Valentin Parnakh: the eccentric dancer

Valentin Parnakh (1891-1951) was a true polymath. The USSR revolutionary was also a dancer, musician and translator (of Spanish writers including Federico Garcia Lorca), not to mention the founding father of Soviet jazz.

At BOZAR, Polina Akhmetzyanova takes his work and life as a springboard for her artistic exploration.

Parnakh travelled between Saint Petersburg, Paris, Italy and the Middle East at the beginning of the 20th century. In fact, he travelled so much “he could have been a spy”, jokes Brussels-based dancer and performer Polina Akhmetzyanova, a former student of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker (P.A.R.T.S.). In Paris, Parnakh met artists like Guillaume Apollinaire, Tristan Tzara and Pablo Picasso. Along with new jazz scores, saxophones, tom-toms and trumpet mutes, he took a lot of inspiration from other cultures back with him to Russia. He became the darling of the Russian avant-garde, which at the time included figures such as theatre director Vsevolod Meyerhold.

In 1922, Parnakh founded “Valentin Parnakh’s Jazz Band – the First Eccentric Orchestra of the Russian Federated Socialist Republic”, whose debut concert was held at the Russian Academy of Theatre Arts in Moscow. That same year he caused a stir with his ‘lying down dance’. No one had ever seen such bizarre dance moves before. Unfortunately, we can only guess what Parnakh’s unusual prostrate dance looked like, because the only recording made of the dance has gone missing from the archives in Moscow.  

On Saturday the 25th of November 2017, Polina Akhmetzyanova will perform at the Centre for Fine Arts. She does not want to focus on Parnakh’s life and work as such, but on the nature of political memory by using Parnakh and Vladimir Lenin as examples. In L’Incorruptible, the absurd eternal presence of the one is compared to the total disappearance of the other in such a way that both could be considered as victims of the same regime. “The stories of their bodies are intertwined on the basis of visual similarities, one was lying down in the middle of the Red Square for decades [Lenin’s preserved body lies in a mausoleum on the Red Square] and the other just for a brief moment when he astonished the audience by dancing on his back”.

© Polina Akhmetzyanova
© Polina Akhmetzyanova

The ironic assumption that one somehow “belongs” to another is depicted here through a reading-performance. Fragments of information told in voices reminiscent of Russian politicians and gangsters (like those heard in Russia since the 90’s) create a mummy-like character, which acts as a metaphor for the way corrupt monsters survive political upheaval, while avant-gardists, like Parnakh, are suffocated.

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