effective and she has been invited as a guest teacher at a number of dance schools, companies or faculties in Russia and abroad since 2000.
Dina Hussein and Anna Abalihina
These two choreographers have trained and work abroad extensively. Dina and Anna met while studying ballet together at the Moscow State Academy of Choreography. After graduating, they studied at the Academy of Dance in Rotterdam and then worked together in the Dutch Galili Dance Troupe. They then returned to Moscow together where they continue to choreograph for theaters.
In April of 2007, they performed a piece titled “No Exit.” As choreographers, Dina and Anna staged the piece so that the two men and two women discover relationships within each other and within the space around them. In the end, however, they find that none of the four walls in performance space have exits and, by extension, that life also is impossible to escape. Dina and Anna also have choreographed a duet titled “Flies,” which actually incorporated insects to the art and was nominated for a Golden Mask, Russia’s top industry award for those working in theatre.
Dina Hussein also choreographed the international sensation Elizabeta Bam, a piece adopted from a story by Daniil Kharms, the Russian absurdist. Her choreography utilizes pantomime to portray the horrific yet humorous existence of a woman who is arrested for a murder that has not yet occurred. Originally presented by the Narkomfin Theatre in Moscow, the play has toured extensively in Central and Western Europe.
Recommended Dance Classes in Moscow
The following list has been compiled by Jennifer Petrie and added to by The School of Russian and Asian Studies (SRAS). Unless otherwise indicated, these courses are taught in Russian. Students who interested in studying at these institutions long-term are encouraged to sign up for a study abroad program through SRAS, as this will enable them to gain a long-term visa and affordable housing. Those looking for short experiences (up to 30 days) can arrange their own tourist visa and hostel housing through SRAS Travel Services. In either case, the student will need to contact these institutions directly in order sign up for the courses.
The modern dance agency TSEKH, funded by the Ford Company, recognized the financial crisis of modern dance seven years ago, and through the devoted effort of the TSEKH’s director Elena Tupyseva, they have managed to find funding (in large part from the Ford Foundation). They allot performance space for free to modern dance artists, assist in performance budgets, and make classes taught by artists working in Moscow available at a reduced cost. Pricing and times can be found on their website. Note as well that there are many other events and seminars listed on that site including the Russian Contemporary Dance Festival (held in December), Moscow Dance Summer School (July – August), and the International Non-Verbal Theatre Festival (July).
Angela organized the contact improvisation scene in Moscow. Under her guidance, people take lessons in contact improvisation. The lessons are followed by two hour jam sessions, where individuals freely improvise by touching and relating to the movement energies of a partner. Her group also organizes master classes and festivals. Those interested in contact improvisation should also check out ContactImprovisation.ru and Newcode.ru for more great training options.
Contact Dance Festival is a yearly week-long series of courses, workshops, and performances focusing on contact improvisation. It usually occurs in early July, draws more than 100 people, offers some of its program in English. For more information, see their site.
The Praktika Theatre offers a range of very affordable classes taught by great teachers. They have some information online in English about their lessons, although the Russian information is much more complete and the listing more extensive.
As can likely be guessed from the name, this dance center focuses on more on traditional forms of dance and is not as democratically priced (around $20 an hour for lessons currently). They have a Russian-only site with more information on their lessons and on their pricing.
This camp focuses exclusively on ballet. Two week programs for adults over 20 are offered in Russian and English, taught by instructors from GITIS, one of Russia’s top schools for theatre training. Applicants under 20 can also apply for a longer and better value camp program.