Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Tunics in Tverskaya…or close by, at least!

Isadora Duncan envisioned a natural kinship between Russia and the United States, based on their revolutionary heritage. She could not understand why Americans did not embrace the Bolshevik Revolution as an act of the people similar to the American revolt against the monarchy in Britain. From a political perspective, Duncan’s position may have been quite naïve, but philosophically she was arguing for equality and freedom for all people, rooted in a transformation of human consciousness.

Silk Scarf in Red Square
“Place your hands as I do on your heart, listen to your soul, and all of you will know how to dance as well as I or my pupils do ” she said. “There is the true revolution. Let the peoples place their hands in this way on their hearts, and in listening to their souls they will know how to conduct themselves” (Isadora Speaks, ed. Franklin Rosemont—by the way, Austinites, Rosemont’s niece Genevieve Yellin is the owner of Sundara Yoga Therapy, where I teach yoga on Monday and Wednesday evenings in northwest Austin).

This radical notion, that meditating on our hearts enables us to engage with the world from a compassionate perspective, was joyfully present during the Free Poetry and Free Dance: Embodied Sense in Motion conference this weekend, hosted by Moscow State University. Scholars and artists from throughout Russia, England, Italy, France, Switzerland, and the United States defined, questioned, and refined the notion of freedom in poetry and dance through scholarship, workshops, and performances. Duncan, who also insisted, “The day when Russia and America understand each other will mark the dawn of a new epoch for humanity” (Isadora Speaks, ed. Rosemont), would have been elated.

"Time Pieces" from Moscow concert
Monday morning, before I boarded an Atlanta-bound plane from Moscow, my friend Petr said to me, “Meg, you always have adventures in Moscow.” How true! So, for this post, I’m departing from my usual style to share a bit about my experiences this week (in other words, this post is long!).

Sunday, a week ago, I flew out of Austin with the instructions to pick up my bags, pass through customs, and wait—they weren’t sure who, but hopefully someone would be there to meet me. How excited I was to come out of the security area on Monday morning and see Irina Zenkevich, a dancer with Inessa Kulagina’s Alekseeva’s Gymnastics group, with whom I performed at Chersonesos in Crimea in 2007. She shuttled me through a corridor to a new train connecting Sheremetyevo International Airport to the Moscow city center. And the train! Sleek, modern, chic, as Irina said, with special room for baggage and station announcements in both Russian and English. This was a very different experience from when I visited Moscow in 2008 and had to cram my suitcase into an already over-full bus for a traffic-jammed ride to the nearest metro station. This was also a quite different reception from the one Duncan received when she emigrated to Russia in 1921 to establish a state-supported school, and no one met her at the train station, not fully believing that she was serious about moving to Moscow.
Irina at Chersonesos, 2007
Coming out of the train station in the city center, Irina negotiated for a taxi to take us to Petr and Tania’s apartment, where I spent the week.  Seeming very Moscow, the vehicle had a standard transmission and a cracked windshield with a sophisticated GPS on the dashboard and a pleasantly jovial driver. We arrived at Petr’s and settled down in the kitchen for tea, fresh cooked vegetables from a family garden, and sweets. After a quick shower, I followed Petr into the city for a philosophy lecture where we met his girlfriend Tania (who, by the way, is a very interesting experimental and documentary filmmaker—check out her work on Vimeo). 
Rehearsal at Prometheus Studio
near Smolenskaya
Tuesday, I negotiated my own way into the city, taking the minibus to the metro and finding my way to the tourist office to register my visa. Then I met with Cheryl Growden-Piana and Fiorenza Bucciarell, the musicians with whom I would be collaborating for the performance part of the conference. Cheryl, the clarinet player, is Petr’s Feldenkrais student, who proposed a musical performance of clarinet and piano with projected images (her Italian friend Fiorenza is both the pianist and the painter) as part of the conference program. They were interested in working with a dancer, and when everything fell into place for my trip, Petr suggested they contact me. Cheryl emailed the music files (Victor Babin’s “Hillendale Waltzes,” Robert Muczynski’s “Time Pieces,” and “L’ètude nuè agreablement,” a piece by contemporary Italian composer Roberto Tagliamacco, a friend of Fiorenza and Cheryl’s). Tuesday was our first rehearsal, and while I had made some basic choreographic choices concerning use of space and type of movement vocabulary, I realized Tuesday that I wanted to develop the movement further—thus began an intense but creatively generative week!
Lecture for psychology students,
Moscow State University
Wednesday, in addition to rehearsals, I gave two different presentations about Conspire Theatre, the Austin theatre company founded by Kat Craft through which I teach dance and theatre to women at the Travis County jail. Students in Aida Ailamazian’s Moscow State University psychology class were particularly engaged, and we even played a raucous round of Zip, Zap, Boing! The seminar organized by Victoria Arkhanguelskaya sparked interesting discussion about the cultural differences between Russian and American systems of incarceration, and I’ve promised to contribute an article to a journal edited by Victoria. 
Both sessions were exciting reunions with friends—Natalia Fedunina, a Heptachor dancer and psychologist, came to translate for Victoria’s seminar, and Aida is not only a psychology professor at Moscow State University, but also the director of Heptachor and one of the conference organizers. The aspect of my relationship with these Russian dancers that I love the most is how our mutual interests overlap in many contexts. To me, this is evidence of dance into life—we share not only movement practices with similar histories, but also a desire to heal, transform, and inspire others through all aspects of our work, as artists, teachers, and scholars.
Thursday, theoretically a day off, I finalized my choreographic choices and rehearsed on my own, and I also caught up with some old friends. Moscow, like Austin, is a city with piquing interest in various mind/body/spirit practices, and I enjoyed a great vegetarian lunch with my friend Alex at Jagannath, a cafeteria-style Indian buffet (Austinites, picture Mr. Natural with Indian food).
Cheryl and Fiorenza
Friday morning the conference began, with a warm introduction from the university and a great first paper session. I was only able to hear the first two presentations, but I was very excited by Elena Yushkova’s research situating Duncan’s writings within the context of literary history and by Marie-Hélène Delavaud-Roux’s interpretation of an excerpt from a Homeric hymn in ancient Greek. Then it was off to the theatre for rehearsals before returning to hear the last of the day’s papers and the first of the weekend’s performances. 
The Friday evening performances were varied and engaging, and opened with musical offerings by university students. Vincent Barras shared his soundpoetry work, structured compositions exploring a range of dynamic vocal sounds, and Max Rotschild and Julia Idlis performed a collage-like dialogue between poetry and jazz themes improvised on electric guitar. After the performance, I caught up with my friends Natasha and Sveta over coffee, brainstorming projects for the future over cappuccinos with heart-shaped dollops of foam.
Tagliamaccco piece, from concert
Saturday was a whirlwind—off to the theatre for tech rehearsal in the morning, then back to the conference for my paper presentation exploring freedom and community in the work of Florence Fleming Noyes, a Duncan contemporary who I will talk about more fully in a future post! Then, scooting back to the theatre for quick warm-ups before the concert started. The performance space, PROET_FABRIKA, was a black-box dance space in an old factory-turned visual art and performance venue, and located just outside of the third ring in Moscow (if you’re not familiar with Moscow city planning, there are three concentric circular streets that define the center of the city).
Four groups shared work, including Inessa Kulagina’s Alekseeva’s Gymnastics group and Heptachor (two groups I performed with in Crimea in 2007). Both groups are influenced by Duncan; the Alekseeva group dances work passed down from Ella Ivanova Rabenek (Ellen Tells), a former student in the Elizabeth Duncan school in Germany who taught dance for MXAT (Stanislavsky’s Moscow Art Theatre School), and Heptachor continues the work of Stefanida Rudneva, the early-twentieth-century founder of the original Heptachor group, consisting of seven women from St. Petersburg who were inspired by Duncan’s first performances there. The full house enthusiastically received the dances, erupting into rhythmic clapping after Heptachor’s enactment of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. The local television arts station gave the concert generous coverage—even coming into the dressing room to record interviews before the performance.
Teaching at Prometheus Studio
For our part, the concert was a moving experience. I danced the whole suite of “Hillendale Waltzes”, two parts of the “Time Pieces,” and we ended with the composition by Tagliamacco. Each element of the performance—the music, the movement, the projection, and the costumes (yes, I dressed Cheryl and Fiorenza in silk tunics!)—was mutually supportive, a serendipitous success! Winchester scholar Charlotte Purkis remarked that she thought Cheryl, Fiorenza and I had come as a group—when, in fact, we had only met on Tuesday. I have great hopes that we will find a way to perform this program again! Italy? Austin?
Sunday, I taught classes in both Isadora Duncan dance and Noyes Rhythm and I participated in Steve Batts’ contact improv workshop and a Butoh class led by St. Petersburg artists from Odd Dance Theatre, Natalia Ahestovskaya and Grigory Glazunov. Sunday evening, the conference wound down with a warm dinner at Sisters Grimm, complete with toasts and well wishes for the travelers. After the dinner, I wandered around the city with my friends Alex and Sveta, ducking into the Bulgakov museum and having coffee in a café before heading to Natasha’s for the night. Sveta, Natasha, and I stayed up way too late, drinking tea, reminiscing, and singing while Sveta played guitar. After just a few hours of sleep, Natasha and I headed off to the train station, waving goodbye and promising to keep in better touch.
Universal Gesture, in Red Square
Thank you again, to the conference organizers, especially Irina Sirotkina, who is not only a beautiful mover in her own right, but is also an amazing coordinator, translator, and dance writer, as well as Aida Ailamazian, Semina Maria, and Tatiana Venediktiva. Thanks, as well, to Ekaterina Tashkeeva and Julia Idlis, who not only helped with translation but also contributed their own scholarship and artwork to the conference. Also, thanks to my wonderful Moscow friends, especially Petr and Natasha, who generously hosted me in their homes, and to my newest artistic collaborators Cheryl and Fiorenza. And, many thanks to everyone who helped support my trip through Austin’s Dance Umbrella—I wouldn’t have made it without your support!
Next week—a much shorter and more local post…