“Dance Film in Eastern Europe” by Alla Kovgan
TanzMediale in Köln, Germany, January 23-25 , 2004

Dance Film / Video/ New Technology collaborations in Eastern Europe are considered to be a new realm of exploration for contemporary dancers and filmmakers. However, Eastern European dance and film probably have repeatedly encountered each other throughout the history of cinema. World famous film-ballets and ballet-animations were created. One of the great examples of such dance film “encounter” 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”, 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." 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 the years of the Soviet era, ballet was almost the only "allowed" form of artistic expression in terms of body movement while most of the film production happened under the umbrella of the large film studios and on 35mm. As a result, experimental film tradition has never fully developed and therefore, unlike in the US, for example, the space for the short dance film experiments has never been created.

Meanwhile, the word “choreography’ has not been alien to filmmakers since the day film technology allowed filmmakers to pick up the camera in their hands and virtuosically ‘pas’ with it creating intricate choreography to express a certain idea or evoke a certain feeling. One of the stunning examples of this kind of choreographic exploration is “I am Cuba,” a film by Mikhail Kalatozov. In this film, cinematographer and cameraman Sergey Urussevskii repeatedly choreographs complex multi-layered scenes. The opening shot of the film lasts for about five minutes as Urussevskii journeys with the camera from the roof top of the hotel where a jazz band performs, through the staircases portraying the views of the city to the pool area where wealthy Americans are brunching and finally diving into the pool itself. There are quite a few similar shots in the film and each of them requires precise and meticulous coordination, i.e. choreography, of the actors and the camera around them.

Within last fifteen years, with the fall of communist regimes, re-birth of modern dance in Eastern Europe, exposure to a diverse range of contemporary dance traditions from around the world and de-centralization of film production opened new alleys for every dancer and film / video maker to experiment with and explore this hybrid genre of dance film. At the same time, the Eastern Europeans audiences are yet to discover the potential of the dance film genre. There are only a few dance films made in each Eastern European county every year, and most producing companies and TV stations in Eastern Europe have quite a limited understanding of dance film. They treat it as either a documentation of a performance, a reportage about a dance festival or other dance event, a TV special about a ballerina hosted by a renown critic or, in the best case scenario, a film adaptation of a ballet. For many producers, dance film still stays a mystery.

But there are exceptions in each country. For example, in Slovenia, the dance company En-Knap managed to obtain support from the Slovenian Ministry of Culture, and every couple of years produces a short film on 35mm. At the same time, in Poland, a town of Lodz, a home for the Polish National Film School and one of the contemporary choreography centers, hosts the Festival of Kino Tanca. The directors of the festival brought film and dance school together and as a result, the first dance films were produced. Similarly, in Russia, in 2001 Kannon Dance School with the support of Dance Film Association (New York) and ProArte Institute (St. Petersburg) founded the St. Petersburg International Dance Film Festival KINODANCE. For the last three years the festival has organized master-classes that invite dancers and filmmakers from Russia and neighboring countries to obtain a hands-on experience in creating choreography for the camera. Among the participants of 2002 were Theatre of Open Creation from Poland, Fine Five from Estonia, Kannon Dance Company from St. Petersburg, filmmakers from Novosibirsk, Moscow, Ekaterinburg.

Films from Poland, Slovenia and Russia form the core of this program. The themes in these films vary from an absurd and humorous vignette where dancers mix with striped chairs in “Burdug” by Maria Stoklosa (Poland); an ode to the Soviet cloak-room ladies in “Verochka” by Natalia Kasparova and Kannon Dance (Russia), a tango of light and darkness in “Vertical Tango” by Julia Kryukova and Tanya Balashova (Russia); a rumination over eugenics in “Eugenica” by Theatre of Open Creation (Poland) and a journey through time and space in “Two Trains” by Koit Ojaliiv, Esko Rip and Tiina Ollesk / René Nõmmik (Estonia) to an impressionistic 35mm sketch after reading Nijinky’s diary in “Czarno-bialy” (black and white) by Miachal Tywoniuk and Jacek Owczarek (Poland) and a portrait of the heavy industry plant taken over by En-Knap dancers in the small mining town of Trbovlje (Slovenia) in “Naravo Beso” by Patrick Otten and Iztok Kovac. To give a glimpse of the dance animation, the program presents an animated dance short by Konstantin Bronzit, one of the veterans of Russian animation.

With the fall of the “iron curtain,” many Eastern European choreographers and filmmakers work and sometimes even move abroad. Although they live outside Eastern Europe, their work often possess certain sensibilities in the spirit of Eastern European Literature, Theatre and Cinema – phantasmagoric narratives and characters, dark humor and sarcasm, surreal hyperbolized sets and design along with lyricism, romantic sadness, and eternal quest for perfection and redemption of the soul through deep suffering. This program includes several films by the expatriates – two music videos by Zbigniew Rybczynski (originally from Poland, currently living in the US) and a lyrical short from Maya Vass (originally from Ukraine, currently living in Germany).
Among other Eastern European highlights that have NOT made into the program but it is important to mention are “The Miraculous Mandarin” (Hungary, 35min / 35mm / 2001) by filmmaker Márta Mészáros and choreographer Yvette Bozsik; “Táncalak (Dancing Figure)” (Hungary, 68min / 35mm / 1998-2002) by filmmaker Frenec Grunwalsky and choreographer Andrea Ladányi; “Kuspokuso (Piece by Piece)” (Czech Republic, 5min / video / 1998) by Michal Caban.

Alla Kovgan is a film/video maker and teacher from Moscow (Russia) who has lived and worked in Boston (US) since 1996. Her 16mm films and videos have been screened at film festivals and theatrical venues in the US, Canada, Europe and Australia. Besides films and videos, Alla’s media of expression and exploration encompass multimedia performances, interactive video projections and other image/sound/body collaborations with dancers and musicians. Alla co-founded and currently acts as an International Director of the St. Petersburg International Dance Film Festival KINODANCE in Russia (www.kinodance.com/russia).

Imagine by John Lennon, 3 min, 1986
The Original Wrapper by Lou Reed 4.5min, 1987

Director: Zbigniew Rybczynski

Imagine: A choreographed life cycle wherein the movements of characters are meticulously timed with the endless tracking shot that not only sets up the rhythmic score but also serves as a visual metaphor.

The Original Wrapper: A sarcastic illustration of American life during the Reagan Administration. Created in the spirit of phantasmagoric tradition in the Eastern European Literature and Cinema, this piece painfully resonates with the current situation in the United States.

Zbig Rybczynski was born in Poland in 1949 and has been working as a film director in Europe and the United States since the early 1970s. His work has received many prestigious industry awards in the United States, Japan and Europe. The awards include an Academy Award® in 1983 for "Tango", an Emmy® in Special Effects in 1990 for "The Orchestra", the Prix Italia, the Golden Gate Award in San Francisco and awards at the Electronic Cinema Festival Tokyo/Montreaux. Numerous other awards include MTV, American Video Awards, Monitor Awards and the Billboard Music Video Awards. He currently lives in Los Angeles, where he works for the Ultimatte Corporation as a member of their R&D team www.ultimatte.com and runs his own company, Zbig Vision Ltd.

Bog (The God) 4.5min, 3D computer animation, 2003 (Russia)
Director: Konstantin Bronzit

A humorous animated short about Shiva's encounter with a fly. "Sometimes the Gods can be vulnerable." - Moscow Film Festival

Konstantin Bronzit is an internationally acclaimed animator and cartoonist. He graduated from art school in 1983 and from the Department of Industrial Design at the School of Art and Design in 1992. During his studies, Konstantin also worked as an animator at the Studio of Popular Science Films. It was at this studio where Bronzit made his first film "The Round About" in 1988. In 1988, Konstantin began actively drawing cartoons for magazines and newspapers. By 1994, he had participated in numerous international cartoon competitions winning more than twenty different awards for his cartoons. From 1993 until 1995, Konstantin worked as a scriptwriter, director and animator for several films for the Moscow animation studio "PILOT". In 1994, he graduated from higher courses in scriptwriting and directing with Fjodor Khitruk in Moscow. Bronzit's short animated films, including "Switchcraft", "Pacifier", "Knock Knock", "Die Hard", and "At The Ends of the Earth" have received more than 45 prizes and awards from festivals throughout the world including the grand prizes at ANNECY'95 and ANNECY'98.

Burdag 11min, 2002 (Poland)
Director / Choreographer: Maria Stoklosa; Cinematographer: Jan Cybis

In Burdag, dancers, their colorful outfits, dark forest and dusty fields, multicolored striped sunbathing chairs and umbrellas conjure into a humorous dance that is full of tricks and does not stop surprising the viewer.

Maria Stoklosa was born in Poland in 1978. She graduated from the London Contemporary Dance School at the Place in 2001. In 2001 she won the Pyramid Award – a scholarship program created by Deutsche Bank in London for out-coming dance makers – for her dance film project. After returning to Poland she made movement for stage for: Kurka Wodna directed by Lukasz Kos, Nowy Theatre, Lodz and Obrobka by Artur Urbanski, Rozmaitosci Theatre, Warsaw. In 2002 she also participated in an educational project in association with Mazowieckie Centrum Kultury i Sztuki.

Vitrina (Schaufenster) 5min, 2002 (Russia / Germany)
Director / Choreographer: Maya Vass

A tango duet behind the plastic veil performed by a single dancer merges the boundaries between reality and imagination, past and present.

Maya Vass was born in 1970 in Vinniza, Ukraine. In 1992 she graduated from the Kharkov Academy of Theatre Art and moved to Moscow where she worked at the Mossovet Theatre as well as with the Theatre of Expressive Plastic of Anatolij Vassiliyev. At the same time, Maya have also collaborated with Vladimir Chekasin on numerous dance projects and participated in dance, theatre and music festivals around the world. She is currently living in Hamburg, Germany.

Czarno-bialy (black and white) 5min, 35mm on video, 2002 (Poland)
Director: Miachal Tywoniuk; Choreographer:Jacek Owczarek; Producer: Polish National Film School in Lodz

Czarno-bialy is an impression after reading Nizynski's diary. Dance as a movement; camera as a dancer and as a part of the choreography; image as an evaluation of a meaning hidden in the ambiance of the dancer's word.

Michal Tywoniuk was born in 1976. He is currently studying cinematography at the Polish National Film School in Lodz. Although currently a student, Michal developed interest in photography ten years ago and has been involved in film production in various capacities for the last five years.

Since 1996, Jacek Owczarek has been a dancer of Dance Company Alter in Kalisz, Poland. He teaches contemporary dance and improvisation at the College of Culture Animation in Kalisz. He lives in Warsaw and runs the "Kino Tanca" Foundation that promotes dance film art and multimedia dance collaborations.

KINODANCE Festival Productions 2002, 2003

Since 2001, St. Petersburg International Dance Film Festival KINODANCE and Kannon Dance School (director: Vadim Kasparov) have been organizing master-classes that allowed dancers and filmmakers from Russia, CIS and Eastern European countries to explore dance film genre. The selection below presents the most successful projects that came out of these workshops (some of these projects were presented at the festivals around the world).

Kannon Dance Company was formed in 1999 out of a group of Natalia Kasparova's students. Choreographer and Artistic Director of Kannon Dance, Natalia Kasparova inspires her company members not only to perform but also to create their own choreographies. Young dancers have repeatedly won first prizes at the international Festivals of Young Choreographers around the world. Besides developing their own repertoire, the company also invites guest choreographers (Cathy Young, Guillermo Horta, Risa Jaroslow, Maida Withers, Sari Lievonen and others), manages Kannon Dance School and organizes (besides KINODANCE) Modern Dance Festival "Open Look," "Jazz Festival" and "Festival of Young Choreographers." http://www.kannondance.ru/

Remote Control 1min, 2003 (Russia)
Choreographer / Director: Natalia Kasparova; Anya Ozerskaya, Dima Burakov

An alternative way for a couple to communicate.

Koridor 1min, 2003 (Russia)
Choreographer / Director: Natalia Kasparova and Kannon Dance Company

You never know what you could encounter in one of those long corridors in the post-soviet House of Culture.

Vertical Tango 2min, 2003 (Russia)
Choreographer / Director: Julia Kryukova and Tanya Balashova

Geometric shapes of stairs, windows, tango steps and their silhouettes weave together to evoke glimpses of tango... Vertical Tango was part of the Liquid Bodies Program at the Moving Pictures Festival of Dance in Toronto, Canada (October 2003).

Verochka 6min, 2003 (Russia)
Choreographer / Director: Natalia Kasparova and Kannon Dance Company

This vignette is an homage to all the cloack room ladies who have been greeting theatre and concert audiences at the Houses of Culture (i.e. large community art centers) for decades during the Soviets. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Houses of Culture together with their cloak-rooms were turned into the offices, bowling alleys, casinos, bars....

Eugenica 5min, 2002 (Poland)
Choreographer / Director: Theatre of Open Creation and Igor Davletchin

" In the 21st century a human being becomes capable of manufacturing other human beings aspiring to use technologies to make a human immortal. Are we wise enough to be able to handle all the power that is given to us? EUGENICA is not trying to give answers to this question but anxiously (but not hopelessly) pondering over it." - Theatre of Open Creation

Theatre of Open Creation (TOK) was founded by Beata Owczrek and Artur Dobranski in 1998. Among TOK's choreographies are "And if happiness was here...," "to be continued," "Eugenica," "so simple." The company received multiple awards from the festivals around the world and is based in Krakow, Poland. The TOK is currently led by Beata Owczrek and Janusz Skubaczkowski.

Two Trains 4min, 2002 (Estonia)
Director: Koit Ojaliiv, Esko Rip Choreographer: Tiina Ollesk and René Nõmmik (Fine 5)

A reflection of images about traveling in time and space. Two individuals as if connected via invisible emotional stirngs, migrate from one surrounding to another.

Tiina Ollesk and René Nõmmik developed Two Trains into a 30-minute multimedia stage piece that was highly awarded at the International Festival of Modern Choreography (Vitebskas, Baltarusija / Vitebsk, Belarus) and Pinerolo Contemporary Dance Contest (Italija / Italy) 2003.

Fine 5 Dance Theatre was established as a collaboration of five dancers from Nordstar Dance Theare in 1992. In 1998 the company was renamed Fine 5 Dance Theatre led by Tiina Ollesk and René Nõmmik. Fine 5 has performed in USA, Sweden, Finland and Baltic States.

Narava Beso 20 min, 35mm on video, 1995, Slovenia
Director: Patrick Otten, Iztok Kovac; Choreographer: Iztok Kovac

"The point of reference in Iztok Kovac's work is often his home town Trbovlje a mining town and at the same time the Slovene symbol of gray, polluted and forsaken landscape of socialist heavy industry. His returns to his home-town should not be understood merely as nostalgia or personal sentimentality, but as a return to the source of his own physical constitution, which was formed when surrounded by the bodies of workers and miners, in the alternating rhythm of work and rest, in the environment constantly reminding one of the irreconcilable conflict between civilization and nature.

Thus his film Narava Beso reveals, on one hand, his personal attitude towards the realistic ambient of his home-town and on the other, enriched with wider connotations and forming itself into a certain poetical structure, his understanding of the actual world.

The film takes place on seven different locations, having in common, that somewhere in past in time of somebody's youth, somebody's childhood, in time of a different social climate and past stage of human history they were the places, where hard physical work took place. And suddenly this site, marked with activity, which had stopped due to certain historical necessity, is taken by a group of dancers. Yet, surprisingly, they do not move. Instead they are just listening to the far away sounds and rhythms. But if or when decide to move again, they move carefully and thoughtfully, as following the complex energetic currents, encoded in this grounds". - En-Knap

Iztok Kovac is a solo dancer, choreographer and the founder of EN-KNAP, an international dance group. En-Knap was founded in Ljubljana, Slovenia in 1994. With nine dance projects choreographed by Iztok Kovac - “Spread Your Wings (you clumsy Elephant),” “Sting and String – first touch, Codes of Cobra, Far From Sleeping Dogs,” “Emanatio Protei, The Perfect step?” “Hu Die, Met Kocke” and “S.K.I.N.,” the company has introduced and established its own aesthetics inside the European dance scene and formed its own idiosyncratic identity. En-Knap have had over 300 reprises of nine performances, held on world-known international dance stages and festivals.

© Kinodance–Russia, 2004