Russian Movement Culture of the 1920s and 1930s: An International Symposium

Thursday, February 12, 2015 to Saturday, February 14, 2015
15th floor IAB (420 W. 118th Street)
Please join the Harriman Institute for an international ballet symposium organized by Lynn Garafola, Professor of Dance, Barnard College, and Catharine Nepomnyashchy, Professor of Russian Literature and Culture, Barnard College.
In the years that followed the Russian Revolution theorists and practitioners of movement feverishly explored ways to remake the human body.  In studios and theater laboratories, choreographers explored new movement languages, seeking materials for a new Soviet body in acrobatics, “free movement,” physical culture, popular dance, music-hall styles, and even ballet.  By the 1930s this experimental impulse was largely spent.  However, ballet had absorbed many of its core ideas:  the new Soviet man as expressed in ballet of the 1930s was “muscular” and athletic.  He tossed partners in the air and held them overhead in spectacular lifts.  His body told a plain story, free of dreaminess and unembellished by stylistic niceties, and he often embodied the “others” of the Soviet periphery in vigorous national dances.  A distinctive Soviet approach to choreography and performance, reflected above all in Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet, had been born.
Meanwhile in the communities of “Russia Abroad” the experimental impulse of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes gave way in the 1930s to works that revealed only a tenuous sense of Russian identity.  Yet ballet itself was now widely viewed as a Russian (as opposed to Italian or French) phenomenon, an art dominated by émigré teachers, dancers, and choreographers.  They brought with them a belief in ballet as a high art exemplifying refinement and good manners, and a passion for the ballerina eclipsed by Diaghilev’s promotion of the male dancer.  Echoes of surrealism appeared in many ballets, and there was a growing number of semi-plotless works.  As period footage makes clear, by World War II the ballet communities of Soviet Russia and Russia Abroad had little in common.
World War II divided the European émigré ballet community.  The major Ballets Russes companies fled to the United States, where their dancers and choreographers quickly put down roots.  Meanwhile, in Europe, others, including Serge Lifar, ballet director of the Paris Opéra and a member of the émigré elite, collaborated with the Germans. 
With an international roster of scholars, Russian Movement Culture of the 1920s and 1930s will explore these pivotal decades in the evolution of Russian ballet and the making of a modern Russian body both in Russia itself and abroad.
Find the program here.