Art of reconstruction
[b]The Yanka Kupala National Academic Theatre has premiered The Abduction of Europe, or Ursula Radziwill’s Theatre, staged by its artistic leader, Nikolay Pinigin. After staging Wincent Dunin-Marcinkiewicz’s engaging Pinsk Gentry and serious Translations, by Ireland’s Brian Friel, which boasts similarities to THE 20th century Belarusian drama, the theatre decided to try a comedy[/b]The performance’s three parts — a ballet, an opera and a commedia dell’arte (an Italian comedy) recreates a theatrical evening at Nesvizh Castle. Each is linked by playful mini-performances, performed by young actors Valentina Gartsueva and Alexander Kozello. Recently, these Yanka Kupala Theatre young actors received a prize as best acting duo at the Slavonic Theatrical Meetings Festival, for their performance of Alexander Gartsuev’s Not Mine.
The performance’s three parts — a ballet, an opera and a commedia dell’arte (an Italian comedy) recreates a theatrical evening at Nesvizh Castle. Each is linked by playful mini-performances, performed by young actors Valentina Gartsueva and Alexander Kozello. Recently, these Yanka Kupala Theatre young actors received a prize as best acting duo at the Slavonic Theatrical Meetings Festival, for their performance of Alexander Gartsuev’s Not Mine.
All three parts of the performance, interpreted by contemporary Belarusian playwright Sergey Kovalev, prove that a truly European theatre existed in Nesvizh in the mid-18th century. Its repertoire included ballet, opera and Ursula Radziwill’s commedia dell’arte. She was wife to the owner of Nesvizh Castle, Michał Kazimierz Radziwiłł Rybeńko. Curiously, Ursula Radziwill’s works possess irony and, even, sarcasm when referring to the imperfections of human nature and the frailty of human passions: acute themes centuries later. Her situational comedy is a genre still successful in modern theatre; A Too-Married Taxi Driver, # 13 and Boeing-Boeing are written in a similar manner.
Director Nikolay Pinigin again shows us his views on national identity and self-awareness through laughter and tears. His verdict can sometimes seem pessimistic and bitter, but this staging is not one such example. “For me, the play is contemporary, showing how public consciousness is influenced,” he explained to journalists on the eve of the premiere. “Belarusians must change their consciousness, ridding themselves of complexes and returning to a European outlook. We’ve had enough talk of clogs and rushniks!”
Set designer Olga Matskevich agrees, creating a world down to the tiniest detail; the costumes are bright and alive, like animated comics with their own character. You cannot help but notice every aspect.
Undoubtedly, after the curtain falls, you relive scenes from The Abduction of Europe. Its palette of colour is so vivid that the performance has its own special character and aesthetic nature, living and breathing. It is currently being staged at the Central House of Officers as the Kupala Theatre is undergoing reconstruction; however, the alternative stage is embracing the ‘Kupala Theatre’ spirit.
The Abduction of Europe is so full of irony that it seems nobody speaks seriously; the plot and set accentuate this quality while composer Andrey Zubrich’s 18th century style score seems entirely authentic. The melodies transport us to another age, in which we can imagine playing our own part. The Kupala Theatre actors sing a great deal and very well.
Yulia Shpilevskaya — a true ‘star’ of the performance — plays her role regally, while whimsical Olga Nefedova reinforces the comedic effect. Svetlana Zelenkovskaya, embracing the grotesque, isn’t afraid of being ridiculous, while Sergey Zhuravel, the image of sickly merchant Banut, is deceived by everyone except his young wife. It is another quaint character for him after playing the Half-witted Jourdain at the Youth Theatre. Flexible Harlequin, performed by Alexander Kozello, adds some stylish harmony and a peculiar rhythm to everything happening on stage. Like a street barker, he finds the correct intonation for speaking to the audience — not false or vulgar, simply confidently witty.
Everything resem-bles a true Venetian carnival; nothing can be taken for granted, with masks swapped in rapid rhythm. Animals remove fairy spells and turn into wonderful princes while Nesvizh’s young girls turn into eastern beauties. Wheat-haired shepherdesses sigh of love to the tune of the zhaleika (a wind instrument). Moreover, this true human comedy mocks the imperfections of theatrical genres. Life is broader than theatre. The director asks us to see how everything is conventional and unstable. How appealing is this smartly invented illusion?
Will the performance be understandable to European audiences? Of course, no other performance in the repertoire of the Yanka Kupala National Academic Theatre reminds us so much of the common European roots of the Belarusian, Polish and Lithuanian theatres. Certainly, our theatrical art somehow loses to our neighbours from Lithuania and Poland but perhaps our theatre can make a breakthrough, despite failing to always do well at international festivals.
It sometimes seems that stage directors of the older generation have satisfied all their ambitions, while their younger colleagues are satisfied with independent performances. However, we want to believe that there will be a breakthrough — evident to critics and ordinary spectators. With such a brilliant legacy, our theatre should not fade. Something ground breaking is due; we simply need passion and clear understanding of our own theatrical identity. We shouldn’t lose ourselves between the East and the West; we should rather absorb the very best of contemporary world theatre, reshaping it to suit ourselves, with extreme dedication to detail.
Myths, traditions and national materials are a good foundation for continuing progress. It’s not enough for us to just transfer a historical play to the stage; rethinking is necessary. We hope that The Abduction of Europe will inspire young stage directors to further investigate Belarusian theatrical material, presenting more of these unique plots.
By Valentin Pepelyayev