From Commemorating Lenin to Celebrating Alvin Ailey: Publication Rights in Transition

For most of my summer internship at the Wende Museum, I translated, transliterated, and catalogued Soviet Era Russian documents. For half of my internship, I cataloged Soviet Era documents from the 1930s-early 1980s. Lenin’s portrait, commemorative words towards the October Revolution, and symbols of communist unity appeared on most of these documents. In contrast, the second half of my internship concentrated on documents from the glasnost and perestroika period. These documents represented the emergence of criticism, free speech, open borders, and free creative license. While I have studied the cultural and political transitions between the Soviet Era and the emergence of free speech in Russia during my undergraduate years at Ohio University, tactically touching, smelling, and reading documents in Russian altered and informed my understanding about the connections between the pre-glasnost Soviet era and the glasnost period.

During the first half of my internship I translated a collection of 144 Soviet Era Georgian documents, including: numerous Soviet communist party membership cards, Red Army veteran awards, tickets to party meetings, central committee voting cards, and Soviet service awards, most from the 1950s-1970s. While each card presented different names and dates, the phrase Proletarii vsekh stran soediniaites’! (Proletariats of the world unite!), and portraits of Lenin appeared constantly on documents. This collection revealed that the Soviet Union acquired extensive documentation of their citizens. These state published documents also encouraged citizens to honor the communist state. The Soviet Union rewarded citizens that continued Lenin’s vision of building a proletarian world through service awards presented on days that commemorated the October Revolution and Victory Day. The state published documents from the pre-glasnost period showed unwavering patriotism for the Soviet Union.

During the glasnost and perestroika era, requirements on publication laws thawed within the Soviet Union. The documents from the glasnost and perestroika era presented celebration of cultural and political ideas beyond Lenin’s proletariat vision. An article on the Alvin Ailey Dance Company in the Soviet published newspaper, Pravda, in1990, exemplified the loosening of state controls over journalism and published material. The Ferris/Komov Russian poster collection further demonstrated the allowance of free speech in the glasnost and perestroika era.

The last item that I catalogued in the Georgian collection was a Pravda newspaper with an article of the Alvin Ailey Dance Company tour in 1990 on the front page. Alvin Ailey is the famous African American modern dance company based in New York. Visit the company’s website, http://www.alvinailey.org/, for more information on Alvin Ailey. This article held particular interest for me for several reasons. First, this article complimented my research interests. This past spring I completed a senior honors thesis titled “Free Movement Across Borders: Contemporary dance in the Post-Soviet Era.” For the thesis, I traveled to Moscow for a semester to research Russian contemporary dance, for more information on Moscow contemporary dance visit this website, http://www.sras.org/moscow_modern_dance_movements. I also traveled to the archives at the Jerome Robbins Dance Division in New York City, the largest archive for historical dance documents in the world, to research Russian contemporary dance. I also conducted searches through the Ohio link web service and the worldwide web to find articles about contemporary dance. During my year long research project, I did not find a single article in Pravda that mentioned Russian contemporary dance in the early 1990s. The Alvin Ailey article in Pravda was a distinct research find for me. In addition, this article held significance because no scholar or critic in the Russian or Western press covers Russian contemporary dance full-time. Finding an article on Russian contemporary dance in a popular newspaper is rare. Furthermore, this article represented a switch in Soviet foreign art policy as the government celebrated the return of an American contemporary dance company.

The article in Pravda, “Twenty Years Later” celebrated the return of the Alvin Ailey dance company. The front page showed a photo of dancers performing the Alvin Ailey classic, “Revelations.” The text below complimented the artistry, technique, and expression of the dancers. The text also celebrated the return of an American dance company. This Alvin AIley performance in 1990, was the first contemporary dance performance performed in Russia in twenty years.

The Alvin Ailey dance company previously toured Russia in 1972, during a time in which the United States and the Soviet Union participated in cultural exchanges that promoted the ideals of their nation; capitalism and communism, correspondingly. The Soviet Union sent abroad dance companies that exhibited high levels of technique and presented chorographic themes approved by the state. The Kirov ballet, the Bolshoi ballet, and the Moiseyev National Folk Dance Ensemble represented Soviet dance abroad. In contrast, the United States sent choreographers from the modern dance style, including George Balanchine and Alvin Ailey, that expressed creativity, emotion, and individuality. The war for cultural supremacy between the US and the USSR also carried out in music, fashion, domestic appliances, and the space race. Yet, as the height of the cold war faded, the art exchanges slowed in the Brezhnev era. American dance and contemporary dance did not appear in Moscow until the glasnost and perestroika period. The return of the Alvin Ailey dance company represented a change in art policy by showing a renewed willingness to view international dance.

Furthermore, the tour happened during the time in which Russian contemporary dance was emerging in Moscow, 1988-1992. As Russian contemporary dance was a nascent art form, the term contemporary dance did not even exist in Russian. Instead of using the term modern dance of contemporary dance, the article described the style of Alvin Ailey dance as the style of jazz, classical ballet, and another tradition of dance art. The popular press coverage of the Alvin Ailey dance performance in Moscow by Pravda demonstrated an expansion in dance style discourse. Corresponding with the openness of other art forms in the glasnost and perestroika period, Russian contemporary dance exemplified free expression.

This article also exemplifies the extensive scope of the documents and artifacts contained in the Wende Museum. In addition to the Alvin Ailey article, the museum holds the Ferris/Komov Russian Poster Collection, a collection of 250 dissident posters created in the glasnost and perestroika period. As part of my summer internship, I also translated, transcribed, and catalogued these posters. The dissident posters promoted social, political, and cultural ideas about Russia that contrasted from the earlier Soviet publications. The posters contained images and text that promoted free thinking, open political critique, AIDS awareness, ecological awareness, and artistic freedom. Both the posters of the Ferris/Komov Russian Poster Collection and the Pravda article about the 1990 Alvin Ailey Dance Company tour in Moscow represented artistic freedom and cultural transformation.

These two collections, the pre-glasnost Georgian documents, and the glasnost era publications demonstrated different publication rights; Soviet censorship and free speech. The change from Soviet censorship to free speech marked a significant transition in Cold War history. The dichotomy of state publication from the 1970s with the political posters of the late 1980s captures the cultural transition, the wende, in Soviet history.

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One Response to From Commemorating Lenin to Celebrating Alvin Ailey: Publication Rights in Transition

  1. Very interesting article, but there are some points that I think is more complex. You talk about “documents Represented the emergence of Criticism, free speech, open borders, and free creative license.” Lenin would call it bourgeois rights and I will call it metaphysical concepts. Maybe there was a small elite of Soviet citizens who experienced and were able to exploit what you call “emergence of Criticism, free speech, open borders, and free creative license.” Most of the Soviet population experienced the years of glasnost and perestroika quite different. Again and again we hear people say that “then came perestroika, and all things went wrong”. Social disintegration, economic uncertainty, rising suicide and alcoholism – that’s what ordinary people experienced during that time. I remember a deep alcoholic bum I met in Murmansk. People told me that he had once been a senior officer in the northern fleet. “That was before perestroika” they added resignedly. Similar stories I’ve heard hundreds of times.
    So are you talking about that: “” These state published documents also encouraged citizens to honor the communist state.” There is also another side that you do not get with. The State also honored its Citizens, it is displayed in the many awards you’ve gone through. Ordinary people were honored for the work they did. In addition, some of these diplomas later in life could benefactor that you get a higher pension. In the Soviet Union you honored: craftsman, milkmaid, dishwasher and seaman. It does not happen in our world. What I’m saying is that you should supplement your archival studies with sociological studies.

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