Is there contemporary dance
in Russia?

RBTH presents five troupes that can compete with those of Pina Bausch and Martha Graham.
Anna Galayda
Russian contemporary dance doesn't have it easy. Ever since its birth it's lived in the shadow of grand Russian ballet and has been forced to constantly prove its right to exist. Many people still think that contemporary dance is Swan Lake, only the ballerinas wear chitons - not tutus - and demi-pointe instead of pointe shoes. They're wrong. Nevertheless, contemporary dance in Russia is developing dynamically, and the best troupes and choreographers are now well-known - not only at home - but also abroad.
The Evgeny Panfilov Ballet, Perm
Through the eyes of a clown, The Evgeny Panfilov Ballet
Despite its residence, Panfilov's Ballet was never a provincial troupe. This choreographer was one of the first in the powerful ballet world to begin staging performances in the modern style. He took off the ballerina's nylon tutus and pink tights, threw out their pointe shoes and forced them to bend their bodies in unthinkable positions and use modern techniques. For Russian contemporary dance Panfilov is not just a pioneer choreographer; he is a magician. He is a showman who shocked his colleagues by transforming high art into a stunning spectacle and raising plain pop culture to the level of virtuosity. A fanatic of his craft, he accustomed Russian audiences to the new art practically by himself. He also took his dancers from an amateur stage to the first state contemporary dance theater.

His fate is characteristic of contemporary dance pioneers. Until he was 20, Panfilov did not know what ballet was. He tended his garden in his native village in the Arkhangelsk Region, would get into trouble at school, served in the army, and was expelled from military college. Then he entered the Perm Institute of Culture, where he discovered dance.

It took Panfilov's art more than ten years to win the love of the public. In 1988 he gained renown for becoming the only person in history without a ballet diploma to receive the title of laureate from the professors of the jury of the All-Union Competition of Ballet Artists and Choreographers.

From that moment on, each of his premieres became a huge event - first with the Impulse amateur experimental group, and then with the experimental Professional Modern Dance Theater (which with time became known as the Evgeny Panfilov Ballet).

Evgeny Panfilov
During the two decades in which he thrilled Russia, Europe, and America - Panfilov staged around 100 performances. Among them were the minimalist Wait for me and The Flight based on Bulgakov's play, as well as Paradise for Madmen and The Nutcracker.
Parrot Cage ballet performed by The Evgeny Panfilov Ballet. Music Carmen Suite by Rodion Shchedrin based on the opera by Georges Bizet. Choreography by Evgeny Panfilov.
The theater - which for many years has existed without its founder (Panfilov was killed in 2002) - and its leading dancer Sergei Rainik have been trying to preserve Panfilov's best works and expand the repertoire by collaborating with young choreographers.
Provincial Dances, Yekaterinburg
Sepia performance
The most famous Russian troupe was created in 1990. Today it's linked to the name of choreographer Tatyana Baganova, who danced with it from the start and today is its artistic director. And although the dancers successfully collaborate with other choreographers, their style was imprinted by Baganova's performances - well conceived, metaphorical, and very strict choreographically.
As Long As It Takes performance
Like most of her colleagues who are responsible for founding contemporary dance in Russia, Baganova's education was based on the many master classes conducted by Western teachers and the long-standing cooperation with the American Dance Festival. The festival commissioned A Wedding, through which Baganova entered a symbolic dialogue with the ballet's originator Bronislava Nizhinska. Another important Baganova production, Sepia, based on motifs from a novel by Kobo Abe, was also staged for the American Dance Festival.

Tatyana Baganova
Experience No 4. Intersection. Choreography by Anna Abalikhina
Her ability to erect performances like buildings helped her win festivals and be invited by the Bolshoi Theatre. Baganova is the only Russian contemporary dance choreographer to have been commissioned by the Bolshoi to stage a production - it was The Rite of Spring, staged on the 100th anniversary of the first production of Stravinsky's ballet.
The Contemporary Dance Theater, Chelyabinsk
Meetings. Collaborative choreography by Olga Pona and the dancers
Another veteran of the dance movement is a company that is also from the Urals. Since its foundation in 1992, its artistic leader has been choreographer Olga Pona. Coming to contemporary dance with a diploma from an autotractor department of a polytechnic institute, this frail laconic lady creates her performances using energetic, physically aggressive dances.

Olga Pona
The sturdy style of her choreography conceal the dance's lyrical soul, which is particularly appreciated abroad, where the Chelyabinsk dancers perform more than in Russia.
SILK. Choreography by Riccardo Buscarini (Italy)
Pona is not only a choreographer but also a teacher who has reared more than one generation of dancers, and in terms of virtuosity they have no equals in Russia. Many of them have long left Chelyabink and now work in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Yekaterinburg.
Immersions and emersions
For many, working with Pona is a stimulus for their own creativity: Konstantin Keikhel, Ekaterina Kislova, Larisa Alexandrovna, and Maria Greif have become famous choreographers themselves. They work with leading companies and have been nominated for the Golden Mask, which Chelyabinsk productions have already won twice.
Ballet Moscow, a contemporary troupe
OP ART, co-project of Ballet Moscow and choreographers Guy Weitzman and Roni Haver
Ballet Moscow, which today is one of the most interesting and unique theatrical groups in Moscow, was established during the years of the Perestroika. Back then few people could explain what contemporary dance was - many wanted to dance but "not like at the Bolshoi," including the Bolshoi dancers themselves. Some of them even changed their status for a captivating professional adventure.
MINOS. Choreography by Juanjo Arques (Netherlands) Music by Alva Noto (Germany) & Ryuichi Sakamoto (Japan)
The Chamber Moscow Ballet, as it was called at the time, was one of the first troupes in the 1990s to invite teachers for more than short master classes; it began collaborating with European choreographers. The visit of Dutchman Paul Selwyn Norton, who had danced with William Forsythe's Frankfurt Ballet, and his production Break In, which combined movement with the static Japanese art of origami, were like a revolution: Back then cooperating with foreign choreographers was unheard of even for the Bolshoi and Mariinsky Theaters.
The Rite of Spring ballet, choreography by Régis Obadia
Since then Ballet Moscow has experienced many transformations and has even changed its name. Its repertoire includes productions choreographed by Frenchmen Régis Obadia and Rachid Ouramdane, Belgian Karine Ponties and Russian master Alexander Pepelyayev - and there's nothing sensational about them appearing together on one poster today, expect for the fact that in Moscow it's possible to see productions by leading contemporary choreographers one after the other.
Dialogue Dance, Kostroma
Punto di Fuga performance
The troupe from Kostroma is the only company out of all the heavyweights of Russian contemporary dance to be formed after the dance fever that raged during the Perestroika. It was established in 2002, when two young drama actors, Yevgeny Kulagin and Ivan Yestegneyev, decided to change their lives.

Kostroma became the company's residence. This old town, which played an important role in the history of Russia, had no significance on the country's theatrical map. For ten years Kulagin and Yestegneyev honed their skills with many master classes until 2011, when their troupe was noticed at Russia's principal theater festival, the Golden Mask. Their debut with Belgian Karine Ponties' Mirliflor immediately received a prize and in the following year Kulagin and Yestegneyev consolidated their success with their own production, Punto di Fuga.

Yevgeny Kulagin and Ivan Yestegneyev.
Code unknown
Neurasthenia. Music by David Monso. (France)
Kulagin and Yestegneev's productions combine the choreographer's tenacity with the brutality of the executing style, freely finding their niche in the space where genres meet. The troupe from Kostroma has become a resident at the Gogol Center and participates in performances by the Theater of Nations in Moscow. The dancers also perform at a new art space in Kostroma called STANTSIA.
My Dinner With You by Dialogue Dance featuring the Swiss composer and musician Simon Berz
and staged by Cecile Loyer (France)
Text by Anna Galayda
Edited by Oleg Krasnov
Cover photo: Provincial Dances theater by Yelena Rezvova
Images credits: Kommersant; Daria Popova; Alisa Chernikova
Andrey Shelkunov; Zurab Dzhavakhadze/TASS
Design and layout by Slava Petrakina
© 2017 All Right Reserved.
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