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Dancing Gzhel

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Dancing Gzhel


Sergey Vinogradov

The Moscow folk dance ensemble Gzhel welcomed the New Year in Verona and will tour Italy almost until the end of January. The Gzhel was performing in China during the part of December. One of the most touring folk ensembles in Russia spends abroad six months or more per year. And the political upheavals of recent years had little to no effect on its touring schedule.

What makes The Gzhel unique is that the show performed for spectators all over the world includes not only Russian songs, dances and rites (as well as art of other Slavic peoples), but also folk artworks and crafts. The dance theater managers told the Russkiy Mir in which countries Russian dance is welcomed the best, how the Gzhel decoded the Slavic code (the name of its program) and how can painting of Gzhel, Palekh or Zhostovo be danced.

Photo credit: Anastasia Tasheva

Ancient craft on the big stage

Two years ago the Gzhel celebrated its 30th anniversary. The ensemble was established by Professor Vladimir Zakharov, the outstanding choreographer, in 1988, which marked the 650th anniversary of Gzhel, the Russia-specific art craft. A little over 20 years ago, the ensemble was assigned the academic status, and four years later, the Gzhel opened its own choreographic school.

Over the years, the Gzhel, which now includes more than 50 dancers, has performed at the Days of Russian Culture and Moscow Days around the world for dozens of times, toured the whole planet demonstrating its skills on the most famous stages of the world, and staged many programs. The Gzhel performed at summits of BRICS, SCO and other international organizations, at the Olympic Games and at the opening ceremony of the Formula I Grand Prix in Sochi, as well as at the Cannes Film Festival and other events.

The play “LET GO” co-produced with Americans gained wide international fame. The Gzhel dancers did a great job with modern dances. This dance theater is notable for the highest level of choreography, professional training of dancers and inventive storylines.

Photo credit: Anastasia Tasheva

The Gzhel repertoire include such dances as Fairy-tale Gzhel, Zhostov Motifs, Palekh, Khokhloma carousel, In the kingdom of enamel, Pavlovo-Posad patterns, Vyatka illustration. It is hard to find any folk art craft which the dance theater has not devoted an independent composition to. But how to dance Palekh or Khokhloma?<

Folklore is a fusion of songs, dances, costumes and life of the people, Valentina Slykhanova, the chief choreographer of the Gzhel Dance Theater, told the Russkiy Mir. Let us look at the painting. It can be reflected in the dance with the help of costumes and its composition. Dynamic patterns, richness of colors, monograms, motifs – they are all reflected through dancing in a remarkable way. For instance, special body mobility is required to present the Palekh on stage. Or, another example, performers of the Kostroma Scan’ wear costumes that look like overturned earrings. And the audience gets impression that works of unique masters performed by juvenile dancers are richly decorated. The dance has its own storyline; it tells how earrings were created. The audience is fascinated whatever countries we perform it in. Being in tours abroad, we talk about working with such topics as Russian folk arts and crafts.

Russian folklore for a foreign audience

Russian crafts with mysterious and difficult for the foreigner's ear names are now recognized around the world thanks to extensive tours of the Gzhel Dance Theater. We perform everywhere under our own name, and with each our tour the Gzhel gains gain a stronger foothold in the minds of spectators in different countries, says Marina Kuklina, the dance theater director. In modern parlance, the brand is being created. And I can say that they start to recognize us abroad. We understand that spectators are familiar with us and know what to expect by the fact that invitations from different countries do come repeatedly. For example, we gave a concert in Switzerland, and now we are invited to perform "The Snow Queen".

Marina Kuklina and Valentina Slykhanova. Photo credit: Anastasia Tasheva

According to Marina Kuklina, political events of five previous years, which had caused reduction in number of tours for some of Russian on-stage performance groups, did not affect the Gzhels foreign performance schedule. We often take part in events of Culture Days abroad, and each such trip increases the number of foreign entrepreneurs who want to work with us, she says. They organize our tours, they invite us to festivals.

Having heard the question of where the ensemble is welcomed the best, the director and choreographer glance at each other and say in unison: We are well welcomed everywhere. When we first went to Finland and Estonia, we wondered how the northern audience would take our art, says Marina Kuklina. There were also doubts before our trip to Italy; and we were told that Chinese audience was a complex one and people did not react as the play progressed. But all doubts were cleared away at concerts - we were received very well. While in Lebanon, we performed amid ancient statues, and more than three thousand people watched the concert in unbreathing astonishment."

Photo credit: Anastasia Tasheva

The Slavic code has become the undoubted success of the Gzhel in recent years. Made up of dances of various Slavic nations (Russian, Serbian, Polish, Bulgarian and others), the performance has been staged by the rules of dramatic genre - with a storyline and characters. The Slavic code was enthusiastically welcomed in all countries where it was performed. They said in Bulgaria that the Gzhel dances Bulgarian dances better than local ensembles, said Valentina Slykhanova. Our program "Dances of the Worlds Peoples is also loved around the world. For example, we go to Greece; there we open the second part of the concert with Sirtaki. You should have seen how the audience was grateful to us for it, what ovations were heard.

The Gzhels programs are born at the interface of art and ethnography collected in deep countryside of Russia and other Slavic countries. Shows and performances of the dance theater embody the spirit, rituals and characteristics of different nations. However, as the theater management told the Russkiy Mir, the academic dance theater also includes (and improves) Kalinka-Malinka and other simple Russian songs and dances in its permanent repertoire. Because they heat up the largest concert halls around the world. How will we manage without Kalinka? We are constantly asked to perform it abroad, says Marina Kuklina.

Valentina Slykhanova adds that the Gzhels programs bring traditional image of a Russian woman to Russian deep countryside and abroad. Now there is a different aesthetics in many theaters and on the stage, but our audience does not accept it, says the choreographer.

The Road House for the Victory Day

According to the theater director, the Gzhels repertoire includes more than fifty choreographic productions. We maintain our golden collection created by Vladimir Zakharov, but at the same time we do our best to be up to date, she told the Russkiy Mir. New programs and performances are released. Now we are preparing a performance based on "The Road House, the work by Valery Gavrilin, a composer.

Photo credit: Anastasia Tasheva

The ballet dedicated to the 75th anniversary of the Victory will be premiered in April 2020. During its tour around Russian cities, the Gzhel showed fragments of the performance with stories about families destroyed by the war. It shows the war as materialized evil there are characters dressed in black, they appear on the stage destroying everything on their way. Large-scale bloody battles expressed in dance look epic and touch hearts and souls. There is a good chance that the grand stage production, embodying an impressive range of events and touching humaneness, will be shown to a foreign audience.


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