Contemporary Russian theatre 2012


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Article by Rob Weinert-Kendt from American Theatre magazine, August 2012

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Contemporary Russian theatre 2012

  1. 1. ERE ONLY 45 MINUTES INTO AN ALMOST-FIVE· ::..i a sprawling dinner scenehour-long rendition of The Seagull, and the director himself :-::-. oi "I "Bone Bu.metts htai.sti.chas stormed the stage. To destroy a canvas flat with his bare blues "It"s ~ot Too Late"-as an expression, at least inhands. To the snarl and rumble of electric guitars. part, of a more immediate discontent. This was April, after Its self-evidently an orchestrated moment, as are the all, on the occasion of the annual Golden Mask Festival, amany interventions and meta-theatrical gambits that pepper sort of best-of-the-year theatre Olympics held each year inYury Butusovs fierce, expansive, often hauntingly ruminative Moscow. And as that month sat poised u~easily betweenproduction of Chekhovs masterpiece about an extended family the widely dreaded reelection of Vladimir Putin in M archof self-dramatizing narcissists and lopsided, inchoate couplings. and his reinstallment as Supreme Leader- sorry, Prime But the punkish, strangely exuberant anger behind Butusovs Minister-in May, I was inclined to see everything on the repeated appearances on stage-and indeed behind every ele- stages of this urbane, muscular capital city through the lens ment of this strenuous and sensuous production at Moscows of a divisive and complicated post-post-Soviet moment in Satirikon Theatre-feels authentic, deep-rooted, barely in Russian culture and politics. control, as if a lid had been lifted over a raging furnace. Whether it was reimagined classics (Butusovs Seagull, I later ask John Freedman-the American journalist Konstantin Bogomolovs gender-bent Lear. A Comedy) or ilie whos made Moscow his home since 1988, and the Russian no-frills mix of devised and documentary storytelling lately theatre his beat at tl1e English-language jVJ.oscow Times since emerging from tiny hipster companies like Teatr.doc and l 9<1:?-about ilie rage I felt pulsing through Butusovs Seagull. Praktika Theatre, the Russian works I saw in April resonated This. he replies, is the anger and frustration inherent in any with the nations disharmony and unease-with ilie terrible arristic endeaY particularly a collaborative one like ilieatre; or, sense that its illiberal past has seeped back into ilie neoliberal BumsoYS riotous deconstruction, in fact, is all about the theatre present, snuffing out hopes for a truly liberal future-in varying ""-""--- ~ "*--~ ~ """--~ ---0:$:.... -;~-..._"""- ~ ~ --...._~ ..,_---- ......._~~ ...s..--~ - . and his angu]Sheo j)lace·m·n. .......... ..... Put another way: Though all the shows at tl:iiS yeafs Perhaps. But it was hard to not experience this assaultive ~-- _..- ~-?::0_..L.?/f?./?C"d kJ-"" -~.-=...---_....-_.?. ""~--~-.=7 ..-~-=- ---~:::.=---..:--......-..:-~ ........-~__,..../.,-- :;:7/--~ - G o lden Mask >Vere orig inally created before the last half- T JIDofej Tribun ts e~ p lays crucial late scenes with his head year-or-so of fresh protest against t6e na.Keareemerg-eJcl: AMfRJCAN TH& ATR E JULY/AUGUST1 2 .t1Ut •
  2. 2. interviews with migrant workers in Moscow, and Greminas own Septembe1~doc, a response to the harrowing and bloody 2004 Beslan school siege. But events of recent years have sharpened the urgency of the theatres mis- sion: Greminas One Hour Eighteen (2009) is a stark account of the miserable death of a whistle-blowing lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, while in prison on trumped-up charges. This years Golden Mask offering from Teatr.doc, Two in Your House, also by Gremina, takes a lighter tone in depicting another real-life injustice, albeit one with a far less grim ending: the four-month house arrest in Belarus of opposition candidate and poet Vladimir Neklyaev, in which he and his wife played unwilling host to a rotating series of KGB officers until charges were finally dismissed. Staged simply on chairs in frontRose Khayrullina in t he qe-: =---: : - : -Ecr. Arina Marakulina and llyas Tamayev in Sasha of a backdrop showing the close quartersA Comedy. Denisovas Light My Fire, at Teatr.doc. of the apartment layout, Two in Your House has at its center a flawlessly deadpan perfor- and collecting documents around a subject mance by playwright Maksym Kurochkin or a community and turning those into a play. (Vodka, Fucking, and Television) as Neklyaev. Initial efforts included such works as Dressed in jeans and a Darth Vader T-shirt,startlingly immediare.. ::: = e 2003s War of the Moldovans for a cardboard the phlegmatic, bespectacled Kurochkincall it live theatre. box, fashioned by Alexander Rodionov from embodies a new, sneakily powerful style ofEVEN AFTER THE C SEE WHAT WERE TALKING ABOUT. .. oFF oFF BnoAowAv ViDeo BuiiOin~ n rna n Sla~e Coslume C~ara~ler u sI~ n ProOucin~ Re~mnal I Awaros e ramily comeoy TOr Path to Broadwa ~a tiny 60-seat black box...;_==- - - - · - ... en ·-the Pushkinskaya ilerro =2002 by playwright and: =- ~ ;s:Gremina, Teatr.doc. as ciie- ~ _-suggests, began with tdfSlZGES STAGES.TDF.ORG ATHEATREMAGAZINEMoscow to lead a "~<"or·, ­by then well establ.i.S:l.e.:i - tdf Stages is a program ofTheatre Development Fundspeaking theatre, of oo=c- 53
  3. 3. ~---- -- - --- POSTMARKresistance: unflappable, ironic, matter-of-factly subversive. Indeed, as in tl1e States, Russias indietheatres-not only in Moscow but in St.Petersburg, where On.Teatr has made asplash staging new Russian drama as well astranslations of plays by Charles L. Mee andAnnie Baker-are showcases for what mightbe called a kind of hipster dissidenc~, distin-guished less by anger or indignation thanby a playful aesthetic openness, a disarmingdirectness and lack of fuss. This could be seen as a bracingly saneresponse to a disorienting political moment.Last December, when protestors spontane-ously took to the streets after parliamentaryelections generally regarded as rigged, many Alexei Maslodudov, Maksym Kurochkin and Oleg Kamenschikov in Two in Your House .hoped the nation was on the verge of its ownRussian Spring. Since then, however, as both "Even more now, with the next 112 years imagines an ungodly monster-mashup ofsides hardened their positions and Putins of Putin in power, our position is that we Italys and Russias discredited heads of state.reelection became increasingly inevitable, should be totally independent, without state "We were thinking that the night we openedmany of Russias liberals have been demor- money," she says in a coffeehouse interview, everybody would get arrested, but nothingalized in a way that roughly resembles the with director Yury Urnov on hand to translate. happened, " she notes.widespread disbelief and disaffection among Currently running at her theatre, though not Gremina, who staged her first plays afterU.S. liberals after George W. Bushs 2004 on the Golden Mask program, is a pointed the fall of the Soviet Union, didnt start outreelection. For Gremina, however, adaptation of Dario Fos The Double Headed with an oppositional agenda. "I never thoughtthis turn of events only stiffens her spine. Anomaly, here retitled BerlusPutin, which I would write a political play. We built Teatr. NEW FROM TCGBooks 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama Water by the Spoonful tells the story of a soldiers return from Iraq as he struggles to find his place in the world while, somewhere in a chat room, recovering addicts forge an unbreakable bond of love and support. The boundaries of family and friendship are stretched across time and cyberspace in this second play of Quiara Alegria Hudess The Elliot Trilogy. "Hudes combines a lyrical ear with a sophisticated sense of structure ... A confident and arresting voice." - New York Times "This is one of the best new plays Ive seen in years. This is a very funny, warm and, yes, uplifting, play with characters that are vivid, vita l and who stay with you long after the play is over." - Hartford Courant Paperback $14.95 978-1·55936·438·6 Hard cover $28.00 978-1·55936·439·3 -~Q • G•oup54 AMERICAN THEATRE JULY/AUGUST12
  4. 4. cow theatre, Praktika, whose Golden Mask offerings included the ironic media satire Zhara (The Heat), the sweet interview-based appreciate-your-grandmothers piece Babushki Grannies, and the Bergmanesque mystery, entirely fictional but delivered in a rivetingly plain documentary style, Illusions. The strongest Golden Mask offering from this indie-theatre scene exemplified a freewheeling aesthetic eclecticism that might be recognized by fans of Austin, Texass Rude Mechanicals. Sasha Denisovas Light My Fire (also at Teatr.doc) blends documen- tary techniques with sketch comedy and rock-and-roll, giving dead -by-2 7 rockers JimMorrison, Janis]oplin andJimi HendrixThe kitsch-tinged pro menace a -Ra -Ra Boom-de-Boom from director Dmitry Krymov. a remix at once both raucous and intimate. In Denisovas begniling conceit, actors slipdoc first of all because we ;,anted to have a now and they say, Here is a horrible story, effortlessly between broad, ballsy stabs atplace to do theatre which- interesting to us or, Here is a wonderful story." Famous Rock Moments-some lip-synchedfrom the artistic perspecti-<-e. Later, step by Not all of offerings are to loud playback, some screamingly funny,step, those very important policical projects politically charged; in one future project, all stunningly successful-and quiet diarystarted knocking at our dOOI"i. Ye didnt want male performers will reenact interviews with readings from the actors own contemporarythem. Its like Six CbrJ.-::?rS ,~ mrch of An women about childbearing. That brand of Russian lives that redirect the larger storysAuthor-reality is ear - - -~ ior ciJe author. humani zing storytelling- evocative of the pop-cultural, and countercultural, currentsNow that reality knows the w.l!- and the door work of the U.S. troupe the Civilians-is in fresh and provocative ways. I doubted thatto knock on, people aG".12li! :end us letters also practiced by another hip, young Mos- anyone could make the legendary music andJULY/AUGUS T1 2 AME i<l c_! - 55
  5. 5. ~ ---- --- POSTMARKmayhem of these three overexposed icons feelfreshly revolutionary, but thats exactly whatD enisova and company, under director YuryMuravitsky, have done.LIGHT MY FIRE WENT ON TO WIN THEGo lden Masks "innovation" award, andButusov took home a directing award forhis rageaholic Seaf5Ull. I also saw the festivalslarge-scale winner, Andrei Moguchy andKonstantin Filippovs Happiness, an elaboratelyodd and intermittently gorgeous meldingof avant-garde and childrens theatre tropesfor a retelling of Maeterlincks The Blue Bi1·d;Alexander Shishkin also took home a deservedaward for his witty and surprisingly multilay-ered design. I have to admit that this show,as well as a non-competing presentation of A scene from Moquchys Happiness, based on Maeterlincks The Blue Bird.Dmitry Krymovs justly beloved "promenade"production, Ta-Ra-Ra Boom-de-Boom (imagine though not on the Golden Mask roster, was the For some, state funding has become tainted.a Chekhov-themed Cirque du Solei! show talk of the festival: Was this former lion of the- "Actors fro m major companies werewith a light garnish of Soviet kitsch), did not atrical dissidents, who had rancorously parted forced or extorted into making videos forquite fit the protest/resistance narrative I read ways with his famous Taganka Theatre the Putin," reports the Moscow Timess Freedman.into nearly everything else. previous year, making an anti-liberal statement "Its not a quite a schism, but its close to But behind the scenes, divisions are roil- with his staging? Accusations and counter- that, between state theatres and independenting. A new production of Dostoyevskys The charges of pro- or anti-government sentiments theatres along pro- and anti-Putin lines. "Demons by the 94-year-old Yury Lyubimov, now fly regularly between theatre artists. The division, he notes, is as much aes- thetic and organizational as political. "There was a meeting of future leaders of the theatre at Meyerhold Centre last year, and I got in some trouble for defending the Russian rep- ertory system, which I told them is the envy of the world. But all the young people here agree: It has to go." He calls theirs a "very Russian approach, a radical approach: tear the whole system down and start again." For her part, Gremina isnt interested in tearing anything down, just building and maintaining her own playground. "We dont need to break everything so everywhere will be just like us," she says. "But I hoped-I still hope-that we are building a new social model. Our usual theatres are kind of an imitation of the patriarchal state- theyre pyramids with gods on top, and thats totally uninteresting for me. I like the open communities where people come together because theyre interested in each other, and interested in coming together. I always say that our place is for freaks and losers." In a country where the right of fi·ee asso- ciation seems fragile again-not to mention a place where a troubling new tide of anti gay legislation is emerging-the most radical step may be not to tear down statues or state monopolies but to gather in theatres, tell the stories no one else will tell, and occasionally crank up the rock-and-roll. i2l56 AMERICAN THEATRE JULY/AUGUST12