Culture

Political choreographers: Alexandre and Natalia Furman

Article published on July 16, 2007
From the magazine
Article published on July 16, 2007
Art is politics: the third part of our series on portraits of artists attempting to resist the 'cultural Chernobyl’, which reigns in Belarus, a country asphyxiated by the authoritarian regime of president Alexander Lukashenko

Former star dancer and professor at the Choreographic School of Dance in Minsk, Alexandre Furman, 44, would like to create a new dance company, an independent ballet. But for six years he has battled against the Belarusian administration and it is impossible for him to obtain so much as a hint of authorisation from the Minsk regime.

There isn't however anything politically incorrect still less provocative about Furman’s project. But Alexander Lukashenko is denying the virtues of self-regulation of social, economic and political life. Society is simply to obey the governmental machine. Independent associations, civil actors and private economic activities are more often than not considered ‘subversive’ initiatives.

Perhaps it is the modern orientation of this ballet project that frightens the authorities. Indeed, the only two existing ballet companies to this day are national and are of solely classical dance. Natalia, Alexandre’s wife, is the only woman in Belarus in charge of putting on the big ballet productions. In 2000, she put on a production of Macbeth, with original music and choreography, at the Belarusian State Theatre Academy.

The event is even more deserving of mention when you bear in mind that the sets used in the country are on average over 15 years old. 'The problem' Natalia explains, 'is that it is on one hand a search for money while on the other hand a search for venues to put on ballets.' There are only two theatres in Belarus, and these give priority to productions that have already proven themselves.

The company led by Natalia is composed of independent artists or artists who have already worked with her and wanted to return. At the moment, they are working on a version of Moliere’s ‘Dom Juan’ but the Opera is still in production, and there are already less seats than before. Professional dancers, who have studied for years and have taken part in other foreign ballet organisations, are increasingly having to go back to teaching at primary schools.

Alexandre Furman's situation remains for the moment inextricable. Since the presidential decree of September 2005, it is impossible to obtain money from private sponsors, due to government suspicion that such funds finance the opposition.

In any case, there are numerous judicial clauses in place to discourage any such initiatives. The thwarted attempts of the cultural councillor for the French Ambassador in Minsk to support Furman's fledging company by means of costume donations is a case in point. As a result of this initiative she saw her bank transactions blocked because the ambassador is not considered a Belarusian ‘resident’.

The easiest way to circumvent such government intervention would of course be giving the likes of Furman money in cash, but who can do that today?