Dance Film in Russia: Unfolding the history and moving forward…
by Alla Kovgan

Dance Film /Video collaboration is still a new realm of exploration for contemporary dancers and filmmakers in Russia. However, for almost a half a century, dancers have collaborated with filmmakers to create fabulous narrative stage adaptations of the world-famous Russian ballets.

One of the unique ones is Alexander Belinsky’s “Anyuta” based on Anton Chekhov’s story “Anna na shee” (“Anna on the neck”) with Ekaterina Maximova and Vladimir Vassiliev. This ballet was created specifically for the camera. In his book “The Old Tango”, Belinsky ruminates on the notion of “televisionnost” (1), i.e. different ways to expand the choreography beyond the stage such as changing action locations, having the same dancer play different characters, etc., he writes, “Televisionnost’ is something that is not possible in the Ballet theatre; it is supposed to be figured out in the script, it gives dynamism to the spectacle and compensates for real time on screen. “Anyuta” was the first film-ballet that demonstrates "televisionnost' consciously rather than intuitively." (2) Belinsky introduces the term “montage choreography” and points out that Vladimir Vassiliev, the choreographer of “Anyuta”, constructed all mass scenes in the editing room. The success of “Anyuta” was so remarkable that the choreography found its re-incarnation on the stages of the Bolshoi and Naples Theatres.

The reason that film-ballets have been the major form of dance and film collaboration is that during most years of the Soviet era (excluding the first two decades), ballet was almost the only form of artistic expression in terms of body movement. In 1924, the Mossoviet Section of the Moscow Department of People’s Education released a decree that banned all private ballet and choreography schools, studios and classes, except for the “specific classes in the art of ballet” of the Bolshoi Theatre and a few other ballet studios. (3) Further decrees of this nature prohibited even such dances as the fox-trot. At the same time, most of the Soviet film production happened under the umbrella of the large film studios and on 35mm, so the experimental film tradition has never fully developed and therefore, inlike in the US, for example, the space for the short dance film experiments has never been created.

Despite the dominance of film-ballets, there are few examples of dance film collaborations that date back from the earlier days of “wild” modern dance in Russia (1900s-1930s). This period of artistic movement in Russia still remains unknown to most audiences around the world. In the catalog of the exhibition “The Art of Movement in Moscow during the 1920s” that took place at the Bakhrushin Museum in 2000, an Italian dance historian, Nicoletta Misler refers to the dance film pantomimes "Cinedance" (1926) and "Cinedetective" (1927) by Alexander Rumnev (1899-1965), an actor and dancer who “conceived dance” as a free expression of the body. Unfortunately, a few years in Gulag caused Rumnev abandon his experimentations and devote renewed energy to his acting career. Soon after appearing in “Ivan the Terrible” by Sergei Eisenstein (1944) and "Zhirmunka" by Vsevolod Pudovkin (1941), Rumnev settled as a professor at VGIK where he taught the art of movement for actors.

In his turn, Alexei Sidorov (1891-1978), photographer and art historian, author of the book “Modern Dance” published in 1922, used the camera to record all his movement experiments in his studio (named “Choreographical Laboratory”) and even gave a lecture on Dance and the Cinema at the meeting of the Cine-Commission in 1924. (4)

Films from the 1920s have never been seen or found, and I secretly hope that they are still hiding behind dusty cans of celluloid waiting to be discovered by a magician archivist. There are documentary and feature films are to be made about the Russian Art of Movement and different media collaborations. While unfolding this history, I encourage us to move forward, as I still share my dream with Maya Deren, the first conceptualizer of the dance film genre who wrote, "it is my earnest hope that film-dance will be rapidly developed and that, in the interest of such a development, a new era of collaboration between dancers and film-makers will open up – one in which both would pool their creative energies and talents towards an integrated art expression."(5)

The mass availability of camcorders has opened new alleyways for every dancer and film / video maker in our country to experiment with and explore this hybrid genre in the creation of a new, cinematic space for dance to exist within. There are currently 18 dance film festivals taking place around the world and they are all waiting to hear from us…


1 A prototype of ‘televisionnost’ had been described three decades earlier by Maya Deren, an American dancer, filmmaker, and ethnographer, who was the first to conceptualize the genre of dance film in her essay “Choreography of the Camera” in 1945. She wrote, in the film dance [dance film] – a dance is so related to camera and cutting that it cannot be “performed” as a unit anywhere but in this particular film.
Maya Deren, “Choreography for the Camera”, Dance Magazine, 1945
2 Alexander Belinsky, “The Old Tango”, Moscow, 1988, p.150.
3 Nicoletta Missler, “A Choreographical Laboratory”, Experiment, a journal of Russia Culture, Vol.2, 1996, p.178
4 Ibid, p.174
5 Maya Deren, “Choreography for the Camera”, Dance Magazine, 1945

For questions and comments, please contact Alla Kovgan at

© Kinodance–Russia, 2004