I am continuously fascinated by creative, strong, young-spirited women whose age does not stop them from exploring, seeking experiences that fulfill and develop them, personally and professionally. I recently met such a woman, Galina Borissova, a Bulgarian choreographer and dancer appreciated by the international artistic environment. She recently came to the The National Center for Dance Bucharest for a workshop with 12 young artists enrolled in the “Dance and Performance Academy”. One of the days she was in Romania, I had the chance to be in the audience at one of her open classes. At the end, we sat and talked about performance, choreography, her life as an artist, strengths and weaknesses. About what she wants to pass on to young artists, and how she creates stage projects, starting from anything, even from a phone.

Galina is an interesting woman with overflowing energy and an imposing stature. She is a particularly physically expressive artist, very mobile and tonic. In her case, age really does seem like just a number. She has a contagious liveliness and doesn’t sit still for long. One moment she’s talking to you, the next she gets up from her chair and shows you what she speaks about, using her body. I found incredible her relationship with her body, how lovingly she talks even about the scar on her left cheek that prevented, but somehow helped her, from entering ballet school.

Galina Borissova has created more than 50 performative projects, presented on stages all over the world, she is the initiator of the International Festival “Etud and friends”, program director and resident artist at the Etud gallery in Sofia, author of the book “Dance images and artistic preferences”, published at the New Bulgarian University. She is also a blogger. 🙂 She writes criticism and texts about the performing arts on her blog.

Galina Borissova at The National Center for Dance Bucharest. Photo by: Mihai Ivașcu

I would like to start by turning back in time: how did your journey in dance start?
In my neighborhood, there used to come a Russian ballet teacher who taught ballets lessons. I went where he was giving classes to learn ballet, in a non-professional way. He told me I should go to a ballet school, I said “ok” and I went to take the exam to be accepted in the ballet school. There were 2 intense days, they would look at our bodies and gave us some tests. Anyway, I was not accepted in the first year, and they told me that it was because I have a scar on my face. It’s here, you see it? I have it because I burnt myself when I was a child. (she turns her left cheek and she shows me the scar)
One of the teachers told me then that, if I had surgery and solved my scar, they would accept me in school. They probably had no reason for rejecting me, I don’t know why she said that. The fact is that I didn’t give up, I went again next year. I went to the director of the school and said to him: “Last year, a woman told me that if I had surgery and corrected my scar, I will be accepted in this school”. He was very surprised, he asked me if I had any ballet experience. I told him that I had only 2 years and he told me that I was admitted. So, I got into the ballet school by chance.

How old were you then?
I was 10. I enjoyed very much that period, but it was also very difficult, because it is difficult when you start ballet school at this age. It was kind of a struggle, the children my age were already ahead of me, they started also to study the piano, so I had to recover everything fast. You know, I did not have a good body for ballet, it was hard for me. In time, I tried to study other things and techniques and I’ve come to enjoy very much creating projects. Analyzing now that experience, I think it was good that I was accepted later because I had time to build my character stronger, as we were in a very competitive environment. It’s very hard for a child who studies music, dance. I never had any free time, because we would study and practice all day long.

How many years did you study ballet?
9 years. Before 1989, the theaters invited students or graduates to join their theaters. And someone told me that I could have a job in Veliko Tarnovo, if I wanted. I said “Ok, thanks, I don’t want to go there”, so I stayed one year without job, then I went to an experimental theatre in Gabrovo for 2 years. That was my first job, in a theater where I experienced artistic varieties, with a lot of actors. I enjoyed very much working with actors. I used to bring a lot of theatricalities in my moves back then, but now it is so old fashion. Now, I enjoy a lot doing diverse moves with my body. (she stands up, contorts, twists, shows me what kind of movements she likes to perform with her body: fluid, unstudied, free)
At the beginning, my choreographies were full, like for 5 programs (she laughs). I remember someone from Holland saying “Galina is very good, but it is like a lot of things happen in the show, a lot of surrealistic things”. I enjoyed choreographing in an old fashion way, like showing them steps, taking materials and organizing everything, but now, no one is doing this anymore. Slowly, I started enjoying doing solo projects, even if it is a big struggle to create and perform a solo work.

I remained connected to the ballet, at least in my first choreographies, when I had to improvise something, I was immediately coming back to ballet

What happened next on your artistic journey?
After I left my first job, I studied different things in dance and performance, trying to find my way. I went to Dresden in Germany then I’ve got in the International Choreographers Residency Program a Scholarship in American Dance Festival. It was in 1996. There, I was so excited to see for the first time some new things and to learn a lot.

You had already left the ballet behind for good?
Yes, totally, but I remained connected to the ballet, at least in my first choreographies, when I had to improvise something, I was immediately coming back to ballet.
I was lucky because I had a lot of support abroad, I traveled a lot, did a lot of co-productions, including here in Romania, with Cosmin Manolescu and other performers. Then, one moment, when I was in my 40s, I started getting tired to be all the time in a different country, a different hotel and I decided to apply for money in Bulgaria, to build something there.

Have you ever wanted to move out of Bulgaria?
I had the opportunity to move out of Bulgaria, but I did not take it. One theatre school from Holland offered me a teacher position. I wondered if saying “no” was a mistake back then, but I was on a peak in my career and had the opportunity to create all over the world, to see places, know people. I refused because I did not feel to stay in one place only. This was frightening for me, also because I felt like I did not have the time to do anything for me after those years stuck in the school. I wanted to have freedom to move, to create. I mean, it is horror for me to be in one place from 9 to 5. This is the way with all the artists. (she laughs)

Have you been an independent all this time?
Yes, all my life I have been independent artist. I traveled a lot between my 30s and 40s and after. I was dancing, mostly in my projects. I worked in different projects: Canadian, Cech, Italian, American. I went abroad, I won one competition in Holland (n.r. In 1998, Galina won first prize for the performance “A Never Ending Story” in Groeningen/Holland at the International Choreographer’s Competition), I got a recognition there and people started to respect me in Bulgaria so I was back in my country working. I taught a lot some years ago, not like a regular teacher, but a guest in different places. And I enjoyed this very much, there was a lot of good energy, but in one moment I stopped doing this. With this workshop I held here in Bucharest at the National Dance Center, I felt I reconnected to that energy, showing youngsters things, teaching them.

How is your life now in Sofia?
Since 2015, me and one of my friends, whom I studied ballet with, have a small dance studio in Sofia, Etud. She started 20 years ago to support the independent dance sector from her private money and she bought one space, like a small gallery of 75 sqm, so we have it for different things now. I do my own performance projects there. I create and invite people to see my performances. It is also a rehearsal space, we lent it for free to artists who do not have a place to practice. We support a lot independent Bulgarian artists.

I was always inspired by how I can take a topic, atypical for dance, and see where I can go from it, what I can create around it

What inspires you to create, Galina?
Any project is absolutely different. First, I find inspiration in music, different retro songs or whatever. After some years, I did some pieces inspired by literature, I had a project starting from Cehov, with 5 actors who did not know the text, they only had their headphones on listened and moved. It was kind of an atypical interpretation of Cehov. Then, I did a solo after Virginia Wolf, I had also one based on Marcel Proust’s life living in bed, in a minimalist way. So, you see, I was always inspired by how I can take a topic, atypical for dance, and see where I can go from it, what I can create around it. Now I have a new project, we will have the premiere this December, is based on the interference of technology in our lives.

Can you create a performance based on anything?
Yes, of course. I can start from this phone, for instance: what is the telephone for you, then you research information about the telephone and you create. Regarding the moves I use, I never use moves that were used before. I am very interested in moves that show best the topics I choose for my shows.
I am very inventive I think, since I was a child. I remember, we used to play one creative game when I was in the ballet school. Before entering a room, we had to express something without talking, to ”tell” a story only with our bodies. Then, if people liked it, they would let you in, if not, they would say it was closed. I remember I was very good in inventing something new every time. After finishing the ballet school, I kept on being interesting in this: inventing something new in my work.

Photo by Ani Collier

How did you refine your performing style?
I found my personal performative style through a lot of work, a lot of study, a lot of thinking. My talent is a gift, but I worked a lot. I never took university classes, I don’t have a diploma, but I studied a lot with different people and enjoyed it a lot. I went everywhere to take the workshops I wanted, to discover and learn new styles. I am still curious, if I find something interesting, but not so much nowadays. Now, I am interested more in studying slow moves and working in between things.

What is “in between things”, more specific?
I have this way of working, always in between. Also, my workshop here in Bucharest was based on “in between”: vertical and horizontal, sad and happy, slow and fast. So, you see, it is not only one thing you can explore through performance, the richest experiences are the ones when the creation process is more complicated. When you have to mix things. Also, I think it is very important to have some sense of humor when working with performing arts, because sometimes people are very serious. (she laughs heartily).

The solo work came late intro my career because it seemed very difficult to me, but now it is a strength

What is your strength as an artist?
I like leading, therefore I like the solo works a lot. Young artists start with solos because they don’t have money to invite others to join them in their projects. The solo work came late intro my career because it seemed very difficult to me, but now it is a strength. In art, you have the opportunity to be as crazy as you want – maybe sometimes I am wild in my life, but I temper myself, because if I drive very fast, for instance, I will get a ticket. But in a solo performance I can access as much freedom as I want.

What about weakness?
The days I am tired, I feel weakness. Something that I see now as weakness is the day I will have to stop. Because I know I have to stop performing at some point, the door will close.

I don’t like to use a lot of muscles in my moves, you can also bring energy into the movement in a different way, a lighter energy

What do you think young artists expect from you when you are teaching?
The most important are the energy and the involvement, because if I am tired, I cannot teach them. In terms of techniques, it’s important for them to learn how to accumulate, from where the movement comes. They already know many things, I only show them a different perspective: the slow movements that I like so much. Then to go to the extremes. The middle is nothing. I mean, people enjoy very much to perform, but also to see, slow moves, then they like also the explosive ones. But it might become boring in the middle.

I have noticed, here in Bucharest, that you introduced some kind of dance meditation routine, making the performers to get even more connected to their bodies. Do you see dance as a form of meditation?
Maybe not exactly a form, but they are connected a lot. And it is beautiful to see a body relaxing through dance and slow movements. Actually, I don’t like to use a lot of muscles in my moves, you can also bring energy into the movement in a different way, a lighter energy. As you’ve noticed today, I asked the youngsters here in Bucharest to lie down for 5 minutes doing nothing and from there to imagine and perform soft movements with their bodies, laying on the floor.

Getting to the end of our discussion, I’d like to ask you how you felt at The National Center for Dance Bucharest?
Oh, very good, it is very nice here. I came here first time a while ago for one of my co-productions. It’s very nice what happens here. We don’t have such performance places in Bulgaria, except the universities and the theatre schools. I also think you have some talented performance artists, with few of them I’ve had the chance to work.

How did you find Bucharest this time?
Beautiful, I like Bucharest, I stay in a beautiful area. I like to walk on Victoria Street, stop somewhere for a beer or some food, relaxing.

Photo cover by:  Georgi Velichkov

Îți mulțumesc pentru vizită! Sper că ți-a plăcut măcar un pic ceea ce ai citit și că vei reveni! Am și alte povești despre lecții personale și căutări care pot fi ale oricui, despre oameni, locuri văzute și experiențe trăite. Toate materialele publicate aici sunt ale mele și sunt protejate de drepturi de autor. Te rog să nu preiei niciunul fără acordul meu prealabil sau fără menționarea sursei.


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