Parnakh, Valentin Yakovlevich (1891–1951) By Misler, Nicoletta
Brother of the celebrated poet Sofia Parnok, Valentin Parnakh was a Russo-Soviet dancer, jazz musician, actor, poet, and translator, a mover and shaker of the European avant-garde as Pablo Picasso’s portrait of him (1922) bears ready witness. Parnakh’s approach to artistic movement was truly synthetic, free of ideological dogma and academic convention, even though in Paris he published a sophisticated and original volume, Histoire de la Danse (History of Dance, 1932). Among the Russian apologists of eccentric and mechanical dances, Parnakh was the only one to compare Taylorist techniques with the new cultural exigencies of the proletariat, presenting Taylorism – in art – as the creative application of jazz dances such as ragtime, the shimmy, and fox-trot. He argued this just as the Soviet establishment was issuing its first instructions on how to eliminate these ‘decadent bourgeois dances of Western importation’ from the repertoire of workers’ clubs.