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 2020 Choreographic Fellowship and The Boston Foundation "Live Arts Boston" Grant.

A collaboration between Ilya Vidrin and singer-songwriter Alec Hutson, OtherWise is a multidisciplinary performance piece that seeks to draw attention to the arts as a source of collective meaning-making in response to oppression. The aim is to foster community healing, demonstrate the sublime power of poetic practices, and mobilize efforts to uphold the values of the bard movement as a means to make sense of today’s troubling socio-political climate. 

The proud children of Soviet-Jewish refugees, both Ilya and Alec are first-generation artists that live at the intersection of multiple identities. Both have struggled with how to make sense of their shared experiences, with how their work fits within American culture, and with how to celebrate their cultural heritage given the collective and individual traumas that are still throbbing within the community. OtherWise investigates and builds on the 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 no one wanted 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. It is these songs and these stories that we respond to through the creation of an evening-length work “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, 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.

OtherWise Vidrin and Stegall