Mediating the Liberated Body: Representations of Modern Dance in Soviet Avant-garde Cinema

October 22, 2015
Coor Hall 4411
Event Description: 

Ana Hedberg Olenina, Ass’t Professor of Russian Film Studies, University of North Carolina, Wilmington.

Originally from Lithuania, Professor Olenina completed her Ph.D. degree (Harvard, 2012) in comparative literature with a field in film studies, and writes on avant-garde Soviet cinema. She is currently on leave and in residence at Arizona State University.


In 1920s Russia, avant-garde film was developing alongside modern dance, and the two arts often drew on each other’s stylistic and conceptual achievements. This paper considers approaches to the cinematic mediation of dance and expressive movement, as they were articulated by the Choreological Laboratory of the Russian State Academy of Artistic Sciences (RAKhN) and two pioneers of montage, Lev Kuleshov and Dziga Vertov. Revealing shared sources of inspiration and mutual influences, I compare these authors’ conceptions of dance as a live performance and as a cinematic event. The goals of my study are twofold. First, my paper aims to historicize the techniques and instruments used for staging and representing movement. In particular, I want to underscore the role of Moscow’s Central Institute of Labor (CIT), which promoted chronophotographic studies of labor efficiency and biomechanics, and disseminated its methods in avant-garde circles. I argue that the approaches to the study of movement inherited from science blended with modern choreographic and theater discourses, becoming a springboard for Russian experiments in both cinema and modern dance. The second goal of my chapter is to analyze the philosophical issues formulated and explored in these experiments. How did authors theorize epistemological capabilities of cinema as a medium? How does cinema convey the character and duration of movement, and in what way does film viewing differ from real-time observation in the theater?


Dr. Ana Hedberg Olenina specializes in 20th-century Russian literature and film, with a focus on the Soviet avant-garde. She has published in Film History, Discourse, and Kinovedcheskie Zapiski and is currently completing a monograph entitled Psychomotor Aesthetics: Conceptions of Gesture and Affect in Russian and American Modernity, 1910’s-1920’s. She received her Ph.D. from Harvard and her M.Phil. from Cambridge University.