Dancing at Sozh

[b]Gomel hosts international dance festival[/b]In the mid-1990s, the idea appeared to create a festival for each Belarusian town. Gomel soon decided to theme its festival around dance. Famous Belarusian choreographer Alexander Rybalchenko laid the foundations in the post-war years, influencing professionals henceforward and ensuring that children enjoyed many opportunities to develop their dance skills in Gomel.
Gomel hosts international dance festival
In the mid-1990s, the idea appeared to create a festival for each Belarusian town. Gomel soon decided to theme its festival around dance. Famous Belarusian choreographer Alexander Rybalchenko laid the foundations in the post-war years, influencing professionals henceforward and ensuring that children enjoyed many opportunities to develop their dance skills in Gomel. Since 1997, the festival has been held at an international level; it began by modestly attracting neighbouring states but has now become popular across the continent.
Sozhski Karagod is organised in two parts: one for amateur dance groups (covering pop, folk and contemporary choreography) and one for international ballroom dancing. The latter awards the Gomel Cup — the Golden Lynx — and is held on a grand scale. Its diverse content is fascinating.
“We primarily focus on dance philosophy and its diversity,” notes Yekaterina Degtyareva, the Head of the Gomel Mayoral Office’s Culture Department. She’s confident that the festival will enjoy a long life. “Dance accompanies us through our whole life, bringing joy, filling us with energy and helping us see the world with different eyes. Dance is gaining popularity, being interesting not only to professionals but to thousands of ordinary people who gain pleasure from dancing as a hobby and to keep fit.”
This year, the festival included a bright opening ceremony at Tsentralny Stadium, a stunning carnival parade through the city and the Musical Assembly classical concert in the grounds of Rumyantsev-Paskevich Palace. The city was transformed by dance, with almost every hall giving performances, and street stages set up for the public’s enjoyment. Everyone found themselves wanting to break into dance.
The festival brought together almost 400 artistes and around 20 amateur dance groups from Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Estonia, Latvia and France. The most outstanding included Baltabele, from Latvian Liepāja, and Moldovan Lozioara. Costumes and musical accompaniment were assessed alongside the choreography and technical skills of each group; with so many strong contenders, the jury’s task was extremely challenging. Eventually, Hopsani, from Estonia, won the folk nomination and Alesya, from Mogilev, was named best for modern choreography. The Grand Prix of the festival was awarded to the Belarusian State University of Culture and Arts’ Choreography Chair.
“The university is a hub for preserving folk traditions. We have a unique laboratory of Belarusian dance creativity, drawing on dance from past generations; our students are inspired by archive choreography in creating their own routines. At the same time, we also develop contemporary trends,” notes Svetlana Gutkovskaya, the Head of the Choreography Chair, revealing the secrets of success.
“Your festival is wonderful; we’ve never seen anything quite like it,” admits Celine Marmelo, who heads a jazz-dance school in France.
The Golden Lynx WDSF International Dance Competition was no less impressive, with professionals demonstrating their skills and mastery. European and Latin American programmes saw over 400 entrants take part — from Russia, Poland, Slovakia, Greece, Italy, Romania and Montenegro.
“We try to invite world famous pairs, as well as winners of international and European tournaments,” notes Galina Lobanova, who heads Gomel’s Paletki dance club and is a representative of the festival’s organising committee. “This year, for the first time, we have a ‘seniors’ category for those aged over 35. Our society is beginning to understand that dance is life.”
The festival has long been far more than a dance contest, becoming a holiday for everyone. Dance is both beautiful and shows the strength of our human spirit. Every corner of Gomel is filled with creativity and imagination during the cultural event.
A fire show was also held this year, featuring ten fire theatres from Belarus and Ukraine, while an unforgettable Belarusian Festival of Amateur Circus Art was held for the first time.
Belarus’ only Autograph Museum opened during the festival, housed by Herzen Central City Library. Around 700 prominent people’s signatures are on display, including examples by Mother Teresa, the first cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin and Belarusian writer Vasil Bykov. They have left ‘part of their soul’ in Gomel. More are being added, with famous choreographers from around the world donating their signatures following the festival.

By Violetta Dralyuk
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