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Etagi ArtProject Center

Catching Up With the West

by Catherine Pawlick

14 September 2008 -- Ligovsky Prospekt, St. Petersburg, Russia

Former Eifman Ballet dancer, Anastasia Shavlokhova, along with Maria Romasheva, are branching out into new balletic territory. Their “Matrix of Choreographic Patterns”, held on September 14 at the Etagi (“ay-tah-zhay”, which means “stages” in Russian) ArtProject Center (www.loftprojectetagi.ru) confirmed their place in the burgeoning field of new approaches to modern movement in a city where art is otherwise usually classically based.

In this city that is home to the uber classical Mariinsky Theatre, it is unusual to happen upon contemporary movement in an experimental atmosphere. Upon entering Etagi, one thinks first of the narrow staircases of a New York City performance space, or the avant garde adventurism that San Francisco represents so frequently.

At 30 minutes past the appointed performance time, the audience was allowed into a high-ceilinged, nearly pitch black warehouse space dotted with thick cement pillars. Only five overhead light bulbs filled the space, each hanging approximately 8 feet above a circular mirror with a piece of paper on it.

“Age 29. Weight 53 kilograms. Height 175 cm. Likes to drink tea during rainstorms at the dacha. Her husband is jealous of ballet. Has performed with various companies, including…”

Similar descriptions evoked the more personal side of each of the five performers who would later enter the warehouse at a brisk clip, stand on the mirrors in white tennis socks, and begin their series of now-classical, now-improvised modern movements. The movements themselves ranged from a series of tendus (think Balanchine’s “Symphony in C”) to entrechat six, or arabesque promenades.

In the course of executing their steps, several things became apparent: all of the dancers had the same basic repertoire peppered with their own particular themes. A tendu ecarté would suddenly shift to angular elbows and quick hand movements not included in the classical lexicon. Shavlokhova herself seemed an expert at slowing down movement to a near stop, shifting ever so slowly between poses as if someone had pressed “pause” or chosen to dissect her positions millimeter by millimeter. Then, without warning, she’d speed up once more. At times she appeared stuck between the same three millimeters of space. At others she moved tirelessly through quick lunges and small jumps.

As the dancers moved through an hour of nonstop motion, spectators were free to roam among the five spotlit mirrors, stopping to watch whom they chose. No chairs stood in the warehouse space. It was very much an interactive venue, another original idea for a ballet-related performance in this city.

The music, controlled by a DJ set up in one corner of the room, was a mix of chaotic technical noise interrupted several times by a few classical notes. Small spots of beauty – five, to be precise – found among the chaos of mundane existence, the beauty of structured art, epitomized by ballet movement and form against a backdrop of random, unrefined surroundings?  Oleg Sulimenko was credited for the concept and the sound in the project, while Dmitry Cheglakov was responsible for sound installation.

It isn’t news that Saint Petersburg is proliferate with talented young ballerinas, most of whom compete for the few coveted spaces at major classical theatres. But for those who opt for a non-establishment route, projects such as “Matrix of Choreographic Patterns” now offer them an opportunity to explore contemporary movement in modern spaces. In time, it’s possible that these experimental projects will become even more commonplace in the Venice of the North.


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