Wendy Perron / Dance Magazine, July 2007

Three Russians Moving Beyond Classicism

Russia is changing and so is the dancing. The “pure” Russian ballet that we know and love is opening up to contemporary influences, and the modern/postmodern scene is thriving. Last weekend I saw the work of three Russian dance artists who are making a difference: choreographers Olga Pona and Yuri Possokhov, and ballet superstar Nina Ananiashvili (well, not exactly Russian, but Georgian). 
Olga Pona sprouted from Chelyabinsk, a city near the Ural Mountains that has no tradition of dance as an art. In the early 1990s she traveled for two days and nights to Moscow to take workshops offered by the American Dance Festival. Since then she has become a leader in the contemporary scene in Russia; she is a master of imagistic dance theater. Last week she brought her Chelyabinsk Dance Theater to the International Festival of Arts & Ideas in New Haven and showed two pieces: Waiting and The Other Side of the River. Both revealed a poetic take on everyday life, studded with strange or beautiful vignettes. In one scene in River, two men each hoist a dancer on their upper back. Thus bent over, they try to drink and smoke, then hand the glass and the cigarette to their human burdens atop them. It’s funny and poignant in its trappedness. In a post-performance dialogue (that I moderated), Pona said, “It’s nothing special for Russians” to smoke and drink. When an audience member asked if she would do a dance based on freedom in the future, she said, “For me, just to be able to choreograph is freedom.” She had originally gone to Chelyabinsk to specialize in tractors.