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Culture news
Leaps and bounds
11.02.2004 13:35

video_dance_festival St Petersburg Times

By Galina Stolyarova

Staff Writer

Photo for SPT

Kinodance, Russia's first and so far only festival of dance-video kicks off on Nov. 10 at the Kannon Dance School in the Palace of Culture named after the First Five-Year Plan.

There is a lot of argument in the world as to what dance-video is as a genre," said Vadim Kasparov, director of Kannon Dance. "We take a more general approach as we believe that just showing dance movements would be too literal. The camera itself should dance as well as the subject that it follows. And I am sure animation can fit here too."

Dance-video doesn't necessarily mean documentaries or traditional ballets films. Documenting choreography is good for educational purposes, when it is essential to reproduce the moves to precisely. But when the goal is to plunge the audience into the atmosphere of the show, a different approach is required.

"If you sit in the auditorium watching a ballet, you are naturally guided by the choreographer and your instincts tell you where to look," Kasparov said. "When the same show is adapted for the camera, the general plan is too small for the viewers to see all details and get a sense of what is going on, so the director has to emphasize certain scenes, movements or body parts with a close-up or a prolonged shot."

The event, which lasts for 9 days, is organized with the support of an array of Russian and U.S. arts foundations including the Trust for Mutual Understanding, St. Petersburg's ProArte Institute, the Dance Films Association, Moscow Cultural Center DOM, Moscow's Museum of Cinema, the Yekaterinburg Contemporary Art Center, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Each program of short films combines films from 16 countries, including the United Kingdom, the U.S., France, Japan, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Australia, Slovenia, Hungary, Italy and Belgium.

Kinodance is one of Kannon Dance's three major annual events, along with Open Look Festival and a competition of young choreographers. This year the festival is different. Previously the event was targeted at dancers themselves, encouraging and inspiring them to try their hand at film-making. This time the festival serves as a bridge between professional film-makers and the dance scene.

"Not all choreographers have the potential to become good cameramen, but it is quite realistic to explain a few principles of shooting choreography to a cameraman interested in this," said Kasparov.

For the first time in its history, Kinodance is organizing a competition for the best Russian-made dance video, showcasing works from Moscow, Arkhangelsk, Yekaterinburg and St. Petersburg.

"The artists demonstrate a stunning diversity of approaches to making dance films and exploring choreographic space within the frame," said Kasparov.

One of the festival programs puts together music videos and fast-paced short films realized through digital technology such as "Imagine" by Zbigniew Rybchinsky and Yoko Ono in Program XI: Common Ground: Between the Lines of Sport, Kinetics, Surrealism and Music Video.

Full-length dance feature films such as "Dracula: Tales From a Virgin's Diary" by Guy Maddin, "Amelia" by Edouard Lock (from Canada) and "Dancing Figure (Tancalak)" by Ferenc Grunwalsky and Andrea Ladanyi (from Hungary) are among the festival highlights.

Dance documentaries about Lester Horton, German artists (including Mary Wigman) during the Nazi Era, a lost ballet of Sergei Diaghilev, and Pina Bausch's revival of her performance with a group of old people add a historical dimension to the festival. Some films draw attention to certain forms of dance, like, for instance, butoh, as seen in the work of Japanese director Misao Arai, or to a single region - like the program which showcases films from Scandinavian countries and Iceland. Other films tackle everyday social issues such as "Cost of Living" by Lloyd Newson from DV8 in Program X: From Festivals around the World.

The festival combines actual screenings with master-classes on making dance-videos and performances.

Dance on camera is enjoying a worldwide boom, Kasparov says.

"Three years ago there were ten festivals of dance video, but now the figure has jumped to 24 regular international events," he said. "Russia is late as usual, but not hopelessly late."

In 1997, when Kasparov and his wife Natalya, a dancer and choreographer herself, just started out, they ran around offering classes to local colleges and universities without much success. The first students in Kannon Dance were much more concerned about their physical appearance than the philosophy of jazz or modern dance and attended the the school to get fit or train for a plum job in a strip-club.

Kannon Dance organized the first master class later that year taught by acclaimed choreographer Phil LaDuca, who is still seen as the studio's godfather. LaDuca came to St. Petersburg to teach Broadway-style jazz dance.

"I was knocking on the doors of all arts-related universities but kept getting the same reply: that 'it is not part of our course'," Kasparov recalls. "Musical theater in Russia was nonexistent then but I swear I already knew there would be a boom. Now I see I was completely right."

The first class in jazz dance attracted just 27 students. By comparison, during this year's Open Look Festival, there were over 250 Russian dancers, a third of them from St.Petersburg. Kannon Dance's former students have begun opening their own studios around town.

"These small studios are purely commercial, which is perfectly fine with me," Kasparov said. "We have now gone completely professional, having recently established a modern dance department at the Lesgaft Academy for Physical Culture and Sport, which I chair."

The dancers attending the studio these days want to get into musical theater, rather than become casino or nightclub dancers. They are sharper and much more attuned to what the teachers say and do. This week Kannon Dance hosted a casting session for the forthcoming Russian version of the long-running smash-hit musical "Cats," which is expected to premiere in Moscow in March.

The reputation of Kannon Dance has reached the farthest corners of Russia.

"We live in the far north, so it takes quite a while for cultural trends to reach us, but we know musical theater is booming in Moscow," said Venyamin Taragupta, head of the Next Generation modern-dance children's studio in Salekhard, North-West Siberia, which brought five young dancers to the Phil LaDuca masterclass in 2002 and remains interested in the studio's activities.

"Our town is so small we don't even have a theater. All the obstacles notwithstanding, I am sure a musical will be staged in our town sooner or later because we very much want it to happen."

However, the next Open Look Festival, which has already been planned, has a question mark over it. Scheduled for July of next year, the event coincides with the start of scheduled demolition of the Soviet-era building in which the Kannon Dance School is located. No alternative venue has yet been set but there is hope one will be found.

"St. Petersburg is famous for classical ballet, but it is important that the world knows that modern art is alive here too," Kasparov said.

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