A Cleansing Mask

When this issue goes to print, Moscow will still be hosting the Golden Mask - the country's chief national festival. And while the jewelers are working on the shiny award masks (whose creator was the late Oleg Sheyntsis), while the critics and theatre-goers make guesses as to who will become the festival's favorite, we find staring at us from billboards and posters the emblem of this year's festival – a man removing his cosmetic facial mask: a symbol of rejuvenation and cleansing (though not the most pleasant of images). Admittedly, though, the name of one of the award winners is already known – it is Krzysztof Warlikowski and his production of “(A)pollonia", the best foreign production shown in Russia. The Golden Mask began to expand in recent years, bringing in everything that appeared in the post-Soviet space that was of at least some interest: from a modest reading to expensive ballet projects. It is entirely possible, however, that we are witnessing such a feast for the last time: the festival's funding is being cut.


A Piece of Flesh Plods Along Below

"Harlekin". The Derevo Theatre. St PetersburgDresden. An Experiment.

Anton Adasinsky, a regular participant of the Golden Mask Festival, played Harlequin – a puppet with a human heart. As it turned out, no one else has that kind of treasure, neither the puppet master nor Columbine. At night when puppets are alone, Harlequin is prepared to do anything for Columbine – to be the rug under her feet, her shower, her blanket, to play violin for her, to give her flowers. Yet the puppet, who cleverly turns the bouquet into a broom, and the violin into a fly swatter, will only be satisfied with Harlequin's torn out heart. And the heart, like the nose of Major Kovalev, sets off to travel the world together with its owner, who has a dissection scar on his chest. Along the way they will remind the honorable audience about the golden dream of art - commedia dell'arte, "Mir Iskusstva" ("World of Art"), Blok's "Balaganchik", Paul Cezanne's Harlequinade, the Oriental Shadow Theatre, Brodsky's "Harlequin's Romance Song" and "Columbine's Romance Song" (and in Brodsky's person they will also remind the audience of the purely Petersburgian melancholy, "to which there is no end").


A Boy from a Star

"Why Do People Grow Old?" Puppet Theatre. Minsk. Mask Plus.

Once upon a time there lived an old man and an old woman. They suffered through injections and waited for death. They had a son Ivanko, but he was killed in a war. They had a son Romanko, but he died at springtime. In their old age God gave them another son Rygorka, a boy from a star. That son went to save the world from evil, but became convinced that people reward kindness with evil and he returned to the star.

The props of the Minsk actors seem overly unsophisticated: the old man and the old woman are mitten-puppets; the young people are rag dolls that look like they were made by a child; the dog is made from a couple of tinsel threads; homes are birdhouses; forests – a few gnarled twigs. Their technique, on the other hand, is very complex. Thus in the beginning of the performance the stage is inhabited only by mitten puppets. Then later people will show up as well; among them is Zmei-batka (Alexander Vasko), seasoned and sly like the red state farm director, wearing a suit jacket and tie. He will make it crystal clear to Rygorka that people are bad and not worthy of freedom. And if we are to agree with Hamlet that theatre is but a mirror to be held up to nature, then this small, inventive and warm mirror of the Minsk Puppet Theatre reflects all the hopelessness of the Belarusian society.


The Price of Emptiness

"The Posler Case." The Center for Contemporary Dramaturgy. Yekaterinburg. New Play.

An actor, a video projector and a clever text about the phenomenon of modern art – that is all that's needed for "The Posler Case". Its genre is that of a lecture, but it is in essence a theatrical mystification that tells us about a certain Philippe Posler, a Parisian artist who found his "edge" - the idea of recreating the backgrounds of great paintings but removing their story plots and characters: "After the Mona Lisa", "After the Luncheon on the Grass", "After the Magpie". Admittedly, those paintings manage to acquire both buyers and admirers. The pinnacle of his highly consistent artistic career was an exhibition titled "After Everything" - an empty, well-lit gallery, a heavy volume of commentary on the "masterpiece" and the subsequent auction, where "After Everything" will get sold at an exorbitant price. Mystification alternates with actual facts – about a gifted chimpanzee, for example, whose inspired doodling is being sold in Berlin for fantastic (as far as demand goes) sums of money. And the production once again poses a truly Hamlet-like question: what is modern art? Is it degradation, profanation, provocation, a quest for new forms? Is it evidence of a dead end or a breakthrough into the unexplored? Is it the artist's cunning, his confession or something "other"?


A Face In Half

"Brother Ivan". The Theatre Art Studio. Moscow. Drama.

Having begun his "Karamazovshchina" with the purest and most poignant arc – that of "The Boys", Sergei Zhenovach now turns to the novel's darkest moment – a day before Mitya's trial, when all the cursed questions appear before man in their full magnitude.

The only thing left to the actors is the front of the stage with benches –the rest of the space lurks behind them like a dark abyss. The participants of tomorrow's trial are sitting on those benches, meekly awaiting their turn and talking privately with each other: Alyosha with Grushenka, Alyosha with Liza, Alyosha with Madame Khokhlakov, Alyosha with Mitya, Alyosha with Ivan, Ivan with Smerdyakov, Ivan with Guest (light turns the figure of the Guest into a virtually incorporeal outline, clearly dividing his face in half: one half belongs to Ivan, the other – to the devil). Another light, dull, pre-dawn, will dissipate the darkness over the courtroom (of the Judgment Day court).

The biggest part in the production dedicated to Ivan is given to Alyosha. But he looks the least like a saint in his little overcoat and a military ushanka hat. He rather resembles a provincial soul healer (the only one in the region), forced to help everyone indiscriminately. Like Bulgakov's young doctor, Alyosha finds the right solution at the last minute: "I only know that it wasn't you who murdered him," "I didn't believe it for a second". But he is not all-powerful: Ivan and Smerdyakov are already beyond help.



Passion and Chess

"Le Parc." The Mariinsky Theatre. St Petersburg. Ballet.

Angelin Preljocaj, an Algerian-born Frenchman and one of the leading figures of the modern ballet establishment, laid out his famous "Parc", the ballet that gave rise to his European fame, on the stage of the Mariinsky Theatre. Ladies in white coats and gentlemen in black ones are playing a chess game of passion: from flirtation to "an exalted disease". Madame de La Fayette's "La Princesse de Clиves", Choderlos de Laclos' "Les Liasons Dangereuses", and the music of Mozart form the literary basis for "Le Parc" (but not its plot). A gallant century, when ladies managed to turn even fainting into an aesthetic art form (in ballet making sure to protect their hoop skirts) is steeped in the winds of modern speeds and passions. Suffice it to say that one of the principal parts is performed by Diana Vishneva.


To Give and Take

"King Lear. Prologue." The DAKH Center for Contemporary Arts. Kiev. Productions from the CIS and the Baltic countries.

The leading character of the Ukrainian "King Lear" was not the crown-wearing father, but the famous ethno-chaos group DakhaBrakha (which, translated from the old Ukrainian language, means "Give-Take"). The group was created to provide musical arrangement for DAKH's production of "Prologue to Macbeth" from the "The Mystical Ukraine" series, but it quickly became an independent project. However, it didn't break away from the theatre, continuing on with the mystical Ukrainian Shakespeariana: "Richard III", and then "King Lear" as well. They "take" from all the different musical styles and the folklore of Slavic countries. They employ any and all instruments: Guzul drums, djembes, darbukas, tablas, noise-makers (wind, rain, rattles, jingle bells), accordions, cellos, children's accordions, hurdy gurdies, zhaleikas, Australian didgeridoos, buhais, trombones, grand pianos...

In fact, there is virtually nothing left of the Shakespearean tragedy. Neither the text, nor the plot remain. Only some of the characters remotely resemble the king, his three daughters and the jester. Somber, almost death-like masks on the faces of the characters, the actors' meditative movements that are reminiscent of some kind of a mysterious ancient ritual, and a truly nuclear energy of the DakhaBrakha ethno-chaos hold back the plot, but underline the primeval horror of human society that became lost in the darkness and began falling apart; a society where Lear lost his power and Godot is not coming.


Being Simone Weil

"Persona. Simone's Body." The Dramatic Theatre. Warsaw. Legendary Productions of the 20th Century.

Georgi Gurdjieff, Marilyn Monroe, Simone Weil – three personalities, three points which Krystian Lupa used to plot his coordinate system of the 20th century. Following the "Persona. Marilyn" the Moscow audiences were treated to "Persona. Simone's Body" - a fantastical journey of characters (fictional, borrowed from colleagues, and real) through the waves of consciousness in a quest for an opportunity to break through to another person and to oneself. The lento pace of this journey does not negate the internal tension and those cursed questions that a man of art must ask himself.

Elżbieta Vogler (Małgorzata Braunek) – a character from Bergman's "Persona", who has stopped speaking right in the middle of the performance – is returned on stage decades later through Krystian Lupa's efforts. Together with a young director (Andrzej Szeremeta) she released a successful "Medea", and he offers her another job – a production about Simone Weil, philosopher and ideologist of the left-wing French, who paid for her convictions with her life (after limiting her food intake to the level of concentration camp rations out of solidarity with the prisoners, she died of malnutrition at the age of 34). The product of exhausting arguments between a successful director (who is infuriated by the impracticality of Weil's views) and an ageing actress (she is very conscious of the moral boundaries of her nonmaterial craft) is... not the truth, no, but an image of Simone Weil, which the actress can no longer shed.


To Save Chernushka

"The Little Black Hen." The Music Theatre of Karelia. Petrozavodsk. Operetta/Musical.

The Music Theatre of Karelia allowed itself an unprecedented luxury –a children's opera (although at the festival it is submitted under the operetta category, which greatly increases its chances of victory). Admittedly, though, one needs only to take a look at the theatre's repertoire to see that here musical productions for children are not considered luxuries, but, rather, necessities. "The Little Black Hen, or the Underground People", based on Antony Pogorelsky's fairy-tale, is a world premiere for composer Roman Lvovich, as well as an impressive debut for director Juliana Egorova and artist Elena Oleinik, who brought the wintery St. Petersburg onto the stage, with schoolchildren playing snowball fights and suffering through drills, and underground dwellers climbing out of the cracks in the walls at night. For almost two hundred years already this enigmatic tale has been telling children about friendship and betrayal, about the price of spectacular success not paid for by work, and the price of a rash act. And the grown-ups must be prepared to console their children for a very long time, as they cry over the noble, shackled Chernushka and his compatriots. The opera should comfort the more impressionable young spectators: Chernushka gives Alyosha, her savior and unintentional betrayer, an opportunity to fix everything. And that is such an important opportunity for a child.



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