If you think Moscow, you certainly think of the most famous classical ballet company, the big Bolshoi Theatre and the classical ballet tradition. But in the last few years, the contemporary dance troupe Balet Moskva makes its own mark on the Russian dance scene. Their prize winning production, Cafe Idiot, was revived again this month, and makes for a nice introduction to contemporary ballet in Russia today. 

In a country that is famous for classical ballet, the contemporary oriented Balet Moskva is somewhat of an outsider. It works mainly with classically-trained dancers and theatre artists, as there is no vocational training based solely on contemporary dance yet. They make their own choreographies, and sometimes up and coming international choreographers (such as Juanjo Arquez) are featured as well. The Balet Moskva does not have its own theatre which means it performs in different venues around Moscow and other cities in Russia. This evening Café Idiot was performed in the small theatre hall of the Meyerhold Theatre Centre, which seems to be a meeting place for contemporary theatre lovers - think of it like a hipster spot in Moscow.

Café Idiot is inspired by Dostoyevsky’s Idiot, but the performance doesn’t relate the plot of this novel. It is a journey of falling and rising in search of balance. Every dancer struggles with questions such as “am I an idiot or a holy creature?” and “should I take a role or remain an observer?”. In some fragments of the performance these themes are clearly recognizable, and for some others it takes a bit longer to find their connection with these themes.

The first half of the performance is all about contrasts. Dancers are separated by the colour of their costumes: either white pyjama-like outfits or bright red evening gowns and suits. The choreography contains abrupt silences and frozen movements  but also extreme exuberance and chaos, and changes from very gloomy and sad to cheerful and goofy... All in fragments of just several minutes long. Your eyes are continuously on the stage to see what is coming next... even if some scenes might be unclear at first, they surely spark your interest.

The performance is very fragmented, but there is a loose storyline, and stages of development in the narrative. At the very start of the performance the main character, a seemingly innocent girl in a simple white gown enters the stage and walks through a green grass impression, projected on the backdrop. In a next scene well-dressed ladies and gentlemen with commanding presence perform a strong overwhelming group dance that’s seems to be slightly aggressive towards the young lady. In the end they carry her in their arms, her in foetal position, while a child’s voice tells a story (in Russian) about childhood. Next two male dancers try to seduce her and convince her to put on the red high-heeled shoes, which she does, but she struggles to dance in them. At the end of this energetic and passionate scene the girl is undressed and lost her innocence.

The second half is where everyone is dressed in white and all the tricks come out: dancing wedding dresses without their brides, walking on a wall, fans, knifes and fortunately also a lot of dancing. The dancing is more expressive than aesthetic, and has all the moves you would expect from a modern dance company, but not more than that. And this pretty much sums up the whole performance: it is good, but not yet at the level of any major modern dance company in Europe or the USA. But considering the climate for modern dance in Russia their achievements are impressive, and hopefully they’ll get the chance to develop and grow out to be a respectable company of international calibre. The question is not if it will happen, but when.