Igor Shyshko, occupies the box in quest of understanding the world we live in but also the space that is left for movement and agency. Choreography is all about time and space and the restrictions that allow the body to move in a certain way and not in another. The Box by its extreme limitations produces a kind of ‘natural’ choreography: the struggle of the body to find comfort in a severely restricted space, within a long 12h time frame.
DECONSTRUCTIVISM - LIVING LIFE IN BOXES
Interview with Igor Shyshko - By Elke Van Campenhout
‘I remember looking at Russian movies, when I was a kid, and not understanding the propaganda behind the story. Growing up, I think we never really get rid of the habits we grew up with. The frames that have educated our gaze, that provoke a twinge of nostalgia whenever we are confronted with them again at a later age. Even if, at that point, you can see the programming that is going on in ‘my’ culture, a part of you is still entangled with the growing up part, with the atmosphere of that era and culture.
I have to realize now that most of my childhood memories are tainted by propaganda. Growing up in Belarus, we were fed with Russian values. The Belarussian culture was almost non-existent, and we were taught at home and in school that the USSR was bringing peace to the whole world, that the Americans were out to destroy us and take over independent countries, and that values like ‘purity’, ‘loyalty’ and ‘solidarity’ were crucial in our understanding. ‘Pure’ you have to understand here in a socialist way: everything belongs to everybody, we are bound to greatness through sacrifice, and we need to be honest with ourselves and with the government, because in the end, we should all have the same purpose.
Growing up, in the 1980’s, no one really believed in these things anymore. It was a sudden shift from the decade before, when the system was still in place as a beacon of trust. In my teenage years, I must say to my own shame, I was not interested in politics at all. I was only interested in becoming a dancer.
It was my sexual orientation that opened my critical perspective, and that maybe also propelled me out of the country to come to Europe, to study at PARTS. Although I struggled with the difference in social norms, with the rampant individualism in which you promote yourself and rival others, it didn’t sit well with my deeply engrained socialist values. Also on an emotional level, I was used to Big Feelings and dramatic gestures. Which probably was a left-over from studying Russian literature. Which, by the way, excluded critical writers like Bulgakov (who ended up in prison), or Solzjenitsin).
I realized in that period how the ‘boxes’ which you grew up in, somehow always will stay with you, even if you move. It takes a long time to escape these boxes, and most of the time we just enter into another one, another form of propaganda, another way of framing the world. Only the boxes in some parts of the world are rather small. They keep you from moving and breathing freely…
I think that if I would have stayed in Belarus, I would have never been able to think ‘outside of the box’, and see the propaganda for what it was. Although already at 16, I refused to go to KOMSOMOL, which was a kind of communist youth movement, in which you prepared to become part of the party. Everyone had their own propaganda tasks. Mine was to prepare a weekly session of ‘news’ reporting: what was going on in the world, at that time especially around the Star Wars project, collecting information from different sources. But although the sources seemed quite diverse, they only supported one core Truth about the situation.
At this point I feel the situation makes it very difficult to talk to my family. My father is convinced that Europe is biting itself in the tail, moving from the second world war against Nazism, into a continent that is supporting the new Nazism e.g. by not allowing Russians to speak their own language in Ukraine. And the rest of Europe supporting that discriminatory stance. My father is deeply connected to the unions and the Communist party. My mother believes I’m brainwashed by Western values, and that I do not see clearly. She cannot understand that I released myself from the beliefs I was brought up with. We just have to agree not to talk about politics. But it makes you wonder if, maybe, not every citizen is in some way already a collaborator to the system they live in. That you have little choice, if you are not willing to forcefully resist.
At this point I have to acknowledge, that my identity as a ‘Belarus person’ is fake, it doesn’t exist. It was based on a school system that perverted the truth, on films that were pure propaganda. I see now that they were all related to the politics of the time. Not so different from some of the great Hollywood films of course. And I also see that coming here I have adapted to new boxes: my body being trained to behave and move in a certain way at PARTS, following mathematical structures in Rosas, moving out of the closet into the gay box, into the yogic body, … Here, the boxes can be based on a more individual perspective of self-discovery.
In my research, I am specifically looking into these bodies, and the movement that a body is allowed to engage in, to be perceived as ‘right’. As a dancer my body has been deeply disciplined, so what would it be like to let go of that skill, to let go of that ‘freedom’ of movement, and work with different bodies, other space requirements, other time frames?
In The Box my body is not allowed to move at all, it is clearly caught up by the circumstances it finds itself in. It is locked in. This is the box we usually do not see, but that every performer, but also every citizen is compressed into. And within that constriction the choreography of daily life plays out.’