HUMO Ļ48 (December 1, 2010)

FACES OF KINDNESS AND HOPE.

The International Day of People with Disabilities has been celebrated around the world on December 3 since 1992. It was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly to raise awareness of the problems of people with disabilities and to protect their dignity, rights, and wellbeing. The Visage Movement Theatre founded and directed by Lilia Sevastianova has been accomplishing this mission for many years. Below is the interview Lilia Sevastianova gave about her theatre.

Q. What is the history of the Visage Movement Theatre?
A. "Our —Ómpany was created in 1982 as a youth group for modern dancing . Initially, we searched for our scenic language and staged several performances where we expressed existential themes relevant to us through new dancing techniques. Eventually, we ended up with the genre of dance improvisation."
"We started working with people with disabilities after years of experiments in the genre of improvisation. Our path has been shaped through some personal encounters. In the 1990-s the theater participated in a number of international festivals. We initiated several Uzbek-French theatre projects in France and Uzbekistan. While abroad I noticed how many disabled people were seen around: in museums, theaters, or just in streets. In Avignon a young man in a wheelchair wheeled up and talked to me as if we were friends. Or some plays during the festival in Aix-en-Provence were performed on the stage of a psychiatric hospital theater. The patients could freely attend our rehearsals and talk to the actors. It shocked and even frightened me at that time, but it also encouraged me to look into their faces trying to understand those people who seemed to have come from another planet.
"Today I am happy to see people from the audience approach actors after a performance for live continuation of non-verbal communication started by the play. It means our shows help people to break the same walls as I had to break."
In 1996 I taught a dance improvisation class in France, and one of my students was a girl on crutches. Her solo in the final of our performances totally swept the audience off their feet proving once again that a true theater is about the actor's soul, not the body."
"Enlightened by this experience, we continued our experiment back in Tashkent. First, I started working with kids from the Club for Rehabilitation and Social Integration for Children with Disabilities. Eventually, the professional dancers of my Company Visage Movement joined me so we could stage joint performances. That was the birth of a new, integrated Visage Movement Theatre."

Q. What does this name mean?
A. "The word lik comes from the Old Slavic where it means "a face" but is more profound. Its derivative in the modern Russian is lichnost (person, personality). Our mission is to show that every human being is unique and beautiful, regardless of health or social ranking."

Q. What is your main credo as director of the Visage Movement Theatre?
A. "I think a director working with people with disabilities should zero in on actors: their talents, traits, and ultimately, their life rather than on far-fetched ideas of 'how arts should look'. (Honestly, I believe this is a rule for any creative project.)
"It was our team member Valera's dramatic pose from which our first integrated dance, a tango, sprang eight years ago. Little Sasha's "ballerina arms" prompted us to stage Chopin's waltz. And Irina, with her impaired vision, "dictated" a finale to Improvisations from Life where, unable to make a few steps on her own, she unites all participants by her internal vision."

Q. How do you form the repertoire?
A. "Our shows I Dream that I Can Walk (2004), Rainbow's Day (2005), Improvisations from Life (2006), White Seagulls over the Blue Lake (2007), Reflections (2009) are all based on real life experiences."
"The choreography is born when so different personalities interact and express themselves onstage via eloquent gestures and movements. Rehearsals evoke the participants' real-life collisions and life events which are used as a playwright canvas. No readymade scenario can possibly provide that. "
"This is how I direct the plays (or rather am directed): by feeling the creativity pulse of the team."

Q. Who are your actors? Where did they come from?
A. "Our troupe presently includes 40 people, over 20 of whom are young people with physical and mental handicaps: in wheelchairs, with impaired hearing, poliomyelitis, autism, Down syndrome, and various forms of impaired mobility."
"I first met some of these kids ten years ago, when I worked in the Club for Rehabilitation and Social Integration for Disabled: Sveta Pak, Gleb Makarov, and Ivan Kirilov. Yulduz Babamukhamedova, Nargiza Bakirova, Valera Kogan, Sasha Plotnikova, Zarina Rashidova, and Vika Kuznetsova are all weathered pros despite all the difficulties they have to overcome every second of their lives."
"Olga Ostanina and Victoria Gordienko have been with the Company since its foundation 28 years ago. They came here as schoolgirls and have grown into professional choreographers. They assist me immensely. Their children Ilia and Ludmila have grown in the theatre as well as Kamila and Farid Shamsutdinov, Kamila Muhamedshina/ Our Company is their second home and not only they practice here but also help lovingly their peers with disabilities. "

Q. Can a disabled person without professional education join your team?
A. "Kids with disabilities are quickly getting the hang of improvisation, because they are paired up with pros and healthy contemporaries. Newcomers immediately immerse into a powerful creative environment. It is like a stream that engages, empowers, and gives them momentum! Our integrated projects prove the effectiveness of joint creative projects by people with disabilities and ordinary people."

Q. What are you selection criteria?
A. "We never "select" anyone, just accept and teach everyone who comes into the door. Firstly, we teach them our unique method of dancing improvisation. Kids also learn basics of classical and folk dancing, eurhythmics, and much more."

Q. What are the recent developments in the theatre?
A. "In September 2010, we were awarded the title of "laureate" at the 4th All-Russia Festival of Special Theatres in Moscow where we performed at the stage of State Theatrical Academy. Our show Reflections had great success and the Festival panel Chairperson Olga Ostroumova, a famous actress herself, came to see us behind the stage to thank for "serious work". And on December 4 we will take part in the International Festival in Saint Petersburg "The Star of Hope" which will gather creative groups working with people with disabilities from various countries. Actually, we are laureates of quite a few integrated festivals."

Q. And, your wishes on the International Day of People with Disabilities?
A. "After these ten years spent with kids with disabilities, I cannot help admiring their many and generous talents, their will to live, and creativity! I wish there were fewer obstacles, both physical and psychological, that disabled people have to overcome, to integrate into the society."

"I would like to thank everybody who supports theVisage Movement Theatre, including our trips abroad, and everybody who helps people with disabilities!"

Interviewed by Zuhra Kurbanbaeva
Translated by Larisa Ulkina