[This post was contributed by Anna Skaya, to whom we are eternally grateful for the wonderful gift! Photos by: Donna Rosa D’Alvadorez, Anna Galkina, Svetlana Selezneva. Video by: Michael Simkov and Xecco Prekrasnaya.]
Moscow Decompression, in its third year and already a tradition with its own set of traditions (Greeters in fur coats!), has just wrapped up, and it couldn’t have been more grand. Everything is a bit bigger in Russia, and Decompression here is no different. More than 2,600 people, bands, DJs, artists, performers, organizers and volunteers descended on an old silk factory in central Moscow. Over 50 art installations made the space look like a Burner museum. Secret rooms, tea ceremonies, aerial silks, butoh-inspired theater, cabaret, air circus and even glow-in-the-dark capoeira performers entertained all night.
Burning Man Decompression in Moscow was a 24-hour event this year. It is organized by an all-volunteer staff, and no artists, DJ or performer is paid for participating. It’s as much a party as a social experiment in creating a community based around Burning Man’s principles and lifestyle. While the party lasts the weekend, the community around the event is yearlong, and the ‘meaning’ of Burning Man is conveyed through volunteerism and self-expression, acceptance and gifting. We connect the principles with our community, and the results are as unique as the community, yet you have that playa feeling the minute you step inside.
Burning Man culture can be seen here is many ways, yet for me one stands out. Really stands out, flying colors, blinky lights and all. It’s as much a Burning Man principle as a way of life for me, and I want to tell you a bit about what it’s like to Radically Express yourself, Moscow-style!
Radical Self Expression is a rather radical concept here. It won’t be a surprise to most that Moscow scores low on the ‘let your freak flag fly’ scale. It’s usually black jeans and white t-shirts at the techno parties, the same stilettos and miniskirts at the mainstream clubs. This city is full of creativity and oozes fashion, but when it comes to donning something with a bit of flare on the dance floor, Moscow Decompression event is helping to pave the way.
There really is nothing quite like this event in Moscow. Clubs? Sure! Good electronic music and world-class DJs? Every weekend. Theater, dance, art? This is Russia, of course!
And then, there is Decompression!
Well, you just got to see the dance floors at this event. The costumes! Amazing! Creative, edgy, handmade, wonderfully wacky and intellectually stimulating (I saw mind-controlled LED glasses that changed colors when you spoke). This year, it really felt like there was no limit to the imagination, and the shouts of costume admiration could be heard over virtually every dance floor in Moscow’s Silk factory that night.
One of our international visitors and fellow costume aficionado, Misa Rygrova, put it perfectly: ‘I expected that Moscow Decomp will be big and even big on costumes, but the variety and beauty of it was way beyond my expectations! Costume Camp was one of the best places to hang out and for quite a bit also to dance! I loved it, I loved how amazing the costumes are and once again it proved what I say about Moscow: go big or go home.”
I help and organize Costume Camp Russia, which is definitely the most whimsical part of Moscow Decompression. It’s also one of the more time-consuming and longest-running projects. We start building months before the event – collecting costumes, holding weekly workshops, making videos on how to create things from scratch, sharing our excitement.
There are about 20 of us that work on Costume Camp and we are both the cheerleaders of the costume community and the dress-up aficionados. Most of us love the idea that Moscow is slowly changing, more freaks and weirdoes are strutting their stuff at parties and social events, and we want to be there to help. You go girl!
Every costume at Costume Camp has been made or altered by us. We spend months asking for donations, calling stores and theaters, bugging our friends to rummage through their closets. At the end of this year we had hundreds of costumes donated and created.
Let me share one big ‘costume-hack’ for anyone who wants to make a Costume Camp at their local Decompression: many stores that sell carnival/event things have a back room filled with broken items which end up in the trash. Boxes upon boxes of costumes with a piece missing, hats without straps, cracked masks, animal tails with a few feathers out, odd colorful bits. That back room is a gold mine! Stores are only happy to get to know a group like us, and have now started to save broken bits and donate them for our Decompression event. We use almost everything we get: an old jacket + a few broken masks + spray-paint = a freaky little number!
Once we have collected boxes upon boxes of donations (and my apartment in Moscow begins to look like that back room!) we start our creative workshops. For Costume Camp, Decompression starts months before the event – we meet, cut, sew, paint, take pictures, make videos, chat, drink wine. Its something between a weekly ‘stitch and bitch’ and a serious, ‘get your hands dirty’ workshop. This year we had a designer come who specialized in recycled gear, and learned how to make hats from old CDs, and how to top off your costumes with plastic bottles.
We have an active Facebook page and post ideas for costumes. Our main purpose, what we really stand for, is NOT to dress up everyone at the event, but to help each person find his or her own radical self-expression. As one of our Costume Campers, Anna Kuzmenko, so perfectly put: “Gift a unicorn a costume, and he sparkles all night — teach a unicorn to sew, and she sparkles a lifetime!”
Costume Camp kicks off Decompression. We are the first thing you see when you walk in, bright lights and mirrors everywhere. Imagine a long podium, painted bright red. Rails and rails of costumes. Tables covered with hats and masks. A make-up artist in the corner, a DJ table in the back, a big bed covered with pillows already packed with costume paparazzi. All around you is total, unrestrained, colorful mayhem. At midnight there is a Fashion show, and impromptu performances go on all night on the podium.
Our podium got a lot of extra traffic this year, mostly because of our new friend Yulia. She became the star of the catwalk, and in inspiration for me. Tall, blond, in a white ‘baby-doll meets Alice’ outfit and with total disregard for rules, she walked that catwalk like she owned it and pulled up anyone who came near. Folks in costume or without barely had a chance to protest before they found themselves strutting it (and totally LOVING it!), feelings of self-conciseness melting away and with huge smiles on their faces. She heckled, she pranced, she wagged her little finger and pouted at you if you didn’t come up. Most couldn’t resist. Radical Participation on full display – her having such fun, and others following her lead, getting off the podium, ducking into Costume Camp and heading back in a new costume for round two. Many others stood around, laughing, taking pictures, heckling back, helping her get more into her role and getting inspired by her attitude. A new Costume Camp tradition (and perhaps a new Burner!) was born.
By 3am our music is still groovy and you are coming back for your third or fourth costume change. Someone color-coordinated and stacked up all the hats, and now it looks like there is a two-meters high hat rainbow. Many of the Costume Campers are hanging around, picking up discarded items, dressing up the space; it’s hard to leave our costume home, and the music just keeps the feet moving. Many of us are just about to go exploring other parts of Decompression, and the smiles on our faces and the twinkle in our eyes say it all – 24 hours is not enough!