Dance

Russian dancers of kalinka and ballet enthrall Chennai audiences

To the northeast of Moscow, lies Bogorodskaya, a village that, over the years, has earned the moniker, ‘Russia’s toy kingdom’. One of the region’s specialities is moving toys, carved out of softwood. Dancers Zvereva Daria and Julianna RK breathe life into these toys in their performance at the 18th anniversary of the ‘Russian Dance Festival’, held by the Russian Cultural Centre.

The 18-year-old dancers’ performance is one of 19 to grace the 90-minute show, choreographed by Elena Plyukhina, head of Orchid, the dance team from Rostov-on-don. The evening begins with Kalinka, a traditional Russian dance. Kalinka’s music, that picks up tempo with each refrain, has travelled worldwide, from the hockey rings of North America to here in India, where it was adapted by director Vishal Bhardwaj for ‘Darling’, from the 2011 movie Saat Khoon Maaf. In this particular performance though, the music is laced with House beats, making it even snappier than usual.

The dancers are dressed in bright red umbrella-shaped skirts that allow them ample freedom to perform graceful yet athletic squats and kicks. (Visualise a prettier version of Fiddler on the Roof.) The dances alternate between ballet and folk. In ‘Waltz of the Flowers’, composer Tchaikovsky’s orchestral piece from The Nutcracker, the dancers are on pointe, twirling in and out in circles as if mimicking the blossoming of rosebuds.

Russian dancers of kalinka and ballet enthrall Chennai audiences

The toy-dance-duo makes an entrance again later, with their ‘handkerchief’ dance. A characteristic feature of Russian folk dance is the use of scarves or handkerchiefs, as a way of flirting between men and women. (Scarves have a cultural significance in Russian women’s wardrobes, I’m told.) The dancers rarely touch each other, but are in contact through the kerchief. Playfully, they fight each other in order to steal the handkerchief away from each other.

While Orchid’s dance looks inward towards traditional Russian forms, the other dance group for the night, No Face, is more interested in exploring themes through their hip-hop moves. Their performances range from a workers’ dance — where they are dressed in plaid shirts under denim overalls — to one in celebration of the importance of sports for Russia. Unfortunately though, it is disappointing to see a group with great ideas, and stage presence, not being able to implement them well. Their movements for the most part, are not as clean as one expects.

One of the stand out performances of the night is by soloist Lugovenko Anna. Dressed in a simple black leotard, she dances as if not for an audience. Her visibly strong legs, bent at the knee, twist and sweep the floor, cutting through waves of piano notes. In her high jumps and pirouettes, she resembles a strange aquatic bird. In fact, the jumps and mid-air splits are features common to many of the performances that night — to modern dance itself.

“She has been learning ballet since she was six years old,” reveals Elena, “Ballet, like Bharatanatyam in Chennai, is very integral to the Russian culture. Girls start learning from a very young age, because that’s when they are most flexible.” Almost all the dancers in her group are under 18 years old. She adds, “I have been coming to Chennai for the last six years.” Every year, she curates a fresh team of dancers to perform at the Russian Cultural Centre.

The Russian Dance Festival will be held twice today at Russian Cultural Centre, at 10.45 am and 6.45 pm, and on January 26, at 10.45 am and 6.45 pm. Entry on first-come, first-serve basis, collect passes from the centre.

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2021 3:21:11 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/dance/on-pointe-russian-dance-forms-of-kalinka-and-ballet-enthrall-chennai-audiences/article26004394.ece

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