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German and Russian

Alexander Shiryaev: At the Crossroads

Noah Sneider (2013); Mentor(s): Larissa Rudova

Abstract: Alexander Viktorovich Shiryaev was a ballet dancer and pedagogue working at the Mariinsky Theater during the late 19th/early 20th century. An obsession with human movement and its documentation led Shiryaev to experiment secretly with film. Working alone, Shiryeav produced work of stunning quality and foresight. He is now believed to be Russia's first animator. At the time, however, Shiryaev never screened or sold his work; his interest was art, not fame or wealth. His life and work invite a number of important questions regarding film, culture and historical memory. Among them: - The fact that his animations have survived as documents. That is, a form typically associated with transformation of reality or the construction of fantasy worlds, here becomes the lone record of real life events (in this case, the ballets he reconstructed). This paradox then raises a number of questions, among them: what does it mean to document something? - Film critics initially doubted the Shiryaev trove's veracity. These accusations of falsification speak to the state of contemporary culture. For one, we instinctively view anything that falls outside the commercialized model of culture with distrust (why didn't Shiryaev show his films? Didn't he want fame or money?). Additionally, we struggle with pieces that don't fit nicely into the accepted puzzle of history. We tend to see history as a seamless presentation of facts, rather than the montage it is in truth.
Funding Provided by: Pomona College SURP; Pomona College Russian Program

Research at Pomona