In Summer 2014 Jonathan Burrows met Russian contemporary dance artists Anna Kravchenko and Katya Ganyushina at Impulstanz in Vienna, where they joined Writing Dance, a workshop he was leading. Between sessions he fell into conversation with them, and became curious about what was happening in the dance scene there, which has become cut off in many ways from what’s happening in the rest of Europe. The two women have founded an online performance magazine called Room For, to try and disseminate information about what interests them. When they asked Jonathan if they could interview him for this website, he suggested in return that he also interview them about their life and work in Moscow. The interview below casts light on two creative voices within the increasingly unstable Russian situation. Read Anna Kravchenko and Katya Ganyushina’s interview with Jonathan Burrows here.
QUESTIONS FROM JONATHAN BURROWS FOR ANNA KRAVCHENKO AND KATYA GANYUSHINA:
Jonathan Burrows: What’s happening in the Russian scene?
Anna Kravchenko and Katya Ganyushina: There is a certain revival compared to previous years: a new generation grows up, experienced artists return to the practice after several years of silence. But contemporary dance is still hard to define as an established field of art, compared with ballet or theatre. There’s no united scene. There is some activity happening in Moscow, but it differs from what’s going on in the regions of Russia. And connections are irregular and weak. There are a few established companies, which share the common approach of hiring a foreign choreographer for productions – so on the big stages we enjoy secondary European shows, which are proved tools made again on Russian dancers. Companies who could present (more or less) authentic Russian contemporary dance huddle in small venues, having no government support. Contemporary dance is floating between theatre and ballet routes, having weak connections with contemporary art, and the term itself is usually unclear for the audience. When you see ‘contemporary dance’ on the show announcement at the end you may find yourself at a contemporary ballet, or modern dance play, or street dance show. In that context the question of self identification as a contemporary dance artist/choreographer is still of great importance.
JB: Where are the dance artists looking to for ideas and a sense of connection?
AK & KG: Contemporary post dramatic theatre is the closest field for contemporary dance. We share nearly everything with theatre, there are no venues, awards or critics dedicated to contemporary dance only. Connections are manifested in a variety of ways from common insight on political or social issues, to co-productions between directors and choreographers. As always, music is a strong source for ideas, especially for the younger generation. Somatic theories and practices are another important source of inspiration, and also the area of new technology and media art.
How are people supporting their work?
There are few grants for independent artists, and they provide only production facilities, e.g. rehearsal space and stage facilities, so new work is mainly produced with artist’s funds. Government support is irregular and not transparent, so some productions may appear in the frame of festivals or educational programs. Generally all independent artists work somewhere else, as dance teachers, therapists or in other spheres usually not connected with dance.
What opportunities are there for people to show their work?
First of all studio shows, which are often the only showing for a work. There are a few regional festivals, but mainly all independent productions look for private funds, rent the venue and lead the production process themselves. Government support, as mentioned above, is limited.
What would help people to make and show their work?
Basic requirements relevant for any artist – rehearsal space, production facilities and promotion. We have a few stages in Moscow, which show contemporary dance and show resident choreographers irregularly. There is still no established infrastructure to show someone’s work. That was one of the reasons for us to launch our Performance series, which is an evening event where emerging choreographers can show their work.
What’s the relationship of contemporary dance to older forms like ballet and folk dance?
Folk dance and ballet are part of mainstream dance education in Russia, so it’s a common base for a large part of the dance community, and for younger people who decide to pursue a dance career. These sectors are highly supported by government and, unfortunately, are the main representers of Russian culture abroad. This is the only visible relationship we see between ballet or folk and what we do.
What view do you have of what’s going on elsewhere in Europe, in the world?
We don’t have a lot of opportunities to watch new productions, but what we grasp from Impulstanz in Vienna and some European productions shown in Russia, we see self-research and personal matter as a major subject of the European contemporary dance, sometimes coming to the edge of violence.
What interests and excites you?
We like to look at contemporary dance as part of a broader notion of culture, which definitely connects dance to contemporary art, science, technology and philosophy. Personally we’re excited by ideas that contemporary science bring us, all the notions expressed in your workshop like ‘everything all at once everywhere’. We’re interested to use these new scientific notions, particularly some of the set, common topics like what does it mean for something to lie on the atomic level?
Can you tell me about the website you’re running?
When we decided to run an educational and productional activity in the dance sphere, we went to a workshop for creative entrepreneurs organised by British Council. During the workshop, we defined key elements of our business, set ambitious goals and realised that the best starting point for us would be to run the blog. It allowed us to make an active research, build a recognisable name and vitalise the community with relevant theoretical and practical discussions, a kind of newsfeed on what’s going on around. So the content includes materials on upcoming events in Moscow and St.Petersburg, interviews with practitioners from Russia and abroad, and translation of theoretical articles. At the moment in cooperation with TSEKH festival, the only and the oldest truly contemporary dance festival in Moscow, we’re running a contest for young critics, which we hope to use as a way to broaden our content, with critical essays on current performances.
How does the political situation there in Russia affect your work and your visions for the future?
We don’t directly reflect political events in our works as performers, or in the content of the blog, but we share a common mood of instability, unclarity and non-confidence. The only direct effect of the current political situation on our practice seems to be our approach to funding. We don’t rely on government support, meaning we still apply for grants but without the expectation to get anything, so we look actively for private funding.
AND FINALLY SOME ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS INVITED FROM ALL THE PARTICIPANTS OF THE STATE OF THE NATION PROJECT, LED BY JONATHAN BURROWS FOR OCTOBERDANS, BERGEN, NORWAY 22ND OCTOBER 2014:
Is there any kind of training for contemporary dance in Russia?
In Moscow and St.Petersburg there are several schools providing semi-professional training, but they don’t give any certificates, like degrees or something. Mostly, all over the country, company members just give different technical classes themselves. These classes are the major training for the majority of dancers and choreographers. On the whole most successful choreographers are the alumni of established ballet academies, or otherwise educated abroad, with working experience in American or European companies or with a degree from a European university. There are several BA and MA programs of contemporary choreography, but with a quite arguable approach to education.
What is your background and where is your knowledge of the field coming from?
We followed a quite similar route to the contemporary dance people, which was exactly what made us friends and gave us the desire to run a common project. We both danced when we were children and teenagers, but when we became adults we chose business careers. But then having been recognised in the business sphere, we decided to give ourselves a challenge and change our life completely. We started with an art theory education (Anna started in The Russian State University for Humanities, Katya got a degree from University of Glasgow). Both of us fell in love with contemporary dance while studying, specifically the American minimalists and Judson Dance Theatre. After that we returned to the dance field as theorists and practitioners. As dancers we get regular classes at TSEKH school and from members of the key Russian contemporary dance company P.O.V.S.Tanzi, plus we try to attend some classes abroad, and over time we’ve found more opportunities for that, particularly through Impulstanz, Movement Research and The Place.
Is there any kind of continuity of working for you in Russia?
Business experience gives us strategic thinking and allows to maintain a sober view on what’s happening in contemporary dance as a field. It helps us to understand potential partners, new audiences and possible ways to build connections. It also inspired us to launch an organisation to start building an institutional approach to the whole field.
Is there a contemporary theatre scene in Russia?
There is a contemporary theatre scene in Russia and it’s quite active, at least compared to the dance scene. Contemporary theatre is a strong source of inspiration for independent dance artists, and cooperates widely with contemporary choreographers, providing some opportunity for experiment.
How do cultural institutions function in Russia and what is the link between institutional and non-institutional work?
Cultural institutions are rather weak, so it’s really hard to tell anything about the link between institutional and non-institutional work. There are of course some cultural institution in the field of contemporary art, but they have no connection to contemporary dance.
Is there any apolitical work produced in Russia?
There is more apolitical then political work, we would say.
What opportunities are there to see work from other places in Europe? How much outside work is invited to tour in Russia?
There are several theatre and dance festivals that invite dance companies, and they are usually part of year-long international cultural partnership programs with other countries. For instance 2014 has been a year of cultural partnership with the UK, so the majority of toured work this year was from the UK, usually mainstream or non-political works.
This interview was originally published on Jonathan Burrows’ blog. Read Anna Kravchenko and Katya Ganyushina’s interview with Jonathan here.