Sergey Melnitchenko – Behind the Scenes, Newcomer 2017
It would be hard to get any closer than the Ukrainian Sergey Melnitchenko got to his protagonists: he himself worked as a dancer in the Chinese dance club where his series about the joys and sufferings of backstage life was taken. Up close and personal, he took a look behind the scenes. With his series, he succeeded as LOBA Newcomer in 2017.
Observations beyond the spotlights. Glitzy outfits, slinky corsets and bruises are visible during the performance as much as backstage. Beyond the view of the public, people laugh with abandon, cry uninhibitedly, smoke nervously, argue passionately and make telephone calls on the side. There is not much oxygen and many are out of breath. Melnitchenko has seen it all, with and without his camera in hand. He has worked as a dancer for longer than he has been a photographer, and his award-winning “Behind the Scenes” series is the result of his own observations and experiences.
“There is no falsehood, it’s not staged, it’s their everyday life, our life.”
He got up close and personal with the colleagues, transvestites and dancers with whom he shared daily life. “In the spring of 2016, we performed in a Chinese club, which was more like a huge bar with a stage, because none of the patrons were dancing there. That’s where the idea for the series arose.” Melnitchenko had already worked in a number of clubs, but in this one, in the metropolis of Dongguan with more than eleven million inhabitants, he became particularly aware of the atmosphere. Dongguan is located to the east of the Pearl River, a good 50 kilometres from China’s third largest city, Guangzhou. Because of its many brothels, the city is considered the country’s sex capital.
“This is the invisible side of the club, the atmosphere, which I became a part of. Behind the scenes, there is more burlesque than on the stage; the concentration of sexual fluids is more powerful than oxygen.”
Melnitchenko’s photos speak of the ensemble’s mutual support, of the sorrows and joys, the emergencies and the fun at work. With his mixture of documentary and reportage, the photographer finds a rather cinematic form of expression; and he is not just up close to the protagonists, he is right among them. The available light already turns the scenario into a set. With sensitivity, he records the deep emotions and typical movements of his colleagues. The concentrated tension creates a screen where the photographer places his very human images. The viewer is immersed into a mostly hidden world, located beyond the dance floor.
Melnitchenko started with photography around 2009: “I first worked with nude art and staged photography. In China I started taking photos on the streets with my mobile phone, and photos of my daily life with an instant camera. The ‘Behind the Scenes’ series was something really new for me.”
(Text updated 2020)
Sergey Melnitchenko was born in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, in 1991. He is a member of the Ukrainian Photographic Alternative, a collective promoting contemporary photography in Ukraine. In 2013 he self-published his series “Loneliness Online”. His work has been shown in various international solo and group exhibitions. He has lived and worked in China for a few years.