Chukotka is an inclement land of endless snow and biting wind that is located in the farthest hinterland of Russia. Although the territory of Chukotka is several times bigger than most European countries, just 50,000 people live there. Located on the border of the US state of Alaska, Russia’s new day dawns daily in Chukotka. Over time, it has brought with it the unexpected international success of a modern dance studio named Freestyle.

A choreographic group from far Chukotka has beaten all odds by winning three international competitions.

Фото Вадима Матвеичева

JULIUS CAESAR IN A SKIRT

Freestyle is run by a remarkable lady named Helen Hismatulina. If you have ambitions to achieve something in life and progress your goals, you should try to sit at the feet of this energetic and positive woman. From an early age growing up in Kazakhstan, Helen always knew that she wanted to be a children’s choreographer. She believed that she would be able to create a team that would gain cultural recognition and that would ultimately participate in, and win, dance contests at an international level. Even in her adolescence, this extraordinary lady was dedicated to dance and expression. In her youth, Helen attended the Department of Choreography at a Russian university in Omsk. While she was a student, she studied ballet, jazz and yoga in various studios. These experiences prepared her well for a future career in dance and choreography.

Helen’s family was shocked when she informed them she was going to live in Chukotka. They couldn’t grasp why she wanted to live on the edge of the earth. Indeed, not many people could picture themselves living in such unusual conditions – the polar night, extreme winter temperatures, isolation from the mainland (there are no roads; the only transportation is by plane). But Helen’s solar energy is hotter than any cold environment could overcome. One of the graduates of Freestyle joked: “Our leader is Julius Caesar in a skirt. She can do a million things at once!”

So, nine years ago in Anadyr, the capital of Chukotka, which has a population of just 12,000, Helen Hismatulina created the choreographic group Freestyle, which consists of kids of different ages, from four years old through to teenagers. It should be noted that the parents of young dancers also make a significant contribution to the success of the studio.

“Dancing is a great workout for a child’s body in the conditions of our northern sedentary lifestyle,” says Olga Nechaeva, one of the parents. “Our children are very interested in studying with Helen. She is a strict and demanding teacher, but she knows how to unlock the potential of every child. She is always looking for new, bright ideas and offers such unexpected projects that it’s hard to believe they are possible. But our children always succeed under her leadership.”

TO WIN IS REAL

The first international competition Freestyle took by storm took place in 2012 in the Italian city of Rimini. Helen Hismatulina’s fosterlings brought back the silver trophy in the category ‘Show Dance,’ along with a lot of impressions and invaluable experience. Helen believes that it is possible to win prizes at international competitions – the main thing is to choose the right program, train hard and believe in yourself. Helen has proven herself not only as a choreographer, but also as a talented organizer. It is very costly to take a group of children abroad; tickets from Anadyr to Moscow alone are very expensive. But our heroine was able to convince key sponsors that Freestyle would succeed, and justified the sponsorship by exceeding even the highest expectations.

A year later, a chief Chukchi newspaper published the following headline on the front page: “Gold may be easily told – Freestyle took first place in two categories of the International Competition of Children’s and Youth Creativity ‘Paris, I love you!’.”

Very strong teams from Russia, CIS and France participated in this contest. But Freestyle won the Gold in the nomination ‘Pop Dance: Ensembles’ with Kazakh and Chukchi dances. Anya Kurilova, a ten-year-old talented artistic girl, took first place in the nomination ‘Pop Dance: Solo’. This time, Helen Hismatulina went one step further and introduced entirely new numbers that were largely unknown to the Russian audience. The Kazakh and Chukchi are popular because of their exoticism. The choreographer made national performances the highlight of the team and the audience is always delighted to watch temperamental Gypsy, Caucasian, and Oriental dances at Freestyle’s performances.

TO AMERICA!

As if the event in Paris wasn’t enough, Freestyle received an invitation to visit Las Vegas for the International Golden Dream Festival. Skeptics discouraged Helen: “America? What if you don’t get the visa! The flight is crazily expensive! The dollar is on an upward surge…”

But Helen Hismatulina has never been one to look for easy options. Having conducted extensive preparatory work, she took two Chukchi folk numbers and two pop numbers to the festival. Experienced choreographers Vladislav Rintytegin and Liana Gaifullina helped to stage the folk part of the performance and, in advance of the event, the team often practiced up to six days a week.

So, this spring, seven children, including five-year-old Sasha Maksymenko, Helen, and accompanying adults went to America.

There was a problem with yarars. Yarar is a national Chukchi tambourine that regularly features in Freestyle’s style of dancing. They can only be made by highly experienced Chukchi craftsmen and, as such, they are very expensive and capricious instruments. Water, dampness, and heat are detrimental to them.

“In Anadyr, we borrowed them,” says Helen. “But it’s too much responsibility to take somebody’s instrument on a long trip. We arrived in Moscow with ready-made frames, planning to wrap them with foil or cloth. At the Moscow hotel, one of the girls came up with the idea of making paper yarars using a papier-mache technique. That worked out well! These props looked great on stage.”

The dancers spent a week in Moscow making props and, never one to take it easy, Helen arranged rehearsals at a music college near the hotel.

“The flight time from Moscow to Los Angeles was 14 hours. We had not anticipated it to be an easy trip for anyone, even those of us who are accustomed to long flights from Anadyr to Moscow. However, we were so excited we didn’t notice how we arrived in Las Vegas. In many ways, it felt like we had been traveling for just an hour,” recalls Helen.

The festival organizers met our heroes at the airport and took them to the Flamingo hotel. Everyone liked the hotel, and the kids were thrilled that they had an opportunity to admire the exotic birds.

HOORAY! GRAND PRIX!

“In Chukotka, the temperature was around -30 °C. It was a stark contrast to the +20 °C we encountered in Las Vegas. It was such a ‘jump’ from winter to summer,” described Helen Hismatulina. “We went on a tour of several luxury hotels. They compete in the luxury. You can see everything there, even an exhibition of Faberge eggs. The air traffic impressed me very much – airplanes with tourists landing in Las Vegas every minute.”

“The Golden Dream Festival was held on the stage of one of the libraries of Las Vegas. It was much larger than the main venue of Anadyr, and the kids had to hit the ground running. From the outset, it was clear that a dance group from Armenia was one of the leaders of the dance program. It was a very strong folk group and, beside that, the Armenian Diaspora supported it actively,” recalled Helen.

The dance competition lasted for two days. There were two rounds. Only half of the participants passed to the second round. The jury, headed by Dmitry Zemskov, artist of the City Ballet, the Imperial Russian Ballet (Moscow) and the European Ballet (London), unanimously decided to give the Grand Prix in the choreography category to Freestyle. “We were very happy, shouting ‘Hooray’ and we cried with happiness,” recalled the young dancers. Sasha Maksimenko, the smallest participant, received the People’s Choice Award. She told us, “I liked the trip. It was very beautiful in Las Vegas, especially at night – colored lights were everywhere, and pink flamingos were walking around at the hotel Flamingo. It was an interesting competition. And we won! I worried and even cried a little bit.”

There was a triumph homecoming. The people of Chukotka, proud of their offspring’s talents, received recognition at an international level. Although the trip to America demanded a lot of effort from Helen Hismatulina, the young dancers, and their parents in terms of time, money and challenge, it was undoubtedly worth the cost.

Фото Вадима Матвеичева