Issue 41 (2013)

Ivan Vyrypaev: Delhi Dance (Tanets Deli, 2012)

reviewed by Volha Isakava © 2013

delhiIvan Vyrypaev’s new feature film Delhi Dance is called in the credits “seven films by Ivan Vyrypaev.” It is presented as a series of seven vignettes revolving around interaction of several characters as they wait on a bench in a hospital hallway. Each vignette is treated like a film in its own right, with its own opening and closing credits, and is preceded by a different opening quote, which—taken together—comprise a cryptic and poetic statement of all seven films: “Inside the dance. You sense. Calmly and attentively. Inside and outside. In the beginning and in the end. At the bottom and on the surface of a dream.” The premise of the film is that an ordinary ballet dancer Katia, played by Vyrypaev’s wife Karolina Grushka, created the eponymous “Delhi dance” after an epiphany at a Delhi’s open market. After finding herself in a slum, surrounded by human misery and suffering, animal carcasses next to food stands, and cheap consumerism targeting Western tourists, Katia became overwhelmed with compassion and pressed a hot iron rod from the nearest grilling stand to her heart. This moment became the catalyst for the creation of the dance. While never shown, the dance is praised and elaborated on throughout the film as a thing out of this world in its beauty and impact, a metaphor for the human condition as well as a way to transcend it. While we know of the dance only through discourse about it, the film’s main narrative progresses through the dialogue between the characters as they await news usually pertaining to the death of a loved one, and sometimes their successful recovery. The characters are Katia herself; her mother Alina, who is dying of cancer; “an older woman,” a ballet critic and admirer of Katia’s art; Katia’s lover, Andrei; and his spoken of but never shown wife, who commits suicide after discovering their affair; and a young nurse, who regularly interjects with mundane requests until she bursts into a monologue about the fear of mortality. Katia is undoubtedly the much admired heroine, whose dance is the lynchpin of the film. She talks like a guru about her heart “which is one and the same as love” and how our heartbeats are the music and every little movement of our lives is a part of a dance to this music. She bears visual markers of simplicity and enlightenment. She wears free-flowing clothes in simple colors (black, white, brown), and, in contrast to her mother and the ballet critic, lacks both make-up and jewelry, while the two women wear oversized pearl necklaces and bright nail polish, presumably marking their worldliness and artificiality. Katia is the avatar of hope and salvation.

delhiThe film’s narrative consists of circular and non-linear patterns, which loop back onto each other, with various groups of characters often re-enacting the same dialogues and situations, or presenting alternative resolutions to narrative threads. Almost every major character in different vignettes dies in the hospital, and is then resurrected in an alternate play-out of the story. This circular, non-linear narrative is close to the one in Pulp Fiction, which is not a far-fetched analogy for Vyrypaev’s film. The director once expressed interest in “reflecting the depth and meaning of life as we find in Tarkovsky through the methods we find in Tarantino” (Kutlovskaia  2004). Indeed, the film explores its philosophical underpinnings through profound, if lengthy, monologues and it investigates the existential angst of characters as they confront death, all the while using Pulp Fiction’s narrative strategies. However, unlike Pulp Fiction, it is impossible to temporally connect the narrative parts in Delhi Dance: the film insists on the atemporal nature of its seven vignettes as they overlap, sometimes continue, and sometimes contradict each other. If time is an uncertain measurement in the film, it is literally frozen in space, providing a fixed vantage point for the viewer. There are two visual and narrative constants in the film: all conversations inevitably lead to the metaphysical discussions of the dance, and all action in the film takes place in the same setting. One can say that in his previous films, such as Euphoria (2006), Vyrypaev was deliberately and overtly cinematic, taking full advantage of the medium. Delhi Dance, on the other hand, feels very much like a theatre play transposed onto the screen, perhaps, unsurprisingly so, as it was originally written for the theatre. The use of space, the choice of the minimalist hospital setting and the restrained cinematography also contribute to the theatre-like atmosphere in the film. Its only mise-en-scene is the bench in front of the bleak, tiled, off-white hospital wall. The characters usually assume frontal position towards the camera, mostly confined to the sitting poses. They complete the minimalist tableau, whose static cinematography is broken in crucial moments of intimacy and understanding, such as the episode when Katya and her mother reconcile. In these moments the film uses extreme close-ups, providing almost a sensory, haptic experience, dwelling on the surfaces of faces, necks and hair of the characters. These intensely visual moments are rare as most of the film’s development is anchored in the incessant talking of the characters. Ironically, at the end of the film even the characters cannot stand their own talking anymore, and with yet more verbiage explain to each other that “in the beginning was silence.”

delhiIt has been argued that Vyrypaev (and other artists who are part of the New Drama movement) is preoccupied with issues concerning the power of language and cultural representations to create meaning and produce authentic experiences; such mistrust of language and cultural metanarratives has roots, among other things, in Antonin Artaud’s theatre of cruelty and postmodernist philosophy (Beumers and Lipovetsky, 2009). Consequently, Vyrypaev’s artistic vocabulary aims to chart non-verbal experiences conveyed through such terms as “oxygen,” [kislorod], “to sense” [oshchushchat’], “euphoria” [eiforiia] or “dance” [tanets] - which are also the titles of his films. Delhi Dance advocates a “feel, not think” sensory philosophy with overtones of Eastern religious thought of the interconnectedness of all beings, and compassion transforming suffering into beauty—all exemplified by the dance metaphor. However, the film achieves this mostly through exceedingly long and passionate monologues and dialogues. They are also embellished with metaphors and allegories, which explain life and death, the existence of beauty and the Holocaust, the ability for compassion, and notably the condemnation of anyone who criticizes and analyzes beauty instead of creating it (like film critics). I suspect that, by the film’s logic, to render the metaphor of “dance” to the visual cinematic representation would be to pin down, and ultimately destroy, its non-representative, transcendental nature. This is why the film “dances around” the dance—talking and talking about how feeling, sensing, and dancing is the salvation for all of us stuck in the “wheel of samsara” of suffering and death.

delhiIt seems, though, that the metaphor of dance in the film is more than just a metaphor. On the meta-cinematic level the seven films could be viewed as separate dance movements that come together as a poem, and as a full circle from the death of the mother and inability of the heroine to grieve, to the reconciliation of mother and daughter. The closing credits, meticulously repeated after each film, are made to combine and connect with each other, as if performing an elaborate dance of words. The film starts with a gradual transition from black and white to color as we observe a cleaning lady, mopping the floors in front of the bench, while Katia alone is sitting at its left end. The cleaning lady is setting the stage for the show that repeats itself and in the end comes to a full circle. The film ends with another solo shot, this time of the nurse, sitting at the far right end of the bench as the film fades into black and white to a non-diegetic song by Boris Grebenshchikov. In short, through its very structure the film attempts to recreate the “dance” as an infinite fluidity of being, based on repetition and return, scattered through time but passing in transit or briefly focused in one point in space. There is a certain contradiction between this goal and the fact that the film can come across as impossible in its endless metaphors and its eagerness to educate everyone about its spiritual truths. Its saving grace is that the film is marked by a certain sincerity (and here Tarkovsky comes to mind again) that moved me as a viewer,[1] even though it seemed almost incongruous. This sincerity attempts to join the praxis of filmmaking with the abstraction of the film’s philosophy, the linguistic representation with the transcendental, non-discursive experience—whether it succeeds or not is another matter. I would let the viewers decide for themselves.

Volha Isakava
University of Ottawa


1] Vyrypaev talks about this sincerity, or the new “openness” without copies, or what one could call post-postmodernism in an interview to Dom aktera newspaper, re-posted in a personal blog.

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Works Cited

Birgit Beumers and Mark Lipovetsky, Performing Violence. Literary and Theatrical Experiments in New Russian Drama, Bristol and Chicago: intellect, 2009

Kutlovskaia, Elena, “Ya—konservator,” (interview with Ivan Vyrypaev), Iskusstvo Kino, 2 (2004)

Delhi Dance. Russian Federation, 2012.
Color, 90 minutes.
Director: Ivan Vyrypaev
Script: Ivan Vyrypaev
Producers: Anna Ragozina, Konstantin Panfilov, Violetta Krechetova
Production: Fastmovie, Addressfilm
Cinematography: Andrei Naidenov
Art direction: Margarita Ablaeva
Music: Andrei Samsonov, Boris Grebenshchikov
Sound: Roman Khokhlov
Editing: Marius Blinstrubas
Cast: Karolina Grushka, Kseniia Kutepova, Igor’ Gordin, Arina Marakulina, Inna Sukhoretskaia

Ivan Vyrypaev: Delhi Dance (Tanets Deli, 2012)

reviewed by Volha Isakava © 2013