Alexey Narutto, Yerevan, 2024

Alexey Narutto: Eight Times in Armenia with Contemporary Dance

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YEREVAN — Moscow-based dancer Alexey Narutto, 35, has graced Yerevan’s stages on numerous occasions. Hailing from Krasnoyarsk in Siberia, he obtained his degree in choreography from the Academy of Theater Arts for Adults in Moscow. From 2013 to 2022, Alexey was a member of the Ballet Moscow theater company, collaborating with esteemed choreographers from around the globe. He has imparted his expertise at esteemed institutions such as the “Tsekh” Center for Contemporary Dance, GOGOL-school, PART Academy, GITIS, and the Moscow Art Theatre Studio School, among others.

Additionally, he has pursued independent creative ventures, co-founding the Narushenki contemporary dance company alongside his wife, dancer Olga Timoshenko. Together, their collaborative productions have graced various festivals and esteemed institutions, including the Tretyakov Gallery, the VAC Foundation and the Lumiere Brothers Gallery of Photography in Moscow.

Their remarkable works have garnered repeated nominations for the prestigious Golden Mask Russian national theater award across diverse categories.

Narutto, both individually and in tandem with Timoshenko, has crafted a number of captivating plays, performances, movie dances, and dramatic productions.

Alexey, I believe Narutto is a stage name. Are you a manga fan?

Actually this is my real surname, inherited from my great-great-grandfather, who was exiled to Siberia. He was Polish or Lithuanian, we do not know exactly.

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I saw you for the first time two years ago, within the framework of the “Summit” Yerevan International Festival of Contemporary Dance, where you and Olga performed the duet “40.” The performance was a bit heavy, but mesmerizing. Since then you have appeared on Yerevan stages several times. Is this how your cooperation with Armenia began?

Actually, I first attended the inaugural “Summit” in 2021 as a member of the Ballet Moscow company, performing “All Roads Lead to the North.” Since then, I’ve returned to Armenia seven more times. I genuinely enjoy it here; it’s a fantastic place. Exploring the culture, meeting the people, and soaking in the atmosphere are always fascinating. As a passionate sea enthusiast, I often joke that if Armenia had a coastline, I would stay there permanently! (laughs).

I suppose you are already familiar with Armenian contemporary choreography.

I think I know it somewhat, but I can say that Armenian contemporary choreography has an interesting path. I think, Armenians are a mixture of flexibility, bodily adaptability, a sort of combination of softness and fire. I had students from art college: it seemed to me that, if taken spontaneously, it is a combination of opposites, a mixture of fire and water. If they don’t get lost and grow together, it would be an amazing style. As for choreographers, I remember Rima Pipoyan and Valeria Kasparova.

In 2022 at the Martiros Saryan House-Museum you presented “Testament” dedicated to the poet Yeghishe Charents. How did that come about?

It was during the book festival. A producer suggested that I create a performance based on this famous conceptual poem by Charents. I was deeply inspired by the idea of a poem that encoded a call, a covenant of unification for Armenians; I began searching for information about Charents himself and analyzing his work. It struck me that there are similarities with Mandelstam and how the fates of people who fight for freedom, art, and life are repeated across different countries, and how authorities begin to crush and destroy them.

Topics: Ballet, Dance

Working with a figure like Charents was fascinating to me. Another intriguing aspect was the Armenian alphabet. If you look at it, it’s very malleable, so we focused solely on interpreting this verse through dance. We depicted what was written in quatrains with the body. Conceptually, we created this verse in space through movement, which would appear and disappear later on.

Additionally, what was also very interesting was that we had a mixed cast: two Russian-speaking guys and two Armenian young women. The women understood exactly what was going on, while the men were partially aware of the content. It was an intriguing decision for me because for some people, the text was very close and touching, while for others, there was some distance.

I believe the work was engaging: as we moved through the Saryan Museum, different rooms featured different quatrains, and it all culminated in the part of the museum where the artist’s belongings were. For me, this summarized the story: the verse represents unification, laid down together, where a person has left his belongings, and people come together there to unite with that place.

How did you conceptualize through choreography Charents’ message that the only salvation of the Armenian nation is in its united strength?

The culmination of the performance featured the Armenian girl’s poignant solo, serving as a symbol of resilience and longing for home. As the solo drew to a close, all performers approached her with deliberate slowness, enveloping her in a collective embrace, forming a symbolic dome of unity. In this moment, the theme of home emerged prominently. The act of leaving home, a recurring experience for Armenians and many others, resonates deeply with the nature of human existence. There’s a pervasive sense that we often lose and rediscover our sense of home, only for it to elude us once more. As the girl emerges from the embrace and gazes back at the dome and the house from an external vantage point, a profound reflection on the concept of home unfolds. When the girl comes out of this composition, sits on the side, it is as if she starts a new spiral in which we have to create our home again. It seems to me that our life is a constant re-creation of our home.

Alexey Narutto performing with his wife Olga Timoshenko

In 2022, you participated in a project by a very interesting Russian thinker and director now living in Yerevan, Peter Nemoy.

The title was “It’s Happening.” We were referring to the culture of happenings and performances, which have no clear design. But there are people who live creating what happens on stage, as if from their own selves, living that time with the audience. There were five of us, and we improvised, everything that happened was random. It’s a very important genre where you’re simply creating something in the moment, immersed in some kind of flow. It’s a manifestation of you as an artist, of your stage and life experience, of your essence, because you are guided by what you make decisions and start to act based on them, as if playing out life. In life, you assess circumstances and decide what to do. The same thing happens on stage. It’s such a fleeting, elusive, but important art.

 Was your other performance at the Hay-Art Cultural Center also improvisation?

The eco-performance, “Black Sky,” served as a poignant exploration of ecological themes within the framework of documentary theater. It epitomized a synthetic approach, offering a blend of structure and artistic freedom that lent an improvisational feel to the production. Rooted in the environmental crisis unfolding in Krasnoyarsk, my hometown, the performance delved into the visceral experiences of its residents amidst the pervasive dense smog. We did interviews with the city residents about how they experienced it and based on those answers, together with playwright Andrei Zhiganov, we made an audio play, which I turned into a physical demonstration about the ecology of my hometown.

Please describe your collaboration with Yerevan’s “Novents-school.”

The head of Novents-school, Mariam Kazanchyan, invited me to conduct a training on physical theater with a colleague. We established a theater laboratory, where both emigrants from Russia and locals participated. We explored again the theme of home. Following this theme, we applied it to “Romeo and Juliet,” contextualizing the conflicts of the two houses. From this story, we extracted the opinions of the artists themselves, through physical and textual statements, on how they view this myth of the Verona lovers. We presented the production titled “Romeo and Juliet. Witnesses” on the stage of the Paronyan Musical Comedy Theater in Yerevan, and it turned out to be quite an interesting performance.

You were also the choreographer of the opening and closing ceremonies of the World Sambo Championship, which took place last year in Yerevan. Sport and contemporary art — there are points of convergence, right?

I agree! Performativity is close to both choreography and sport. Rudolf Nureyev remembered that when he met a cosmonaut, who told him: “What you do on stage is approximately what happens to me when I fly into space.” Indeed, the bodily overload of a ballet dancer resembles that of high sports and cosmonautics; all of them take the body to the limits of endurance. Contemporary dance and contact improvisation are very much inspired by sports, especially martial arts. Two people, two bodies collide; it’s somehow dangerous. You have to have a certain courage and skills for such a collision. So, sport is close to dance, and they are two related worlds that complement each other.

By the way, in the production for the sambo championship, I was inspired by the Armenian military dance yarkhushta. We created some parts based on it. In Russia, folk dances never inspired me, but after my experience in Armenia, I started to be interested in them from an anthropological point of view: I began to look at them differently, as a kind of human code that creates the character, history, and symbolism of a people and a place through plasticity.

Do you have any other projects related to Armenia?

I arrived to work on a new project: choreographing a production based on Remarque’s “Three Comrades” at the Yerevan Drama Theater. The performance will feature both modern dance and text. I’m hopeful that this won’t be my last project in Armenia; I plan to continue creating here at the intersection of cultures and perspectives. I find great inspiration in the fact that despite not fully understanding the language, many aspects of my work take root and evolve in the Armenian soil. My vision and contributions undergo a transformation, adapting and resonating in their own unique way within this cultural context. This dynamic creates a powerful synergy between two distinct peoples. It’s fascinating to witness how the experiences of individuals from diverse backgrounds and ethnicities intersect, merge, and forge new paths forward, discovering fresh points of connection along the way.

 

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