Belarus Cultivates New Choreography

December 18, 2012

All photos by Vladimir Lupovskoy, Courtesy IFMC.



Judging choreography can be problematic, especially when six judges come from vastly different cultural contexts. But at the International Festival of Modern Choreography in Vitebsk, Belarus, in November, the process was mostly harmonious. Led by Vladimir Vasiliev—the famously heroic Bolshoi star of the ’60s through the ’80s—our little team of judges was able to find common ground. There were fraught moments to be sure, and I was probably responsible for some of them. But it’s pretty amazing that the differences of genre and geography can fade into the background when you’re looking for a cohesive, effective piece of choreography. Vasiliev’s jury was made up of delegates from Israel, Ireland, Germany, Ukraine, Belarus and the United States—me.


Vladimir Vasiliev, head of the jury


The oldest choreography competition in the former Soviet Union countries, the IFMC attracts entries from as far west as Germany and as far east as Japan. Guest workshops and master classes abound. The public performances attract full houses in the large, City-Center-sized state theater. Television cameras were everywhere. This festival has been responsible for jump-starting the careers of Olga Pona and Tatiana Baganova, both of whom have appeared at American Dance Festival. To celebrate its 25th anniversary year, it invited one of Russia’s greatest all-time male dancers to lead the jury. (When he was honored by Youth America Grand Prix two years ago I wrote about him here.)


Album, winner of the Grand Prix, by Aleksei Busko, Kiev


The charismatic Vasiliev, who once ruled the entire Bolshoi Theater, regaled us with a stream of imitations of Soviet dancers and tales of his first innocent performances. And how when the Bolshoi first came to the U.S., he hobnobbed with the likes of Natalie Wood and Jackie Kennedy. For our group of six, he demonstrated the difference between Vaganova-trained dancers (very academic in their positions) and Bolshoi-trained dancers (more daring). The trail of his stories was like gold to me. I had seen him dance with the Bolshoi in 1962, which is what made me want to study the Russian language in the first place. For me, there was a feeling of coming full circle with my love of Russian ballet 50 years later.


Feel-link by Airida Gudaite-Zakeviciene and Laurynas Zakevicius, Vilnius


Vasiliev’s assistant, Marina Panfilovich, translated not only the words but the humor that bubbled out of him. Between Vasiliev and Radu Poklitaru, a young choreographer who has a company in Kiev, we were in belly-laugh mode much of the time. The festival’s general assistant, Tatiana Volokhova, served as interpreter as well as tour guide to Vitebsk, the home city of the painter Marc Chagall (and, as it happens, my grandmother).


The World of Microscopic by Asami Ida, Natsuko Kuroda, Japan


But work is work, and we saw six blocs of about seven dances each over a three-day period. Then we saw two final rounds and voted on the Grand Prix and other prizes. At the same time the Critics’ Section made its own nominations. (Nine years ago I was on the critics’ panel and wrote a story in the Oct. 2004 issue of Dance Magazine titled “Belarussian Roulette.”) The entries were divided into two categories: choreographic miniatures and one-act ballets. Without a doubt, the miniatures fared better, being tighter and more focused.


Wheel of Life by Denis Chernyshov, Kemerovo, Russia


We saw sweet, skit-like dances; powerful, manly dances; hectic dance-theater pieces; release-technique explorations; and a butoh influenced duet. The Grand Prix went to Album, Kiev dancemaker Aleksei Busko’s restless duet based on jogging; it cleverly packed a lifetime relationship into six minutes. Another prize went to an adventurous group of guys from Kemerovo, in Siberia. Choreographed by Denis Chernyshov, Wheel of Life gave a strong sense of the life cycle, with solo turns doing break-dance forays against a Pilobolus-like corps.

In all cases the performers threw themselves totally into their performances. It was moving and thrilling to see such commitment. Without a doubt, the IFMD, founded and directed by Marina Romanovskaya, has helped to nurture the whole dance scene in the Baltic states and Eastern Europe.

My esteemed fellow jury members were Adrienne Brown from Dublin, Ireland; Heide-Marie Härtel from Bremen, Germany; Alice Dor-Cohen from Israel; Ludmila Kudryavtseva from Minsk, Belarus; and Radu Poklitaru from Kiev, Ukraine.

To give you an idea of the range of interests and geography, I include a list of the winners:

The XXV International Festival of Modern Choreography in Vitebsk

Winners and owners of special awards of the International Competition

Grand Prix

Choreographic miniature «Album»

Choreography: Aleksei Busko

Music by: Leo Ferre

Aleksei Busko’s Project, Kiev


First prize in «one-act ballet»

«The world of microscopic»

choreography: Asami Ida, Natsuko Kuroda

music by: Colezo Mukkuri

«Dance Creation Award», Japan

First prize in «choreographic miniature»

«Wheel of Life»

Choreography: Denis Chernyshov

Music by: Marco Beltrami

«Perpetual motion»  modern choreography ensemble of Kemerovo State University of culture and arts, Russia


Second prize in «choreographic miniature»

«Paganini About Us»

Choreography: Anastasia Kharchenko

Music by: Niccolò Paganini

Anastasia Kharchenko’s Project, Kiev, Ukraine

Second prize in «choreographic miniature»

«Ballade about Friend»

Choreography: Sergey Kon

Music by: S. Prokofiev

Sergey Kon’s project, Kiev, Ukraine

Second prize in «choreographic miniature»


Choreography: Kristina Shishkareva

Music by: Gustavo Santadalla, «Immediate music»

«Totem dance group», Kiev, Ukraine

Second prize in «choreographic miniature»


Choreography: Konstantin Keikhel

Music by: Zoe Keating

«Aqueduct» dance company, St. Petersburg, Russia

Special award named after Evgeny Panfilov – for the best choreography

Konstantin Keikhel

Choreographic miniatures «Distance» with music by Zoe Keating

& «The Way of Charonа» with music by Georg F. Händel

«Aqueduct» dance company, St. Petersburg, Russia

Special Award for semantic content of the dance

Arts printing house, Vilnius

One-act ballet «Feel-link» (short version)

Choreography: Airida Gudaite-Zakeviciene, Laurynas Zakevicius

Music by: James Blake Claro Intelectro, Nina Simone

Special Award for harmony in dance

Cie Shen Company, Germany

Choreographic miniature «Countless In Reversing Gear»

Choreography: Fang-Yu Shen

Music by: Max Richter, Dinah Washington

Special Award for plastic individuality

Oleg Stepanov

Choreographic miniature «NoBodY»

Choreography: Oleg Stepanov

Music by: Ben Fost