Venues that regularly show contemporary dance in this country can be counted on fingers. That’s what we decided to do, curious about how these projects live, what they present, how they attract audiences. We’re starting our review with the “Skorohod” venue, independent theatre space in St. Petersburg where you can see contemporary theatre, dance, music, and cinema.
The venue was started in 2012 as an endeavor of three people – Tatyana Priyatkina-Weinstein, Alexander Weinstein and Alexander Kondratenko. Searching for a shared venue to work on their educational projects (theatre centre “Lyogkie Lyudi” lit. “Light People” and school for contemporary dance “ByeByeBallet”), the co-founders wound up in the former shoe-making factory named “Skorohod”. The idea to create a performance venue instead of just a school was prompted by the setting – a spacious loft of what used to be a storehouse with a sloping roof and a high ceiling. The lack of an adequate performance venue for contemporary dance and theatre in St. Petersburg had long been apparent.
The “Skorohod” venue is a hall with a mobile auditorium of 250 seats and required stage equipment, a cozy loft and a bar. Launched with the funds owned or loaned by the founders, the project has existed successfully for over a year and a half, showing over 20 performances a month. The event listings feature performances and pieces by dance and theatre companies from Russia, Europe, the USA, and Asia. In April of this year the venue held the first festival of young contemporary dance Just Fresh Art presenting pieces from Germany, Israel, Russia and France, including the first international project of “Skorohod” – dance piece “Project 14” created by French choreographer Didier Theronn and St. Petersburg dance company “Gildiya”.
The funding from the government, foreign foundations, and local businessmen is also project-based and partly covers the budget spent on bringing foreign pieces, and a limited number of home projects. The venue provides for itself in many aspects. And this criterion of being in-demand, economically efficient, remains important when shaping its policy in terms of concept. “Skorohod” presents exclusively contemporary theatre and dance and is very committed to collaborating with mature authors of works, who are willing to offer quality content.
producer, choreographer, artistic director of the “Skorohod” venue
“We live in a situation where the criteria to evaluate the quality of works in contemporary theatre and especially dance are hard to define. It’s as if the context is missing. The spectator is not used to new forms, the choreographer lacks expertise, and the dancer is not skilled. The spectator who came to see a piece of new form will leave disappointed in 80 % of cases, even if the work is based on a brilliant idea. That’s precisely why we’re struggling for the content that is not necessarily novel but professional. The most dreadful reaction from the audience is “I can also do like this”. Which means we have to show awesome works to give audiences something to look up to. Now we are in no position to show raw, incomplete projects (work-in-progress).
That’s why now I have an affinity for engaging choreographers who are somewhat experienced. I believe that experiment and deep inner work doesn’t start until you’re already able to do some things. That might be the case of a narrow perspective, but after five years of studies at a theatre academy I know the structure of the performance, and I can afford to search and refuse from certain things. But there’s skill, and you’ve got no right to skip that step.
The standards for contemporary dance in Russia won’t go up until that makes good sense. When the dancer is expected to do ten pieces instead of three, when people other than family members start coming, that’s when self-evolution starts. That’s when responsibility to the audience comes into picture and, mundane as it may sound, salary. And for now I can hardly demand that the dancer comes to the studio in the morning, as he works at the office to make ends meet.
To catch up with the world our dancers and choreographers ought to be shown as much as possible of what’s going on, collaborations ought to be arranged for, opportunities to see how the work is organized. My dream as a curator is to set up a company and try to do something thoroughly new. Now it’s unclear how it can survive financially.”
Keeping the selection of works as open and transparent as possible, “Skorohod” sticks to its pursuit of showing particularly new art. The terms of collaboration and all the required documents can be easily found on the site. And now, when the venue has gained popularity, up to 5-7 applications a day are submitted. Decision is made based on the full video of the piece, and if it’s a premiere project, the director’s or company’s reputation becomes a criterion.
“I make a principle of not cutting anything short. I don’t mind watching 5 videos a day, because people rarely verbalize properly what they are working on. They need a degree in art studies to be able to do so. Even if I can’t offer anything, I’ll tell them where to go, how to find a more low-key, adequate venue – that’s also part of my job.”
Translated by Yana Lebedikhina.