January 20, 2011 ă. magazine "ZDRAVSTVUITE"

Visage Theatre: Ěovement as a Way to Express Oneself

LIK in Old Slavonic means “face”. But it seems the meaning of the word is much deeper – it should stand for “Personality”. The Visage Movement Theatre proves with its performances: every human being is unique with his/her inimitable inner world, able to create, to dare, to think and to feel regardless of the group of disability and its form. Or still despite the disability?

The classes of the unique theatre group, dancers of the Visage Movement Theatre, are held every Monday and Friday from 4 to 8 PM in the rehearsal hall of the Republican Theatre of Young Spectators in Tashkent. The participants and the spectators do not notice how the four hour class passes. First, there is a warm-up to music for everybody, uniting the ”beginners” and the “older” dancers; then the class switches over to improvisation scenes in groups of two-three persons and to sketches on given topics, with bodies moving in tune with the soul.
Not all the participants remain for the second part of the rehearsal: the very little dancers and those, who have to go home, leave; only old-timers and professionals stay. Having exchanged their sensations of the forthcoming improvisation, having thought over and felt deeply what they are going to do, the dancers spread in the hall and start dancing.

And you cannot imagine of how they do it.

Liliya Sevastyanova, the founder and director of the Visage Movement Theatre, unwittingly developed the optimal model of human interaction in the world: all are different, all are equal. People are not divided into common ones and people with special needs or disabilities. Both the first and the second exist or rather live in the same world, in which everybody needs everybody or indeed everybody is essential for everybody. They create together, dancing and making a unique picture of plastique and movement. And it is impossible to say who needs whom more in this improvised tandem: virtuosic professional dancer Farid or kindly soul Valera on his wheel-chair. It seems that in real life different people – both ordinary and special - must coexist in this very way.

People with disabilities are capable of a lot of things and under certain circumstances necessary for a comfortable life they can achieve much and fulfill themselves completely. They can teach us who were born with the gift of good health a lot. They are more talented because they are able to focus on their gift which is their only way of fulfilling themselves. They are better because they are able to receive kindness and give it despite the pain which is always with them. However, they are all different, quite like us.

One can talk about Valera endlessly – he is a real star of the Visage Movement Theatre. You know, we had a nice chat with him, although Valera cannot speak. Well-wishing and open, a gifted and thoughtful actor – it was he who had the idea of tango with a girl who is also on a wheelchair. It was enough to stretch his arm to a colleague, wave it and that inspired a beautiful and harmonious improvisation which became part of a performance. By the way, Valera asked me for a dance in a very courteous way …but I turned shy and refused…Now which of us is that, so called, person with special needs? I do hope to make up for that lost dance when we meet again.

The student of the higher school of national dance and choreography, Farid Shamsutdinov, came to the Visage Movement Theatre five years ago and it determined the choice of his profession. As director of his diploma work Farid produced a mini performance “Room of Time” with the involvement of the Visage Movement Theatre dancers. “The Theatre taught me to express meaning through a movement, to feel people better not only at classes but in life as well.”

There is a strong belief that improvisation is well rehearsed and previously made whole. This was said by someone who knows nothing about real improvisations which make up the performances of the Visage Theatre.

“I was looking for new content for dance, - says Liliya Sevastyanova. I wanted dance to become a way for dancers to express their innermost feelings and thoughts which cannot be conveyed in any other way and which can be understandable and interesting for spectators. I wanted the feelings, perceptions, associations to be topical.”

The Visage Movement Theatre’s uniqueness is not only in its composition - nondisabled actors and people with various forms of disabilities making up a whole. Another aspect of the theatre’s uniqueness is that Lilya Sevastyanova found a singular way to work with such an integrated group, having developed and introduced author's methodology of “plastic and dance improvisation” based on real life associations and artistic images.

…When you need to make a wide gesture – it means the body is directed towards infinity. To tiptoe means to wend into heaven. Any movement has an association: a wave of the hand – this is how a tree shakes its branches, flexion of the head to the hand – this is how birds clean their feathers. An invisible “someone” is present at the rehearsals; IT helps to do what the body is not always able to do…

…One should forget about one’s disease, forget about the body which does not obey. One got used to believing that the body is not able, that it is stiff. But if it is not your body, if your body has turned into a dandelion, a wind? Then following associations and images one can do what was mostly beyond his/her power: to relax the muscle tension, to enter into a dialogue with another person and to open up to someone…

…The first thing I teach is to forget about the body. Sport demonstrates your body, its power, strength, flexibility. While we attempt to express what is inside. For art a body is not essential, it is a means, a language. The task of the art is to investigate a soul. A body is to help this; it is not an object for demonstration.

Any human being is a separate story full of thoughts, feelings, experiences. Anybody’s story can become a dance, the main character and choreographer of which is the very person. The important thing is to know that everything around you is striving to help you: both music and space are your partners. But the principal partner is another human being. If one learns to feel and to listen to that human being, then there is no need to invent anything: while improvising the interaction and fusion of souls will be realized through the only possible symbolic and indicative movements.

The Visage Movement Theatre is 29 years old, eight of which it has been functioning as an integrated theatre. The participants of the Theatre are from 6 to 45 years old and each of the 40 dancers is gifted in his/her own way. More than 20 of the dancers are people with disabilities – physical and mental. The list of diagnoses is long enough – they cannot be counted on the fingers of one hand: cerebral spastic infantile paralysis, oligophrenia, Down’s syndrome, various disorders of support-locomotion system, progressing muscles dystrophy and others

Irina. A blind actress with sensitive inner vision suggested the finale of the performance “Improvisations from Life”.

Nargiza. Looks like an oriental princess, works professionally, although every step for her is a little victory. In her first years at the theatre she danced on the stage in a wheelchair, - since she stumbled at every step, Lilya was afraid she would fall down. Now she is strong and her improvisations are deep and rich in content.

Sashenka. Fragile and graceful, looking like a ballet dancer even without a tutu, she performs complex solo improvisations, moving elegantly, subtly. She comes to the rehearsals of the Theatre from Kibrai (the country side) even when she does not feel very well.

Yulduz. Deaf-and-dumb, but musical, sensitive, plastic. Lilya’s recommendations are interpreted to her with the help of fingers, but how can music be explained through sign language translation? No way. Because the music is atmospheric, it does not require us to strictly keep to the rhythm. Yulduz, the beauty, is being asked to marry, but she wants to be with the Theatre as long as possible.

Both the children and the adults have become emotionally involved with each other in the course of many years, they have all become one big family getting on well and having a mutual readiness to help. Exactly like it should be in a real family. People with disabilities interacting with professionals and nondisabled dancers grow and develop owing to powerful creative potential which is within each of us. They turn into professionals and sometimes even sensu stricto stand on their feet. Even if during the performance…

The performances produced with the integrated cast:

«I Dream that I’m Walking…» (2004),
«The Rainbow Festival» (2005), «Improvisations from Life», (2006),
«Ivory Gulls over the Blue Sea» (2007),
“Reflections” (2009),
«My friends» (2009).

The Visage Movement Theatre is a laureate of international festivals and a participant of theatre projects, the last of which are:

• International Festival “The Star of Hope” (Saint Petersburg, 2010),
• All Russian Festival of “special” theatres "PROTEATR" (Moscow, 2010 č 2007),
• International Festival “Four Elements’ (Moscow, 2009),
• Exposition at the theatre market of the Festival “Golden Mask” (Moscow, 2008 and 2009),
• Prize of the Ilkhom Theatre in nomination “For Honor and Dignity in Art” (Tashkent, 2008),
• International Integrated Festival “Sunny Wave” ( Kiev, 2008),
• Social-cultural project “The Residency of Uzbek Dancers in Les Rosiers sur Loire (France, 2007)

Nataliya Krichagina.

Translated into English by Aizada Khalimbetova, August 2011