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Dave White

Twitter: @davewhitewrites

Episode 5: Rehearsal Days, Exploring Tashkent, & the Festival of American Culture

May 17, 2014

Rehearsal Days

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In rehearsal

As part of the Festival of American Culture at the Ilkhom, my script Dance On Bones was presented as an improvisation (fully staged, script-in-hand readings).  Gavin, one of the Dance On Bones directors and member of The Seagull Project, does a nice job of talking about this process in his post about Dance On Bones on The Seagull Project site:

A big part of this festival is something that the Ilkhom Theatre calls “improvisations.” Mostly they just call them readings, but it would be hugely misleading to an American theatre-goer to give it the title of such.  It is only a reading in the sense that people have scripts in their hands.  Other than that, there is mostly full tech, blocking, and heavy acting.  Everything is not at full production quality, but it’s enough to give form to not just the words, but the ideas.

As for my work, I arrive at the gallery for the first day of rehearsal about 45 minutes early and one of the actors is already in the space working on one of the more challenging passages in Dance On Bones.

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CT and John in rehearsal (L to R)

I quickly realized that having the playwright watching you make discoveries might be offering a bit of pressure, so I went downstairs at the Ilkhom and perused the graffiti from artists from around the world (Peter Brook is in there somewhere).

Downstairs @ The Ilkhom

Downstairs @ The Ilkhom

When I return to the gallery, the other actors had arrived and, indeed, Alex, CT, Dave, and John are all working, digging, and exploring the textures of Dance On Bones.

CT, Alex, John, and Gavin (L to R) in rehearsal.

CT, Alex, John, and Gavin (L to R) in rehearsal.

For the next several days, I was learning, seeing what other people saw . Seeing how my work spoke to people with an array of tools at their disposal.  Tyler, the other Dance On Bones director who is an alum of the Ilkhom training program, works as the liaison between the American artists and the Uzbek artists; fluidly translating hours of rehearsal and artistic choices between actors, directors, designers, and musicians.

Sanjar and Tyler (L and R)begin layering in the music for Dance On Bones.

Sanjar and Tyler (L and R)begin layering in the music for Dance On Bones.

When Sanjar, the pianist, was added to the mix the work began to take a definitive shape and I could see all of our wheels begin to turn.

Uzbek Jazz Quartet accompanying Dance on Bones

Uzbek Jazz Quartet accompanying Dance on Bones

The rest of the Uzbek musicians were added during our technical rehearsals, the piece began to pop and crackle, pieces began t fall into place.  The musicians riffed on Ennio Morricone’s theme for The Good the Bad and The Ugly filling out the “Showdown at the End of the World” with a distinct American flair.

Rehearsal for "Showdown at the End of the World"

Rehearsal for “Showdown at the End of the World”

Rehearsing "Man of Steel Dreams"

Rehearsing “Man of Steel Dreams”

The days went by fast and I was amazed at how quickly these artists (actors, directors, designers) were making bold choices and bringing this work to life.

Rehearsing "Packs of Dogs Part 2"

Rehearsing “Packs of Dogs Part 2”

And while I am in rehearsal, Rebecca is out exploring Tashkent, wandering the bazaars in the Old City, where  women beckoned her into their shops with invitations of “Beautiful Sister, come see, come see.”  She would return in the evening with stories and photos, a few of which are below:

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Entrance in the Old City, Tashkent.

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Courtyard of historic school in the Old City, Tashkent.

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Entrance to a Mosque in the Old City, Tashkent.

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Dome roof in Tashkent.

 

As the days quickly disappeared until May 1st was upon us and it is time to present a playwriting workshop as well as Dance On Bones as part of the Festival of American Culture.

27 April - 9 May Festival American Culture

27 April – 9 May Festival American Culture

What is the Festival of American Culture?

The Ilkhom Theater of Mark Weil presents Days of American Culture in Tashkent, Uzbekistan from April 27 – May 9, 2014.  Featuring readings of Caridad Svich’s “Archipelago” (in Russian) Mark Chrisler’s “Worse than Tigers” (in Russian/English) and Dave White’s “Dance on Bones” (in English) the festival also included workshops by visiting guest artists from the United States; a presentation of The Seagull by Seattle’s The Seagull Project; and a concert of American classic rock music performed by Uzbek and American musicians.  In 2013, the first Days of American Culture was curated by John Freedman, critic of the Moscow Times and featured improvisations of works by Nilo Cruz, Suzan-Lori Parks, and Deborah Zoe Laufer.

Concert of American Rock Music Poster

Concert of American Rock Music Poster

 

 

Arrival @ Ilkhom (Enter The Seagull Project)

May 14, 2014

Arrival @ the Ilkhom Theatre of Mark Weil (Enter The Seagull Project)

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View from Shodlik Palace Hotel

We didn’t set an alarm. Waking up after breakfast (which the Shodlik served until 10 a.m. each day included with room), we were thrilled to have saved our extra muffins and bagels from the flight (and also that we remembered to pack a quart baggie of nuts and dried fruit). It was late morning and we could see the mountains from our room.

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Close-up of mountains from Shodlik Palace.

Our phone rang and Irina (our gracious, brilliant host from the Ilkhom Theatre of Mark Weil), was waiting in the Lobby.  We left the hotel and walked around the corner to the Ilkhom (it’s in the same complex as the Shodlik).  As we entered the theatre, the cast of Dance On Bones are just wrapping up rehearsals in the gallery located in the lobby.

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Dance On Bones rehearsal in the gallery at the Ilkhom Theatre.

We shake quick hands (I did my best to remember names: CT, John, Dave, and Alex) and Gavin, one of the directors promised to connect after giving notes.  We were thrilled to find a bustling coffee shop in the lobby of the Ilkhom Theatre and ordered two espressos to take the edge off of the jetlag.  Thank goodness it worked.

Aziz, our waiter and future interpreter/guide.

Dave, Aziz, and Rebecca.

After a brief chat with Gavin talking about my sitting in on rehearsals, questions about the play, and a general excitement to get to know each other, we head from the theatre to a Kafe on Navoiy that becomes affectionately known as Chez Aziz because of the waiter, Aziz, who charms us all with his passion about being an interpreter and tour guide (also the Kafe has very reasonable prices, good service, and cold beer).  Our lunch of tomato, cucumber, and onion salad; kabobs; and Shurpa (a soup) tastes wonderful eaten in the spring sunshine.

We meet more members of The Seagull Project at the Kafe and chat through lunch.  Then Rebecca and I take a long walk through a beautiful park alongside a flowing river, kids jumping off the Navoiy bridge, folks picnicking, and just across that river was more park to be explored.  Find a bodega (just a couple of blocks up Navoiy), buy some juice and Q-tips, and get back to the Shodlik Palace before seeing that evening’s show:  Mark Weil’s musical adaptation of John Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat in which Tyler, the other director of Dance On Bones and an Ilkhom training program alum, was going to be acting.

Park along the river off of Navoiy in Tashkent.

Park along the river off of Navoiy in Tashkent.

The following day I was going to sit in on rehearsals (we had 3 rehearsals and a tech day before we presented Dance On Bones), and as excited as I was to get to know everyone, I was also nervous…nervous that this script, this wild idea wrought in the spirit of jazz and the shadows of capitalism/fascism and ecological disaster, would be just that…a disaster and because of that people wouldn’t like me.  I was ready to work, and hoped that everyone else would be too.

 

What is the Seagull Project?

From The Seagull Project website:

The Seagull Project was formed out of a passion for the works of Anton Chekhov, particularly his play, The Seagull. Having met and collaborated on Seattle Shakespeare Company’s wildly successful Threepenny Opera, the founding producers immediately set about creating a new collaboration, one formed around a long-form, actor-driven workshop of Chekhov’s play. They began assembling an ensemble in 2011, and finally completed their cast in spring of 2012, when they began meeting regularly at the University of Washington, and later at Seattle Children’s Theatre, for weekly sessions in which they trained physically, and began to revisit the fundamentals of their craft as actors.

These sessions began in a free-form model in which ensemble members shared their personal training Seagull Reading and Luncheon 046regimens, methodologies, and made dramaturgical presentations on a wide range of topics, from transportation systems in Russia during the 19th Century, to the history of the great Russian estates under the czars, and explorations of Russian music. Gradually, with the addition of Seattle actor and University of Washington theater professor Mark Jenkins, the sessions matured into open explorations of The Seagull itself, beginning with very slow readings of the text and progressing to scene work in which the entire ensemble offered feedback for one another. When Ilkhom Theatre (Tashkent, Uzbekistan) veteran Tyler Polumsky joined the ensemble in the spring of 2011, the final element of the workshop crystalized. Tyler’s highly physical approach to theater allowed the ensemble a rare opportunity to explore in a purely physical and kinesthetic way the world of their characters. Later, the process of creating “etudes,” or inventive character sketches, deepened the ensemble work, and allowed them to creatively approach off-stage moments, or moments from the character’s past.

In December of 2012, the ensemble began working with their director, John Langs (The Adding Machine, Hamlet) in daily sessions in preparation for the full production, which opens on January 25, 2013 at ACT Theatre in Seattle.

The Seagull Project founding producers are Brandon J Simmons, Julie Briskman, John Bogar, Alexandra Tavares and Gavin Reub.

Members of The Seagull Project

 

Arriving in Uzbekistan

May 13, 2014

Arriving in Uzbekistan

Having booked us a flight on Turkish Air (a great decision, they ran right on time and had amenities missing from many other airlines: warm lemon towels, decent food, some leg room, a “travel kit”, etc.) we traveled from Dulles (Washington, DC) to Istanbul (2 hour layover) to Tashkent.

Tashkent Arrival sign

Arrival time in Tashkent, exactly as my eyes saw it 21.5 hours into the journey.

Outside the airport was surprisingly bustling, but we were greeted by a guide with a sign and taken to a taxi outside the airport.  We drove by concrete buildings with ornate accents and trees with white paint reaching up their trunks (for pests we’d later learn).

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Trees in a park on Navoiy Street in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

Our driver from the airport to the hotel was friendly and with a few words of English and a few words of Russian we learned about our Uzbek car and also where to go shopping. Cost: $20 US.

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Shodlik Palace. Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

From house door to hotel room: 23:10.  Worth every minute and crappy movie watched on the flight (Turkish Air has individual monitors for entertainment, I wasn’t forced to watch crappy movies, but who want’s to watch a good movie on a flight?  One glimmer of hope:  Walter Mitty with Ben Stiller set a pretty nice tone for our adventure).

It was 2 a.m. in Tashkent and we had arrived at the Shodlik Palace Hotel. Exhausted and exhilarated, that tingly travel feel of not quite knowing where or when you are.

We took our luggage up.  A moment later I rode the elevator back down to order our first two Sarbast Green of the trip at Hemingway’s, the 24 hour hotel bar.

That night we slept well. Good thing, too, the following day we’d be looking around the Ilkhom Theatre of Mark Weil and perhaps sitting in on a rehearsal of Dance on Bones.

What is the Ilkhom Theatre of Mark Weil?

From Ilkhom Theatre facebook page:

At the present the Ilkhom Theatre remains the only theatre collective in Central Asia with the ability to realize the most ambitious projects, while retaining its political and artistic independence.

Description
The Ilkhom Theatre of Mark Weil is the only professional independent performing arts organization in Uzbekistan was founded in 1976 by legendary director Mark Weil. The Ilkhom Theatre has always been known as a destination of intellectuals’ pilgrimage, a place of concentration and creating of modern cultural environment. The Ilkhom has never been a political figure; nevertheless, this fact didn’t prevent the theatre and its artistic director from being blamed for non-conformism in the years of stagnation in 1980s as well as from being ignored by the power and state bodies supporting culture in the post-Soviet years.

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The Ilkhom Theatre of Mark Weil was the first independent theatre in the Soviet Union. It remains self supporting to this day.

Today this cultural center presents up to 200 performances for more than 25000 spectators a year, runs the whole number of international festival and music programs, the organization’s exhibition space operates up to 8-10 art, photo, visual arts expositions and installations, educational programs of the company outreach wide spectrum of young professionals in visual and performing arts. For the last 20 years the productions of the Ilkhom Theatre have been presented at over 40 international theatre festivals in 21 countries of the world, including USA, Japan, United kingdom, Israel, Germany, Austria, France, Italy, Holland, Denmark, Russia and others.

The Ilkhom Theatre has a repertory of plays: from Mark Weil’s musical adaptation of Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat to Yury Klavdiev’s new piece Water Behind the Wall directed by Vladimir Pankov.

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Coming Attractions board at Ilkhom Theatre of Mark Weil – Tashkent, Uzbekistan

They also have a training program in which students train to become part of their company. This program is open to international students.

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Writing on column in basement of Ilkhom Theatre of Mark Weil

Banned in Uzbekistan (by my own country)

May 12, 2014

Banned in Uzbekistan (by my own country)

Before I went to Uzbekistan, I was banned in Uzbekistan.  Actually I wasn’t banned, but my play Ninjas & Squirrels was pulled from a festival and deemed “too controversial” for the Uzbek community by the U.S. government, in particular some of the folks at the U.S. Embassy.  I hope the folks at the Embassy know that there’s no hard feelings, in fact being banned in Uzbekistan (other than the headaches Ninjaof having to switch scripts mid-stream) may have been one of the best things that could have happened to me or my work.

Now, I appreciate the fact that the Embassy may have been looking out for my safety or they may have been looking out for the image of the United States (and Ninja’s & Squirrels paints a pretty bleak picture of the continuing aftermath of the farm crisis).  It did seem a bit odd that they had a copy of the script since the fall, but the piece was pulled shortly after the revolution in the Ukraine.

Perhaps they were altruistically looking out for the Uzbek people. A community in which very few people speak English (and my play was to be presented in English),  and a theatre that chose to include my play in a festival they were curating, but the Embassy was funding.  The first self-supporting theatre in the USSR.  A theatre which had never been censored in its 43 year history.

Ninjas & Squirrels is an homage to the work of a contemporary Russian playwright.  Said playwright’s work has been presented at the theatre, albeit this work was presented in Russian and therefore outside of the purveyance of the U.S. Embassy (yet is, as of this writing, coming under fire from his own country).

Whatever the Embassy’s reasoning, I’d like to believe they had the best intentions and I’m grateful that both they and the Ilkhom Theatre stood by me and my writing.  Many things happen for a reason and this may be one of them.

As I stood in the back of the theatre on the night of the reading, I thought about how lucky I was to have been banned by the US in Uzbekistan, because here I was, playing a part in the creation of an experience that spoke to us all in ways far beyond words–a play that pushed the boundaries of what a play could be.1215441410235483012lemmling_cartoon_squirrel-svg-med

Once I realized how deeply Dance On Bones connected to the audience, I realized that the Embassy had created an opportunity by swapping out the more traditional play for an ambitious, ethereal, and experimental work; a work that would not have been complete by the previous deadline.  A brand new work with no curse words.  And even with all the obstacles thrown in our path by forces beyond our control–we managed to share stories that connected us all.

As I hope you’ll see in the coming posts, what resulted was a collaborative process that brought together remarkable American actors and directors, a phenomenal Uzbek  jazz quartet, quick-thinking Uzbek designers, AND one non-linear jazz-based script to create a collaborative experience that pushed Dance on Bones into a reality beyond my wildest expectations.  But first I have to get to Uzbekistan.

What is Dance on Bones?

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Musicians jamming at The Hat Bar in St. Petersburg, Russia. A place where jazz is young again.

Dance on Bones is a new script by Dave White
Written: October 2013– January 2014
Revised: March 27, 2014

Dance on Bones is 37 interlocking poems inspired by the jazz scene in St. Petersburg, Russia (see my Dance on Bones research page as well as numerous posts from May/June 2013), but set in a world in which cities have disappeared:  are we in St. Petersburg or New Orleans or St. New PeterOrleansBurg?

An early draft of Dance on Bones was prepared for the Festival of American Culture at the Ilkhom Theater of Mark Weil, Tashkent, Uzbekistan in April/May 2014.

Cast of Characters:
1 – 4 actors
1 – 4 musicians (piano, drums, bass, trumpet)
Shadows, puppets, and advertisements
Notes:
The pages of the script are the template for performance.
Some can be performed as monologues.
Some can be performed as dialogue with indentation indicating changes of voice. Two
are suggested as such.
Some of the pages may be stage directions.
Some of the pages may be told through images, movement, or puppetry.
The pages included after this point can be rearranged.
or
Shuffled into a random order.
or
Performed in a different order each time.
or
Arranged to articulate different ideas.
or
Read around a campfire.
Dance On Bones has been generously supported by:
Cultural Fellowships in Russia, a program of the Likhachev Foundation, funded by The Foundation of the First President of Russia Boris N. Yeltsin and the Committee of External Relations of St. Petersburg and The Dramatist’s Guild via Generous Company.

Uzbekistan Adventures: Found in Translation

May 10, 2014


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With internet issues during the recent trip to Uzbekistan, I have decided to journal my trip to Uzbekistan now that I am back in the States–telling tales of the journey.

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Many of these reflections were indeed written while in Tashkent or Samarkand and all of the photos were taken during our nine day visit.  Some posts will include reflections after the fact and some will simply state what was happening.  I was travelling with my partner, Rebecca, and we both had many of our assumptions about Uzbekistan turned upside down.  Rebecca is the author of most of the photos that will be shared.

We share these photos and reflections to try and communicate what a remarkable place the Ilkhom Theatre is, filled with incredible energy and talents; what a beautiful country Uzbekistan is, home to Samarkand and other places one has only read about; and what a welcoming and generous presence we found while discovering the charm and lure of Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

The driving force behind this journey was a presentation of my new play Dance On Bones at the Festival of American Culture at the Ilkhom Theatre of Mark Weil.  What the trip turned into was the opportunity to connect with artists from Tashkent as well as Seattle who were in residence as part of the Seagull Project; the chance to glimpse a culture on the other side of the world and smell, taste, and breathe with the people for a moment; and the chance to rediscover my own passions and identity as a playwright.

Uzbekistan is an incredible place, it defied every expectation, and extended a welcoming embrace wherever we went.

 

Where is Uzbekistan?

Uzbekistan is in Central Asia. Nine timezones from my home in Baltimore, Maryland (39.2833° N, 76.6167° W).  A main thoroughfare on the Silk Road; the capital city is Tashkent (41.2667° N, 69.2167° E), an outpost between the mountains and the desert.

Official language:  Uzbek (though many speak Russian and some speak English); Uzbek has roots in a combination of EasternTurkic and Farsi, but has influences also from Arabic and Russia.

Currency:  Som (exchange rate approx.. 2,280 Som = $1 during our visit)

Uzbekistan was a member of the USSR from 1924 until 1991.  Prior to its incorporation into the Russian Empire in the 18th century, the area now known as Uzbekistan was part of the Persian Samanid and Timurid empires.

 

So now we know where we’re going, but there’s a bit of a story leading up to our departure, which will have to wait until next time.

Now tweeting… @daveplaywright

April 5, 2014

@daveplaywright

Score for A Love Supreme

March 31, 2014

I marvel at A Love Supreme each time I hear it, which as of late has been quite often.

The script is equally transcendent in its openness, clarity, and genius.

The piece of music is 33m 07s long…the script is one page.

You can currently see the  score in person at the Smithsonian Museum of American History,

but with this version you can zoom in.

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http://www.openculture.com/2013/09/john-coltranes-handwritten-outline-for-his-masterpiece-a-love-supreme.html 

Dance on Bones going to Tashkent, Uzbekistan

March 30, 2014

 ImageIt’s an honor to get to share Dance On Bones with the Festival of American Culture at the Ilkhom Theater of Mark Weil in Tashket, Uzbekistan which runs from April 24th – May 11th.   Three new American plays are part of the festival:  Dance On Bones, Mark Chrisler‘s “Worse than Tigers” andCaridad Svichs “Archipelago.”

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Dance On Bones paints a picture of a world very like our own, in which sea levels are rising, trees are being ravaged, and jazz may be the only thing that can save the world. Dance On Bones is is inspired by and structured around jazz music and riffs off of the folklore of the jazz scenes in St. Petersburg, Russia and New Orleans, Louisiana; creation myths; the folklore of flooding cities; and current environmental circumstances washing away our shores.  Dance on Bones has the ability to be shuffled into hundreds of different variations, pushing the artists to improvise and audiences to make new connections with each presentation.

Research into Dance On Bones included a Cultural Fellowship in St. Petersburg, Russia, supported by the Likhachev Foundation, funded by The Foundation of the First President of Russia Boris N. Yeltsin and the Committee of External Relations of St. Petersburg.

Since that time, I have continued developing Dance On Bones with Generous Company and at the Towson Theatre Lab in the Department of Theatre Arts at Towson University. 

Last Chance at Spooky Action

March 29, 2014

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Last week I made a journey down to Texas to attack my writing (I’m getting tired of “retreats” so I will begin calling my focused writing times attacks/offensives) at the Spooky Action Ranch outside of Austin, Texas in hill country. Founded by Dawn Youngs and Kurt Hildebrand, Spooky Action Ranch’s home, garden, and land were a marvelous place to spend time.

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I spent four days at the Ranch, walking, writing in the wild, getting a bit too much sun, writing inside, prepping for readings of four episodes of Last Chance: tales from a broken heartland.  Last Chance is a theatre serial about life in rural America (probably the Ozarks).  There are twelve episodes in the series and after giving me the time, focus, and opportunity to sink my teeth into revising and imagining we presented two episodes a night over two nights at The Vortex and The Hideout.  62947_706017116085179_1581011874_n

Night one at the Vortex Trash and Cut Once were read in the Vortex’s courtyard by Sergio Alvaredo (Bob), Zac Crofford (Stage Directions), Barbara Chrisholm Faires (Dottie), Robert Faires (Winter), Judd Farris (Stage Directions), Kayla Olsen (Melissa), Dawn Youngs (Jo Beth).

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Night two at the HIdeout Ninjas & Squirrels and Measure Twice were read by Sergio Alvaredo (Palmer), Zac Crofford (Blam), Barbara Chrisholm Faires (Stage Directions), Robert Faires (Winter), Judd Farris (Sexton), Michelle Keffer (Amanda), Dawn Youngs (Jo Beth), and a guest stage directions read by yours truly.

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The thoughts, feedback, and encouragement I received from the artists and audiences in Austin helped to stoke my interest in bringing Last Chance  to life as theatre? as a podcast series? as an immersive experience?  Thanks for showing me that this work should be given voice, no matter what the form.

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Dance on Bones

July 1, 2013

ImageIn Soviet Russia, albums were bootlegged onto old X–ray slides, a phenomenon known as roentgenizdat or dance on bones.

Here’s a few links to articles about roentgenizdat:

Records on bones typically cost about 1.5 rubles…very inexpensive.

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Up to 3,000,000 records may have been distributed on X-ray up through 1958.

Here’s a few more references:

  • Joshua Rothman, “You spin me right round, like an X-ray,” The Boston Globe, 20 March 2011.
  • “Jazz on Bones: X-Ray Sound Recordings,” Street Use, 28 August 2006.
  • Artemy Troitsky, Back in the USSR: The True Story of Rock in Russia, (Omnibus Press: 1987).

And here’s a link to a collection of photos and a video.  If you click on the image of the X-ray being cut, you can see a video of them making a new Dance on Bones recording.