Animal Dances: innovative theatre “InZhest” from Minsk challenges Belarusian public with its performances

Dances of Animals

Innovative theatre “InZhest” from Minsk challenges Belarusian public with its performances

People in Minsk are not used to surprises. “Looking normal” is the basic rule of life in this city of clean streets and vigilant police patrols. Don’t stick out, behave yourself, dress like everybody else – the echo of this Soviet-era mantra is still very powerful. However, even in Minsk there’s place for the unexpected. The outdoor performances of “InZhest” theatre are something even a spoiled Westerner would remember for a very long time, let alone a Minsk resident.


…The concert hall “Minsk” is a massive concrete building, which is settled on the bank of river Svislach like a giant white turtle. It’s a warm summer evening of 2006. The courtyard of the concert hall, usually deserted, is full of spectators. The people are speechless. They are staring at the odd figures in tuxedos and bow ties. They resemble some weird clowns, holding on to their black umbrellas as if just about to be blown away by the wind. The clowns are followed by the new set of characters, which enter the open-air stage walking on stilts. It takes some time for the public to realize, that the figures on stilts exist in a different dimension. They are wondering around, intensively peering into the public with their blind eyes, trying to lighten up the imaginary darkness with torches. Though being seen by everyone, they don’t see anybody.

The background music changes its tone, and another character emerges. Using all of its limbs, it is walking on four stilts. The creature is reminiscent of both Salvador Dali paintings and Venice carnival characters. Suddenly, its stilts erupt with sparks. They grow stronger and stronger, until the whole scene is drowned in the fire...


A performance by “InZhest” can enrapture or startle you, but it definitely will not leave you indifferent. Founded in 1980 by a student group of the BelarusianUniversity of Culture, the theatre was first called “Zhest” (‘gesture’). Its actors began with exploring different forms of pantomime, and later turned to commedia del'arte and Japanese butoh dance. Since 1995 they fused all these approaches into the original system of training, which they called "Dances of Animals".


All performances of “InZhest” are very different, ranging from solo actions to full-scale shows, such as “Reversio”, a play, which uses a stadium as a stage and involves the deployment of fire trucks and lifting cranes. Indeed, the theatre is often changing its stages, but not always for artistic reasons. In Belarus, “InZhest” is often a small grain of sand in the eye of the all-seeing state control. One of the very first performances of the theatre, "Adventures of the Good Soldier Schweik" (1983), was banned by the authorities of the Institute of Culture for allegedly containing a great number of "political mistakes". In 2006 the new performance “DK Dance” was thrown out of the state-owned theatre in Minsk with a scandal. A school teacher brought a group of school kids to the theatre and was outraged to see “a naked body on stage”. She filed a written complaint to the Ministry of Culture, and the reaction was immediate: the theatre has to go. 

However, “DK Dance”, mistaken by the teacher for pornography, is, in fact, a play about freedom. It tells a story of a crawling man, who is striving to take possession of stilts, which belong to some superior creatures. But, having received the desired ability to walk, he realizes that the stilts only limit his movements, and decides to shed them. Finally, a new person is born, dancing like mad, fully naked. And – this episode is played by Vyachaslau Inazemtsau, director and spiritual inspirer of the theatre.

Despite some problems at home, the theatre is often given the best stage abroad. On November 1, 2007 “DK Dance” will be performed in Moscow, on the stage of the renowned MeyerholdCenter.

“It is not possible to describe with words what Inazemtsau creates. His theatrical language is not connected to our everyday language, and his images do not correspond to our intellectual clichés. His element is sub-consciousness”, writes Andrey Kureychyk, one of the most famous contemporary Belarusian playwrights, in his interview to “Belorusskaya Gazeta”.


“InZhest” sticks to the principles of the pure, archaic theatre, where the action is being born within an actor. For Vyachaslau Inazemtsau, many elements, which exist in a dramatic play – such as the script, scenery, and music – are extraneous features, acquired with time. “Let’s take away everything unnecessary – and we will see a “naked” actor on the “naked” stage. Come on now, show what you can do without extra means at your disposal!” says the theatre’s director. Official recognition is definitely not his top priority.

On evenings, Vyachaslau Inazemtsau teaches young people in a theatre studio, situated in a modest panel building on the outskirts of Minsk. The participation fee is not high even according to Belarusian standards. Inazemtsau obviously doesn’t make a fortune with his lessons, but finds new talents for his theatre.


Does “InZhest” consider the possibility of receiving state support? Its director always knew that it would be impossible. The state lacks money for culture, but at the same time it demands from the theatre to become its structural entity, follow the plans, and produce at least one play every year. “But what if I have no new ideas for 5 years in a row?” asks Inazemtsau. “InZhest” doesn’t like to be constrained with some obligations or instructions. Preparing the play “Reversio” took 3 years. Another performance, “Elka Y” was ready in just a week.

The future of the theatre is not clear. “The main thing is to play”, believes Vyachaslau Inazemtsau.  “You can keep on saying what a genius you are, but if you have no opportunity to perform on the stage, show yourself to the public, then all this is just empty words. The theatre exists only in contact with the audience. This is our plan for the future”.


By Ales Kudrytski


Official WebSites of “InZhest”:


“InZhest” performances (video):