The Balagan Approach. NORDWIND Festival 2015 0

Q&A with Ricarda Ciontos, Artistic Director of NORDWIND Festival / Balagan!!!, Jens Dietrich, Artistic Director of Balagan!!! Performing Arts, and Christin Prätor, PR NORDWIND Festival / Balagan!!!

- NORDWIND Festival 2015 -
“BALAGAN!!! – Zones of Resistance”
Berlin, Hamburg, Dresden and Bern
November 14 - December 23, 2015

Founded in 2006 in Berlin, NORDWIND has become one of the largest festivals for the arts from the European North. Every two years, it presents the work of contemporary artists from the Nordic and Baltic countries in four different European cities.

This year, the 6th edition of the NORDWIND Festival is also throwing a spotlight on Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union, and runs under the title of “BALAGAN!!! – Zones of Resistance”.

What is the main aim and mission of the NORDWIND Festival?

The aim of the Festival is to promote new artistic impulses and to transmit them all over Europe. According to this mission, the Festival’s program is just as diverse in terms of represented aesthetics, content and artistic disciplines.

That is why NORDWIND is co-producer, initiator and promoter – all in one. It functions as a platform that consolidates a network of institutions, artists and sponsors, and which promotes a continuous international exchange. The results of this work are presented every two years in the NORDWIND Festival and, since 2014, it is also supplemented by smaller events in the festival-free years.

Bridge over Mud: Photo © Verdensteatret

What was the main motivation behind adding Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union to this year’s Festival program?

The Nordic countries have a diverse, interesting and challenging history with Russia. Russia, by its geographic proximity, has strongly influenced the culture and history in Finland and the Baltic States. Finland has been repeatedly occupied by Russia. Not until 1917 did the Finns regain their independence. Apart from actual or perceived-as-such threats by Russia towards the smaller partner countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – they were under Soviet rule until 1989 – there are still many open and hidden resentments in the Nordic and Baltic countries towards Russia. The latest political course of events, and also the shifted mental boundaries, mark a new development in the Russian-Nordic relationship.

NORDWIND offers young and established artists a platform to share their understanding of present and past events, and to tell about their visions and strengths in the zones of resistance. By the way, SISU, which gave the name to the legal entity of NORDWIND, originates from the Winter War between Russia and Finland. It can be translated as courage, strength or assertiveness – to fight even though there is little chance of winning. David against Goliath, always.

Splendour ©  Casper Hedberg

What can we expect from Russia’s contemporary performance?

It has a big history. And it seems to be very familiar in its aim to be radical, to go beyond the given circumstances. But the reference point is a different one. The old question of where does Russian society belong – either with Western rationalism or with Eastern spirituality – has taken on new meaning since Western dominance has been in decline. Artists, who are mostly in opposition to the state propaganda spread in the Russian mass media, have to find a new artistic position that will enable them not to react to social developments, but to set the themes themselves. We have a strong documentary approach in the Russian arts that focuses on censored social issues. There’s activist art, which understands artistic action in public as a radical statement for which the Russian authorities don’t have a strategy to deal with. And we have the “Balagan” approach, which produces art as an unholy cock-up. A magnificent orgy. The visions and nightmares of charlatans and politicians. The manipulative minority. THE WORLD UPSIDE DOWN.

The complete festival program will be available at the end of September, but could you reveal some highlights that everyone should take notice of?

The Balagan!!! program within the NORDWIND Festival program presents the first retrospective of the works of Petr Pavlensky, as well as documents of his actions and the reactions of the mass media, politicians and the law. He’ll be giving a workshop on Political Art in Russia (in Hamburg) and lectures about his work (in Berlin and Dresden).

Also, a new work by Dmitry Krymov, O.H. Late Love, will be presented for the first time in Western Europe. We will also show a project by Olga Jitlina, who poses the question: Is translation is possible?. She works with refugees and opera singers, and has transformed several applications for asylum into arias. And then there's the performance of Antibodies (to be shown both in Berlin and Hamburg), which reflects on the murder of a young antifascist in St. Petersburg.

Apart from this year’s main focus for Balagan!!!, within the general Festival program we are again working with the Icelandic Dance Company, which will be performing Black Marrow (by Erna Omarsdottir and Damien Jalet), and Lecture on Borderline Musicals and Lazyblood by Erna Omarsdottir and Valdimar Johannsson. From Norway we will present Bridge over Mud by Verdensteatret. Within the music program there will be Múm (Iceland) and the Yxus Ensemble (Estonia).

Sasha Pirogova. Biblimlen, 2000

How will the program differ in each of the cities that the Festival takes place in (Berlin, Hamburg, Dresden and Bern)?

In fact, it will be four different Festivals in the four different cities. However, there will be content-related connections. Also, the program in Dresden and Bern has a focus on dance. In Hamburg and Berlin the focus is on the performing arts. Apart from this, there will be the exhibition BALAGAN!!! – Contemporary Art from the Former Soviet Union and Other Mythical Places, curated by David Elliott, that we will present in cooperation with MOMENTUM, in three venues across Berlin. With this exhibition – which features works by over 50 artists from Russia and the former Eastern Block – as well as the first retrospective to be held outside of Russia on the works of Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe (1969-2013), Berlin will see a stronger focus on fine art than in the other cities.

How would you characterize the Northern European and Baltic performing arts scene? What makes it unique and differentiates it from the performing arts grown in other parts of Europe?

The North European and Baltic performing arts scene has its own independent taste; it is less oriented towards the Central European scene. It can also be characterized by its openness for experiment – it feels like the artists are more willing to embrace failure in order to try to find their own authentic and unique artistic approach.