The Observer, Sunday 26 July 2009
It’s hard to resist a dance work entitled Mass Exercise With Nadia and Olga Sokolski. The piece, by Performance Klub Fiskulturnik, unfolds in a new performance space at the Arcola theatre in Dalston, east London, and returns us to the days of Soviet-block stadium celebrations and ideological gymnastic displays. In the concrete-floored Studio K, we are greeted by the megaphone-toting Olga (Lara Ritosa Roberts), who starts off by putting her garishly track-suited sister, Nadia (Ivana Peranic), through a brisk routine of “artistic” bends, dips and kicks. Nadia, we are told, was awarded prima fiskulturnitza status in 1981.
Then it’s our turn. “Audience, prepare your flags!” Olga barks, and we obediently wave the paper pennants placed on our seats. Soon we’re lining up on stage. “The challenges we face are real, comrades,” Olga sternly informs us. “We must be united in a collective art-body.” And so, to the crackly roar of early 80s Sov-pop, we fall into step behind Nadia. “Come on, citizens!” Olga exhorts, as we lurch through our star-jumps and toe-touches. “Let’s build a better world!”
Mass Exercise is fun and there’s something very touching in its vanished certainties. For Roberts and Peranic, who grew up in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the piece represents a return to childhood. It had its premiere at Central St Martin’s College of Art in 2007 and has since been expanded into a series of site-specific performances. Others are planned, perhaps in a city square near you. Enthusiasts of Iron Curtain physical culture should tune into the usual frequencies for information.
London Theatre Blog, Wednesday 22 July 2009
Exploring the relationship between ideology and body culture, the piece takes its material from the archetypal Eastern European gymnasts of the 1970s. Based on Fiskultura, the theory and practice of physical culture practiced during Soviet communism, Nadia and Olga walk us through a series of warm-ups and simple exercises that eventually persuade us to join in the mass dance-exercise-celebration (and who cares what we’re celebrating?).
Olga (Lara Ritosa Roberts) is Nadia’s (Ivana Peranic) instructor. Using text based on speeches by the former Yugoslavian leader Tito, and sound from military parades and Ex- Yugoslavian music, Olga talks Nadia and us through the warm ups that progress into dance sequences. I am encouraged to wave a flag (red, white and blue, the former Yugoslavian flag) and, without even realising, I’m up on stage joining in some dance-celebration.
Based on a very simple progressive structure, packed with double meanings and two very well rounded characters, Mass Exercise is a piece that challenges the notion of identity and the embodiment of ideology. It alludes to a socialist realism that links body and ideology, transforming the body into a mechanism that can be owned and controlled.
The movements taken from Fiskultura pamphlets are simple, robotic, architectural and, well, educational. The dance the audience is invited to join in contains sequences of movement with names such as ‘propeller of change’, ‘greet the revolution’ and ‘fight the enemy’. It’s not only a look back into an archive of physical experience, but a satire of collective art (we are reminded during the performance that we are a community of comrades who wish to collectively create better art) explored through a physical text.
Diana Damian – www.londontheatreblog.co.uk/adventures-in-movement-part-2/
Open Dialogues, Tuesday 27 May 2008
The sisters’ artistic rally call for ‘An art that everyone can join in with, an art that is alive!’ is sincere and provides a much needed antidote to a plethora of commercial art world products. It is hard to argue against great fun and good physical exercise in the form of live art.
Rachel Lois Clapham – www.open-dialogues.blogspot.com