The Beyond Technique Creative Residency in Moscow was a unique cultural exchange between Russian and Australian artists for the IV “Inclusive Dance” International Charity Dance Festival 2016.
The aim of the 10-day residency project was to increase the profile and reputation of Australian and Russian cultural relations through an international collaboration and presentation of our arts and culture.
Beyond Technique provided professional development for emerging and established artists with and without disability and new skills development through a rigorous creative process that led to generating a studio showing as part of the Festival program.
Dance Integrated Australia’s Projects and Communications Manager, Sean Campbell traveled with Creative Director, Philip Channells and reflects on the project and his experience in Moscow in his writing below.
L-R: Sean Campbell, Svetlana Sivokhin & Philip Channells / Photo: Olesya Zhuravleva
“I had a wide and varied role as part of the Beyond Technique Creative Residency (BTCR) team.
As Projects and Communications Manager, prior to arriving in Moscow I was responsible for contacting prospective galleries and organisations with regards to setting up meetings to talk about the work Dance Integrated Australia do and the possibility to collaborate in the future.
We had responses from a few galleries, and meeting with them whilst in Moscow was very beneficial to the BTCR project and has seeded plans to return in 2017.
During the workshops my role became that of workshop assistant, representing the idea of going beyond dance technique, embodying your own personal way to move. I think it was very important to have more than one representative from Australia as part of the process, working alongside the Russian dancers, making it an integrated cultural exchange. I was also able to give feedback on exercises and tasks that needed revisiting or simplifying.
Whilst participating, I continually watched and listened to gain ideas on how we would present our showing at the end of the residency.
As costume designer I soon realised after having lots of ideas that the ensemble needed to wear their own clothes, but gave a brief that it would be a paired down version of what they normally wear. I opted for black as a colour and the fabrics to be natural dancewear.
I had many ideas with regards to set design and working with Katya Craftsova who created some amazing animation projections, we designed a simple but effective stage design based on some of my first impressions of Moscow and elements that came from stories told by the ensemble.
Mini torches in colours taken from the mosaics seen in the Moscow underground; black, red and silver where hung to represent an urban take on the chandeliers seen everywhere, and especially in the underground. Autumn leaves, (something we don’t see very much of in Australia) another visual element that was one of my initial impressions of the city also formed part of the design. This coincided with another story from one of the participants.
Any spoken text used in the piece was projected onto the screen used as a backdrop.”
“There were so many success with regards to the running and outcome of the residency. Many positive changes and artistic growth were witnessed, with all involved; participants, interpreters, photographers and workshop leaders learning more about what dance is and can be, the culture of inclusive artistic practice and a little more about themselves and those they are working with.
On first entering the dance studio it was interesting to see all of the dancers facing the mirror, erect and ready to dance hard. It was a very different environment to the one I have been used to. Over the next few days, this attitude softened and the dancers worried less about what they looked like and were more focused on what it felt like to be moving and interacting with each other in an honest way. This continued up until the end of the project and it was wonderful to see the change in performance quality, especially in improvisational sessions.
Most of the dancers were used to learning steps, and very competent at learning and remembering routines. I found that if the dancers were told to do something this appeared sometimes easier than giving them the responsibility to create something themselves.
Through various exercises using breath as focus, counterbalance, pushing and pulling, contact improvisation and repeat movement patterns, the participants now had the skills to explore new pathways to create an individual movement vocabulary. It was so exciting to see these changes and to witness how we were all learning from each other, exchanging ideas and movement language.
I believe all of the dancers had found and embraced a different method and technique in creating dance and telling stories in movement.
The confidence of the group increased daily, due to fact that we were all encouraged to speak about ourselves; our past, present and future. By speaking with the group and the new contacts made whilst in Moscow I learnt a little of the culture of Russians and the shame attached to not only people with disabilities but their parents and wider family. Luckily this attitude is changing but not really quickly enough. I didn’t see anyone with any kind of disability on the streets of Moscow and getting around in a wheelchair fairly impossible due to the legally placed but unusable ramps placed at the entrances of buildings and going up and down to the metro.
I very quickly concluded that not many people with disabilities of any kind have much of a voice in contemporary Russian society. Therefore, being asked to speak was something new, confronting and exhilarating for all of the participants and certainly helped the group grow together and become the trusting family like unit it became. The confidence gained in ‘having a voice’ was a huge positive outcome from the workshops and is sure to be something that increases as visibility of the sector increases.
One participant who I witnessed having the most positive growth was Karina Troshina, who, since being in a car accident at the age of 16, now uses a wheelchair. She was very withdrawn and lacked confidence due to her friends abandoning her after her accident. I saw Karina become more vocally and emotionally engaged during the process, partaking more in improvisational tasks, feeling comfortable in creating choreography based on her movement capacity and pushing the boundaries of what she thought possible. She became more active, participating more, and now had the courage to ask for what she wanted and needed, even requesting that she come out of her chair – something she refused to do and may have thought impossible at the beginning of the process.
We also worked for a brief period with a group of dancers from Lugansk, Eastern Ukraine. They, their families and friends had gone through some very harrowing experiences due to the war in that region. They showed us a very powerful work based on the war, for which they won first place in the Collective section of Inclusive Dance Festival.
We showed them a different way to connect physically and emotionally with each other as dancers, one that many of them had not experienced previously. There were a few challenges initially but the outcome, and changes were wonderful to view as they were able to improvise in an honest, human way. The feed back was very heart warming with one participant saying he felt as if he had know us all his life but hadn’t seen us for a while.
We were incredibly fortunate in meeting with some very talented, creative and generous people, who were all very interested and the work we were doing and the processes used to create something of artistic and social benefit.
Through Olga Pogasova, who runs Ground (one of the galleries I contacted) we met some wonderfully talented performers and artists and sampled some of Moscow’s cool nightlife and gatherings. She also introduced us to musician and composer Anton Silaev, who after attending one of the showing rehearsals decided he would like to play live for us, which was such an amazing outcome for us. His contribution really added to the look and feel of the showing.
I really only have very positive thoughts and feelings regarding the whole experience in Moscow, which was enlightening, culturally educational, warm and friendly, creative, supportive and exciting.”
“The challenges we faced in the day to day running of the workshops were all to be expected and were very soon overcome. After all, that is why we were there!
The main challenges we faced as a team were communication, having not much grasp of the Russian language. However we were incredibly fortunate to have volunteer interpreters for each workshop session and also had a few participants who were able to undertake this role too.
We originally met Margarita Kostova at the press conference when we first arrived in Moscow and she was volunteering as an interpreter. She is such an amazing person with a unique take on Russia and Russian culture after living in New York. We invited her to join the project and was an invaluable member of the team, who showed us how to navigate the city as well as a myriad of other important things.
Margarita Kostova (dancer/interpreter) & Igor Vasilyev (interpreter)
The only other real challenge was our accommodation at the Hanoi-Moscow Apart-Hotel that was quite a distance from the rehearsal studio space, Dance & Gold. Although it did make sense for us to stay there whilst the Inclusive Dance Festival was taking place, but it would have been better in terms of comfort, accessibility and creativity to have stayed closer to the city.
Finances are always a challenge and this project was delivered with a very small budget. Once seeing the performance space in which we would be showing it was necessary to acquire some extra funds for design/staging and also to pay something to our creative collaborators. After a conversation with Paul Martin from the Australian Embassy in Moscow, who is incredibly supportive and understood what we were trying to achieve, and with the possibility that someone from the Inclusive Projects Department at Garage may possibly attending our request was met.”
This project was supported by the Australian Embassy in Moscow, “Odukhotvorenie” – Centre of Social and Cultural Animation, and Gold and Dance Studios.
Main Photo: Alexander Tatayev