Cinematographic Dance Ecstasy

Collective Bodies, Dance Rites of the Khlysts and 'Choreomania' in the Cinema of the Late Tsarist Empire


  • Clea Wanner University of Basel, Switzerland



Alexander Chargonin, Władisław Starewicz, Grigorii Boltianskii, Russia, Late Russian Empire, Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, Dark Faith, Lgushchie Body, Belye golubi, Khlysts, performance culture, contemporary dance, ecstasy, choreomania


The research focuses on dance ecstasy as a specific corporeal experience of modernity and its intertwining with Russian cinema. The article addresses dance mania (beyond tango) as a central cultural cipher of European modernity and explores how the topos circulated transmedially within culture and was both appropriated and significantly co-formulated by Russian cinema. The case study will focus on an unusual, but for the Russian culture formative modelling of dance mania: the ‘radenie’, the sectarian dance rite of the Khlysts, which in the 1910s provoked an ambivalent reception among the cultural and social elite. After the February Revolution of 1917, a great number of films were made that evolved their plots around the dark machinations of the Khlysts. Among them the film company Rus′ with its ‘sect-series’ Ishchushchie Boga (1917/1918). Based on the fragmentary preserved films and including contemporary social, cultural, and aesthetic discourses, the article will elaborate historical constellations and examine the aesthetic potential of dance manias. Not only do the films present the ecstatic bodies as a form of collective psychopathology, they make it the main visual attraction of the film.

Author Biography

Clea Wanner, University of Basel, Switzerland

Clea Wanner is a research assistant and lecturer at the Institute for Slavic Studies at the University of Basel, Switzerland. She is writing her PhD on corporeal aesthetics in early Russian cinema.



How to Cite

Wanner, Clea. 2023. “Cinematographic Dance Ecstasy: Collective Bodies, Dance Rites of the Khlysts and ’Choreomania’ in the Cinema of the Late Tsarist Empire”. Apparatus. Film, Media and Digital Cultures of Central and Eastern Europe, no. 16 (March).

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