Anton Ovchinnikov, curator of the Ukrainian dance platform program, explained that the Culture Support Fund was established in their country in 2018. There is no need to make this fact absolute and try to compare or claim that Lithuania has been more progressive for 20 years. However, one can perceive that the competition between non-governmental institutions is less, the creators are forced to vegetate or, as the curator said, they have to create more entertaining programs and then return to “real art”. And now they are also scattered around various European countries and not only there, so several online platforms and active participation in festivals are the basis of their survival. It is difficult to predict how the situation will change, especially since the war also presents another side – after leaving the country, artists start collaborating with already strong European dance institutions, which strongly support and shelter them, they start dancing in troupes, find internships. And our progress can quickly become very apparent. And friend, why does everyone have to travel at the same pace and on the same road?
Five performances were presented in the festival program. By the way, all the names of the creators are anglicized, the names of the works at the festival are written in English, and this is also a feature of post-colonial countries, as is often the case with us. Here I will try to translate everything into Lithuanian. “One more step” by Violetta Matyushenko / Matyushenko (One More Step), like several other works presented at the festival, betrays another situation that we are really familiar with: dance grows in the shadow of a much stronger theater. And although theater art in Ukraine is not as exclusive and prestigious as in Lithuania, its primacy is still felt. As well as even more – thinking in a story, literature, in words: you want to follow the plot, present a linear action, refer to a poem.
Matiushenko’s performance is full of shoes – they are hanging, standing, tied, stacked. And sometimes they cover up. All possible metaphors: being in someone’s shoes, a shoe as a foundation, a shoe that shapes your gait and status, dreaming of shoes… The creator states: “Our story is not only us, but also thousands of people who have brought us to this point, the steps of our parents and grandparents, the steps next to us and our steps in the future”.
That’s what she shows. The dance here is more of a theater, where we find quite a few elements of pantomime (as in other performances). Several finales with a lot of romance are on offer. The structure is not yet mastered, because the text is being told here, and the playwright is missing.
“One together” by Jana Reutova (Together Alone) happened almost by chance, when five Ukrainian women from different cities met Balaklava Blues, Ukrainian musicians living in Canada, at a Czech festival and suddenly created several “numbers”. Everyone continued to create, trying to dance what the name means – everyone dances in an ensemble, but as if one by one. There are many entertainment elements in the dance, and it is not known whether it is a random easy way or the influence of the financial situation, when entertainment programs are built for survival (because the need and market for them is huge in Ukraine), and when the ends meet, it is time for art. And it usually doesn’t come.
Another element of theatrical influence – there was no bright performance in the entire program. Not because of the war. For the mystery of the story, for the romanticism, for the exalted exit from the darkness. Bohdan Polishchiuks Danse Macabre. Immortal Dance the fabric is made up of elements of folklore, mythology, (Hucul?) ethnography. Death and Virgo Duel and Partnership. Death plays a wheeled lyre, dressed in a red dress and somewhat reminiscent of Death from Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. The intonation of her voice is proverbial, coming from a timeless space. But you can get lost in the plot of the play, because the dance dialogues between her and the Virgin she meets are undecipherable, as is the concept of the Virgin’s costume (translucent leotard with stylized ornaments). Far more impressive are the images of the Middle Ages, danse macabre poses commonly seen on city hall clocks. Paradoxically, folklore, Medieval decorum allows us to tame death, allows not only the Virgin to check the blade of the scythe, but also to evaluate death in a different way, even with humor – as another action that does not end here. It’s theater again, and he’s from a country where there’s so much death.
Pressing time, shortening the etudes would be a better advisor for both Poliškiuk and the program creator, choreographer and curator Anton Ovčinnikov. His “Beauty Of The Beast” is clearly the work of a curator who has tasted many programs and presentations. And a quick reaction to the war, choosing Russian ballet as a target as a leader of ideology. The creator immediately began to interact – divided the audience by gender and drove them into stalls – behind the ballet supports – because “there are only two sexes in Russian ballet”. And all this, he said, “is not to control you, but to keep you safe.”
A dictatorial message of great irony.
But that’s where it all ended. The interaction was forgotten. But having surrounded himself with props, Anton continued the theme of dictators, using props not for ballet, but for military exercises, thus drawing parallels between war and soft power. It is not necessary to lean on the supports, but to hold them for a long time when raised. Crawl under them. The khaki pants accentuated that fusion of war and culture. But the ballet was replaced by the movements of Kramp dance, popular in Ukraine, and the music prepared “Swan Lake” well, and got lost between the objects and several finales: where is it going, what is meant to be said, who is on the stage, the new ballet master or his commentator? And you don’t necessarily need clear answers here, but the coordinate system would not confuse.
These thoughts were later confirmed by Ovchinnikov himself’s truly excellent poem “The New Russian Ballet”, which was distributed to the audience after the performance, and based on which the work was created. The poem is stronger, more specific than the stage work. Because alongside specific details, there was no shortage of self-irony: “it will be a little unclear, / But conceptual”. Precise definition of style.
“Road from/to” (The Way From / To) seemed to be the strongest piece of the program. And Marharyta Slyzska (Rita Lira) decided not to convey everything exactly and the abstraction worked: the play is not about the beauty of dance – dance is just an accompaniment here. “This is the story of real people and only improvisation during each performance can create and convey authentic emotions,” this sentiment proved to be accurate. According to the genre, it would be a documentary dance performance, where the screen takes an equal place, it is like a partner to the dancers. Rita Lira moves restrainedly, quietly, the movements seem like meditation, slowed down by tai chi, but together – poses that illustrate hiding from bombs, fear, a prisoner with tied hands, a fighter throwing a Molotov cocktail.
Authentic certificates in English and Ukrainian are played and written on the screen. About the bombing of Irpinė, about the atrocities in Buča. Suddenly, the light comes on and we feel like in the cabin of an airplane: the performer, like a flight attendant, instructs with gestures how to avoid the effects of a chemical weapon. How to avoid being kidnapped, and how to behave as safely as possible if you are kidnapped. The finale sounds almost “Wish you a pleasant flight!”. This already shows the distance that is forming. Shots from the war are projected onto her white shirt – after all, the body records everything. The clothes laid out on stage are like the victims of the bombing, but also the charity donated by others, the body casings donated. The message of the performance is clear, the choreography is laconic and thoughtful. In the finale, the religious hymn sounds somewhat pathetic, but it is very important to the creator herself. And it becomes important to us.
Polish choreographer Maciej Kuzminski’s performance with Ukrainian dancers “Every minute Homeland” (Every Minute Motherland) different from all other Ukrainian presentations. He is technically the strongest, the choreographer is already an experienced professional who has studied and staged in prestigious European institutions. Instead, he presents the whole bunch here n- a potpourri of modern dance seen many times. Perhaps in order to move away from specifics that would be too difficult for the dancers, everything is abstracted – but so much so that nothing more authentic remains. The scheme has been seen many times even in the works of Lithuanian choreographers: synchronization, one or two dancers separate, jump their short solos and return to the ensemble synchronization. The play is said to be about trauma, but it can be not only about war, but also overwork, disagreements in society, any tensions that arise. An abstract and, unfortunately, seen dance, where impressed Lithuanian professionals saw the lexicon of dance with unexpected accents, but my hypothetical pedagogue would say – there is no need to go there. Unless you want to learn the technique and then make your own. There is also a possible way.
The Ukrainian dance platform offered this: a crossroad dance. The desire for technique, a consistent school, but also for authenticity, training at one’s own pace. Lack of competition and lack of support. Dance in exile, but also dance in prestigious institutions. Solidarity, sympathy in foreign countries and attempts to detain those leaving. War as a theme and as an all-too-close experience. The body as expression and as an intimate diary. And overall, a cross between trying and doing nothing, and it’s a wonder they’re still dancing. But it’s probably possible to stay that way.