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Ilya Vidrin OtherWise Chain, Emily Jerant-Hendrickson, Melissa Sherman-Bennett, Kelsey Berry, Jessi Stegall


Centering on intergenerational trauma in refugee experience, “OtherWise” is a multidisciplinary production that investigates and responds to Soviet-era bard songs of oppression and hope through dance. This project is supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, Combined Jewish Philanthropies, Boston Center for the Arts, The Boston Foundation, Movement Arts Creation Studio (MACS), the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies and the Theatre, Dance Media Concentration at Harvard. The next showing will be in May 2024 at Harvard.

OtherWise is a multidisciplinary performance production investigating intergenerational trauma through the lens of the Soviet-era dissident Bard Movement. Drawing upon and interpreting the censored texts of iconic Soviet bards Bulat Okudzhava and Vladimir Vysotsky, OtherWise fuses dance, music, and spoken word to illuminate the sublime social power of poetic practices. Directed by Ilya Vidrin, collaborators include first-generation singer/song-writer Alec Hutson, Soviet scholar Dr. Vera Koshkina, dramaturg Valeria Solomonoff, cinematographer Sue Murad, and creative producer Jessi Stegall. 

Through embodied exploration, OtherWise investigates and builds on political themes within the poetic texts, including love of land, distrust of the government, hope in the face of hopelessness, humor as a coping mechanism, and uncertainty for the future. The aim of the multi-year project is to foster community healing by mobilizing efforts to uphold the values of the bard movement including authentic expression, empathy, and mutual understanding.

As a first-generation artist, this work draws on personal experiences grappling with how to celebrate cultural heritage given the collective and individual traumas that are still throbbing within the refugee community. OtherWise investigates and builds on the social power of music and dance - not only  for promoting courage, understanding, and vulnerability within the community, but also as a tether to a home that was so difficult to leave.



Despite the promise of equality in communism, the Soviet Union was a tumultuous time for many. As organized religion was officially banned by the government, individuals and families were unable to practice their faith. Designated as a separate nationality on passports and all legal documents, Soviet Jews faced systemic oppression as they sought education, jobs, and even living accommodations. In response to the hardship, subjugation, and even censorship, a resistance formed around authentic, creative expression. 


Calling themselves “bards”, a small group of artists composed allegorical poems of thinly-veiled struggle and hope. These poems were set to simple chord structures, generating songs that could be learned and shared with others in the community. Because political protests against the Soviet Regime were illegal, this music was performed in secret. Shared exclusively by word-of-mouth and unsanctioned underground performances, accessing these songs was difficult – many ended up using discarded x-ray films as substitutes for vinyl discs on which to record and share this music (image to the right). It is these songs and these stories that we respond to through the creation of an evening-length production “OtherWise”. 

We see this project as more than simply “translating” our experience through performing arts -- it is an opportunity to process, reflect, and share together within and beyond our community. Our process invites the voices of community members to share their experience living within oppressive regimes. With the support of community partners, including the Jewish Arts Collaborative, Combined Jewish Philanthropies, Boston's Temple Israel, and Boston's Russian-Jewish Moishe House, we will offer opportunities for the public to engage through open rehearsals, immersive workshops, and informal showings. We acknowledge the risks in taking on this subject matter, in the ways it can be triggering and exclusionary. By making our creative process open to the public, we hope to encourage vulnerability, courage, and community healing.

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