Ksenia Parkhatskaya is a contemporary jazz dance sensation. She’s got years of touring and performing worldwide (with Christian McBride Trio, Postmodern Jukebox, Barcelona Jazz Orchestra, etc.) under her belt.
Besides being an exceptional dancer, she is also a choreographer, singer (both as part of K Quintet and solo), and actress (“Paris You Got Me” dir. by Julie Boehm). In our interview, we discuss how different types of creativity get along together, where to look for inspiration in difficult times, and Russian melancholy that seeps through the work of so many artists.
indieRepublik: How are you doing? What have you been up to lately?
Ksenia: I have been doing great, thank you. Working a lot on music and dance these days even in the constant conditions of lockdowns. We recorded the final songs that will go on the album, so that’s great. And as a professional dancer, I want to always stay on top of my game, so I have been training in a different style and taking intensive courses that Barcelona and the international online world provide. I took on aerial silk classes but working in jazz, house, waacking, and contemporary styles mostly these days.
indieRepublik: You are multi-talented. Do you see creativity as something of a mixture of things, where you can equally try yourself in music, dance, etc.?
Ksenia: I suppose I see creativity as a way of being. One can be creative really on a daily basis in small things and little moments. Making tasty new meals for instance is a small daily moment that I see as a part of being creative too. Creativity as well is in the same key as playing for me. Having a sense of play in arts and daily life is allowing creativity to come out of the dark corners. Feeling playful and allowing yourself to play is being creative. Playfulness has an element of chaos, unknown, unpredictability, surprise… space where new combinations, new things can awaken. That’s creativity’s universe to me.
indieRepublik: Do you agree that artists have to be versatile and innovative to create great pieces of art?
Ksenia: Being creative is not only making and producing new stuff. It’s allowing yourself to try things and play, experiment, juggle things, you know. Artists don’t have to be anything they are not 🙂 But usually, they are very playful creatures. An artistic person usually is curious. Curiosity will guide you to new lands and territories where you can be inspired and be creative. I think versatility as well comes from curiosity. All those things combined are a great salad for living creativity, being creativity.
indieRepublik: Let’s talk more about your creative process when you’re making music. Would you say that it is similar to dancing and choreography?
Ksenia: I have been in dance since I was 6, it has been a huge part of my life. And there are loads of emotions connected to dance due to it being my profession as well, due to me having a name in the dance world. I suppose, more than anything, I developed a certain level of expectations from myself when it comes to dance. So the weight of “expectations” and “statuses” at times change my way of creating in dance. For instance, I feel more pressure and responsibility, from myself first of all, when it comes to choreographing, then when it comes to writing a song. I might stroll around the idea of making a new dance piece for a few days, considering things and preparing myself to enter a state. For this reason, I am diving constantly into new styles, to constantly feel curiosity and play, challenge, unknown.
When it comes to music, it’s pure unknown and curiosity lands for me. I feel like Alice in Wonderland. Music came to my life through dance and through jazz. I was listening to it, learning tunes, deconstructing them, singing them. As well you need to understand music to freely improvise to it.
In authentic jazz dance music is not an ambient atmosphere for the abstract movement. The dance and music are closely connected.
One needs to understand the form, the rhythm, rhythmical patterns, solos, instruments, principles of improvisation in jazz, and then of course styles of jazz, types of swing. I choreographed many jazz tunes and in this process naturally learned many solos by heart.
When it comes to music I am very connected to emotions, imageries, and colors, my husband, producer, and composer David Duffy is in charge of all the important rest. 🙂 I am really guided by emotions and just simply… intuition. Being in theatre for half of my life I worked a lot with emotions and imageries. I play a chord and the world of pictures arises. I go from there. What is this world that this chord, this sound, this phrase is shining light upon…does it lead me anywhere? What words come out?
With the tune Rose and Blue for instance, initially, I just grabbed onto the melancholy of the major 7th. Just the vibration of that note, its color and character brought me to this dreamy and maybe a little bit sad place. And then my mind travelled further and further and further. From mumbling to the melody one word after another started to come out.
One day David was playing around on the piano and kept repeating that very nice and simple jazzy chord. He kept repeating it on and on and words came out mumbling “How Long, How long since I met you…How long How long has that been”. Like a beam of sunlight, I saw the song …it was clearly about our story. It was a ballad, a memory, a beautiful reminiscence of a great acquaintance that turned into a life long journey…Then I just needed to write it down.
On January 8th we released the song Behind my eyes. This song is about realisation of self. It’s a memory from my childhood. I remember so clearly this event: I was standing close to the window touching the glass with my nose, I started singing and I hear my own voice reflected from the window…I heard my own voice and so my own reflection in the window as If I saw myself from the outside as the other person could see me. A wave of curiosity flooded me all of a sudden…Why I AM in the body I am in. How did that happen? Why can I see and feel and be “myself” only but I can’t be someone else? How can I ever know how others are and if we experience the same world? Many of us would describe that “I am”, “my being” is… behind my eyes. That is how I started the journey to understanding and discovering, self and consciousness. Thinking of that, coming back to me in my teens…though still having similar questions, I wrote this song.
In this album “Colours” songs come really easy for me. It is almost as if they just come through me, they arrive and I welcome them.
indieRepublik: Where do you find inspiration for writing songs? Do you get inspired by different pieces of art, or do you tend to base it on your life experiences? Would you say that these are the same sources of inspiration for choreography?
Ksenia: Simply a color of the chord can be an inspiration to awaken a world in your imagination. For me a little musical phrase can carry so much information, such vastness of themes to sing about. Color, intensity, continuation, space, attack, personage…all these information can come out from a little musical phrase if you open to it. In dance I am working with and on the same sensitivity to music and movement.
indieRepublik: Is writing songs and singing a natural, easygoing process for you? Do you think there are external factors (such as, for example, a global pandemic) that can affect you as a music artist?
Ksenia: I don’t feel complete freedom in singing. I have my limits of skill and abilities. But that doesn’t stop me from wanting to live little lives and stories through songs.
I decided from the beginning that music and singing will be my joy unattached to the need of earning my living with it or “making it” (whatever “it” is) in life. It’s my joy. It’s my curiosity.
So yes, I feel that the process is easy and light. Creativity can feel really light when we take “need, money-making, people-appreciating, love giving” chains from it. Do you know what I mean?
I don’t know about the pandemic. It sure did cut a possibility for me to live my dance career the way I used to for now. But it gave me time to turn towards music and say “hello” to writing songs again.
So lots of music for the album was written during the lockdown. One song in particular “Standing in the distance” is very connected to the state we all were at that period – distances between people though how they can be connected through distances as well. We recorded the song fully at home. The single was featured on RTÉ Radio 1 “Keywords series: distance” in April.
indieRepublik: Do you think there is a place for improvisation in music-making just as improvisation is appreciated for dancers?
Ksenia: Yes, of course. Where would we all go without improvisation 🙂 It’s the source. The play, the game, the curiosity, the step into the unknown and unplanned. That’s all improvisation. It’s the “tool” of freedom.
indieRepublik: How do you feel about performing (dancing) to your own songs? Is it different from dancing to other people’s tracks?
Ksenia: It is different. I am making a video clip for my next single “Fear” and there for the first time, I am bringing in a dance. A very different dance that I am used to. But I am delighted that my music is now creating those suspense three dots (…) for me to explore the new space in dance. For the last 10 years, I have been primarily dancing to jazz. That has been my profession and career. The last few years I have been making dives towards other styles to broaden my movement possibilities.
indieRepublik: There is a fascinating theory on the tragic and sad nature of art that is made by people with Russian background. In some of your latest tracks, there is a sense of nostalgia and sadness, too. Do you think there is any correlation between that?
Ksenia: It’s very interesting that you asked it. It’s true about the tragic nature of Russian arts. I am fascinated by it. As Ekhart Tolle said, Russian land carries a “pain body” and that manifests itself in the arts surely as well as through the stereotype of “strict faces”. When I moved to the EU for the first time, to live in Berlin, I constantly found myself bumping into this word “fun”. Everyone and everywhere were screaming “fun”. “That’s fun!”, “You are fun”, “ let’s have fun”, “life has to be fun, is it fun? no? I don’t know if I am interested..” Fun, fun, fun…Uh, I got irritated. Fun? is that all you think life is about? What about depth…? Can fun be deep? Fun is superficial!
Of course, that was me coming from the land of Dostoevskii. Coming from graduating 5 years of study at the Philosophy Department at Herzen University. I had a hard time with fun indeed.
I was surprised to realise that if in dance I love to be funny, ridiculous, and clown as much as I love to be serious and modern… in music only tunes with sad notes came out of me. Maybe it was necessary to balance the last 10 years of jazz power and celebration with some “lyrical melancholy and nostalgia”..? don’t know.
indieRepublik: We have to talk about jazz as well! It is such a versatile genre already as it is now, but jazz still seems to be a little bit outside of the mainstream. How do you see the future of jazz music? Do you think it will become more popular? Does it need to be experimental in order to do that?
Ksenia: Jazz music for me, and I am subjective, is the axis. Jazz has it all: complexity, innovation, improvisation, sense of freedom, individuality, personality, constant change and so on. Fantastic precious qualities! Even a pop artist if he has a jazz axis stands out so brightly and clearly from all the rest. Take Jacob Collier for instance. Well, he is simply a genius in general.
Jazz is experimental by its nature. I don’t know if jazz has to be this or that to be popular. It was popular in the 30s – swing. Maybe, one of the most complex and intelligent popular music ever? I suppose, I just wish more jazz to everyone!
indieRepublik: What do you enjoy listening to now? What are some of your favourite modern musicians? Do you have any favourite artists apart from jazz?
Ksenia: As always I am listening a lot to the Maestro Oscar Peterson. As well I am listening to Stephen Day, Jordan Rakei, Melody Gardot, Emily King, Gregory Porter.
indieRepublik: Your album comes out this year! You have shared that there is an active working process on your next project. Can you share a little bit about your future music and non-music plans?
Ksenia: The album is ready. We are releasing it single by single. On January 8th we premiered the “Behind my eyes” single. It will be available on all platforms. In February I am filming a video for the next single “Fear”. I am thrilled about this filming. We have a marvelous team of artists from Germany, Ireland, and Spain. The video clip is directed by award-winning director Julie Boehm. This will be the first of my own songs I will dance to.
I am very excited about this video and song. I wrote it nearly 3 years ago. But when I read the lyrics, I feel like I could have written it yesterday. The theme of fear is as never before present in our society. So my way of looking into fear’s eye is to write a song about, live it and recycle that energy to brightness and vitality. Face everything and rise…FEAR.
indieRepublik: Final question is about storytelling in music. What kind of stories would you say your music creates?
Ksenia: My music and lyrics explore themes of death, this life that we live “under the roofs of the tallest buildings”, of course love and the universal connectedness of all things. My stories at times might be gloomy, for I see gloom in life. But I always shine a little beam of light on them as well, for a positive look on the world just makes life easier.
Even though that at times words can seem like an ivy jungle where you can get lost in the letters and behind the meanings, I love words in songs. They are “tasty” and when paired nicely can transport you into the world of the song.