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Vitebsk Kurier #92, November 30, 2004

Elena Pavlova

This year instead of the International Jury the IFMC national competition was judged by the Expert Council.

Among the invited experts was Vita Mozuraite, ballet critic from Vilnius . She frequently attends the most prestigious dance competitions throughout the world. Since she came to Vitebsk for the first time, it was interesting to find out about her impressions.

… It was an unexpected discovery for me that there exist so powerful contemporary dance in Belarus , which has developed in a very short time. Many countries can just dream about such a fast progress.

Nobody can escape mistakes. As expert I would say that the level of the competition is rather high, however it could be named “once and again about the same”. It is necessary to pass all stages of the process of formation to understand what it's all about. Wild with joy for anybody can dance on the stage today; many choreographers take the very “anybody” and try to make something perfect via dance. Many of your ballet-masters work excellently, but they often repeat the same mistakes that are usually made by newcomers, who came out from folk, classic ballet, or gymnastics: beautiful stances and gestures with nothing behind, the body still keeps silent. Pity.

One more common mistake of women-choreographers is to select the suffering, sorrow as a main subject of their work, like: “Look! Look at women, can't you see how badly they yearn for love.” Or “I'm so sad about myself, and there's nobody to notice!” Okay, that's an ageless women's trouble. But one ought not to show it so openly and so absurdly on the stage.

There's no reason to argue about the national specialties of Belarusian contemporary choreography, it has the common Slavic origins. As for what in particular was on extremely high level here, I would mention Inna Aslamova, who masterly controls music and space; her children really feel at home on stage, all they do is done featly, which is so rare to meet.

Wonderful idea of miniature “Samaliotchiki” by Aleksey Litvin – some echoes of early Baganova, some hints at early Panfilov. His choreography is distinctively manlike, it has some theater inside, this is very good, but the dancers' performing skills couldn't match the level of his conception. Miniature “Jealousy” – an ironic and very masterful choreography by Diana Yurchenko. To my mind she became a gem of competition. I think Belarusian contemporary dance will reach the level of Russian, Estonian or Lithuanian. I mean, it will become a real theater of dance rather than a bare performing technique. In today's European contemporary, where the star number one is undoubtedly Pina Bausch, the element of theater goes first and just after it – the dance itself based on good choreographic education and training.


This October in American “Dance Magazine” was published an article by DM's chief-editor Wendy Perron about IFMC'2003. Upon a fair balance it was decided to place it in report'2004, according to the date of release.


A choreography competition in Vitebsk ignites careers outside the U.S.

COMPETITIONS IN CHOREOGRAPHY, while not wildly popular in the United States, can really make a difference to budding choreographers outside the U.S. A young choreographer in Europe or Russia who wants to make her mark must first attract attention at a competition like the Bagnolet platform near Paris, the International Choreographic Festival in Hanover, Germany, or the Golden Mask in Moscow. The Bagnolet platform alone brought major dance artists like Philippe Decoufle, Maguy Marin, and Angelin Preljocaj into the public eye, and Hanover gave us Marco Goecke.

One of the oldest choreography competitions is the International Festival of Modern Choreography held in Vitebsk, Belarus, homeland of painter Marc Chagall. Established in 1987 by the pioneering Marina Romanovskaya, it showcased modern, postmodern, multimedia, and hip hop well before the collapse of the Soviet Union opened the doors to cultural information from the West. It nurtured the talents of three highly original and utterly contemporary choreographers: Olga Pona, based in Chelyabinsk; Sasha Pepelyaev from Moscow, and Tatiana Baganova, director of the world-traveled Provincial Dances Theatre. (All three appeared at American Dance Festival this summer, and one reviewer noted the influence of Chagall on Baganova.) In addition, it made a star of the late Evgeny Panfilov, one of the first modern choreographers in Russia (see “Transitions”, April 2003, page 85). Because Panfilov, a native of Perm — Diaghilev's hometown — was beloved by the festival, it now bestows a prize in his name to a promising choreographer.

Last November, when more than twenty-five companies gathered at the festival, there were two signs that dance is more accepted here than in the United States. First, the local media came out to cover the event, and second, there was no dearth of male dancers or choreographers. In fact, one of the strongest entries was from TAD, a group of three men and one woman from nearby Grodno. In The Smoke of Buenos Aires, choreographed by Dmitry Kurakulov, the men wore trench coats and dragged on cigarettes while they spun, flipped, and generally plagued a feisty woman in a slinky green dress. The dance had a self-mocking wit and daring that would have delighted audiences anywhere.

The Opening (non-competing) performances of the festival featured MovesPerMinute, an inventive Swedish hip hop group; Chelyabinsk Theater of Contemporary Dance's dreamlike Waiting by Olga Pona; and Panfilov's suite of brazenly showbiz vignettes inspired by Phantom of the Opera. The festival included master classes in modern, jazz, and choreography. Prizes went to groups from Estonia, Poland, Russia, Germany, and China. The Panfilov prize went to Sergei Smirnov for a beautifully crafted ballet depicting inmates in a mental ward. The Critics' Section prize was awarded to the Moscow Chamber Ballet, which had shown a powerful version of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring by French choreographer Rezhis Obadia. A special mention went to dancer Lika Shevchenko, riveting as the “Chosen One,” and also a choreographer in her own right.

Top dance professionals from Poland, Lithuania, Germany, Finland, Russia, China, and Ireland constituted the jury, and an adjunct panel of critics met to confer an additional prize. There is no obvious yardstick by which to evaluate choreography, so the task of judging it is more subjective than judging technique. Heated discussions sometimes.

Larisa Barykina, coordinator of the Critics' Section, when introducing the event, compared the 16-year-old festival to an adolescent with growing pains. For a region searching for its (post-Soviet) cultural identity, there was some concern that the level of choreography would not be as high as in previous years. But the excerpts shown in the gala concert (edited down by Romanovskaya) demonstrated that there was no shortage of passion, craft, and expressiveness.

In a choreography competition, individual performers are generally not recognized. But at least three dancers left an indelible impression. Sergei Raynik, lead dancer with Evgeny Panfilov Ballet, with a gothic androgynous look, was both grotesque and beautiful. A masterful performer of great flexibility and nuance, he danced with a voluptuous despair and barely contained rage. Tiina Ollesk, the Estonian dancer in Fine Five Dance Theatre whose collaborative duet won a prize, moved her lean and generous body with exquisite control, giving ordinary gestures an elegant grandeur. And in Olga Pona's company, Vladimir Golubov, with his distinctive long neck, pensive face, and fly-away legs, had a haunting quality. He brought an existential stillness to the prize-winning Yellow Pages, a collage-type piece choreographed by Alexander Gurvich, also of Chelyabinsk Theater of Contemporary Dance.

Competing in choreography is not everyone's cup of tea. There is always the danger that choreographers will second-guess what the judges want and veer away from their true path as dance-makers (not that that path is always perfectly clear). But the cultural diversity of both the jury and the participants can counteract this tendency. And in Vitebsk the range of styles and choreographic approaches was exhilarating.

Wendy Perron, DM's Editor in Chief, taught workshops and served on the panel for the IFMC Critics' Section. Her participation was funded by Dance Theater Workshop's Suitcase Fund.