Half of Europe applauded to him
[b]Celebrations dedicated to the 150th anniversary of Buinitsky’s birth are taking place across Belarus to honour the man who was the founder of Belarusian theatre [/b]Theatrical festivals are held worldwide, from Scottish Edinburgh to French Avignon. They bring their cities fame, whether in megapolises such as Berlin and Moscow, or small towns such as Finnish Imatra. Their diversity covers classical, experimental, puppet and student theatre. One such festival, focusing on amateur, school and folk companies, is being organised in the home village of Ignat Buinitsky — the founder of contemporary Belarusian theatre. In August and September 2011, celebrations dedicated the 150th anniversary of Buinitsky’s birth are taking place across Belarus to honour the man whose work received a standing ovation from half of Europe in the early 20th century.
Theatrical festivals are held worldwide, from Scottish Edinburgh to French Avignon. They bring their cities fame, whether in megapolises such as Berlin and Moscow, or small towns such as Finnish Imatra. Their diversity covers classical, experimental, puppet and student theatre.
One such festival, focusing on amateur, school and folk companies, is being organised in the home village of Ignat Buinitsky — the founder of contemporary Belarusian theatre. In August and September 2011, celebrations dedicated the 150th anniversary of Buinitsky’s birth are taking place across Belarus to honour the man whose work received a standing ovation from half of Europe in the early 20th century.
Rural ‘star factory’
From 1910 to 1913, Buinitsky’s troupe performed plays by Belarusian and Russian authors in Polotsk, Disna, Minsk and Slutsk. They also visited Vilnius, Warsaw and St. Petersburg, staging performances by Leopold Rodevich, Eliza Orzeszkowa and Anton Chekhov. After performances, wealthy fans would present Buinitsky with golden rings, while famous Belarusian poets Yanka Kupala and Zmitrok Byadulya devoted verses to him. In the early 20th century, it was even considered prestigious to receive a postcard depicting Buinitsky.
“His performances were rather original,” notes Olga Ginko, who heads the school in Glubokoe District’s Prozoroki village, where Buinitsky’s grave and museum are located. “First, verses were read, then the performance itself took place; later, a choir performed primarily Belarusian folk songs, followed by dancing. Finally, the audience was invited to join in. It was the only company to behave like this in the history of theatre.”
After receiving his education in Riga, Buinitsky’s father allocated him 160 dessiatines (a Russian unit of area equal to approximately 2.7 acres) of land not far from Glubokoe. He came from a noble yet modest family, so the talented director worked on his estate as a land surveyor, while conducting rehearsals with a ‘travelling company’ comprised of his own relatives (his daughters Gelena and Vanda danced perfectly while his son-in-law Feoktistov conducted the choir). Talented locals with beautiful voices took part, with some playing the cembalo or violin (for instance, violinist Ivan Goler). Members of the local intelligentsia were also welcomed.
Revenue from Buinitsky’s estate paid the company’s expenses and he even tried to pay his artists some money; however, he finally went bankrupt. In 1913, ‘Uncle Ignat’ (as Buinitsky was called by many) bought a house in Prozoroki. World War I arrived and he went to the front within four years, his squadron positioned near Minsk Region’s Molodechno. He decided to organise a ‘theatrical evening’ and sadly died mid performance, failing to realise his dream of a professional theatre.
Museum in his honour
In 1918, Buinitsky’s daughters brought his remains to his homeland and, in 1975, reburied them in Prozoroki, helped by famous Belarusian writer Vladimir Korotkevich and Vladimir Nefed, a professor at the Belarusian Academy of Arts and a doctor of art history. A stela now rises over Buinitsky’s grave and a museum is run by a local school. The pupils eagerly show off playbills and costumes from the 20th century to tourists and even teach visitors how to dance Buinitsky’s favourite dance — The ‘Alexandrina’.
Until around a decade ago, a theatrical holiday devoted to Buinitsky took place in Prozoroki once every five years, bringing together professional theatres and famous creative Belarusian groups. However, the tradition gradually petered out. The 150th anniversary of his birth is the perfect time to revive the celebration. Students from the Belarusian University of Culture have joined employees from the State Museum of the History of Theatrical and Musical Culture in recreating Buinitsky’s theatrical performance. This autumn, the show will be given not only in his home village but in Glubokoe and Minsk, with an exhibition of Buinitsky’s photos, as well as his theatrical playbills, sure to draw interest.
According to specialists, only 12 original items connected with the life and creativity of the talented director remain; one is an ancient wooden table. “It was found in the house of a local landowner and dates back to the early 20th century,” notes Ms. Ginko. “It’s known that Buinitsky enjoyed sitting at it. He may have even written his performances while seated at its desk top.”
Until the festival
Buinitsky’s school museum in Prozoroki, which also keeps copies of documents from archives in Vilnius and Warsaw, is included on a local tourist route; you can find out more about it on the Sports and Tourism Ministry’s website. Recently, Igor Kurzhalov, a painter from Novopolotsk, developed a new concept for the site, helping transform this modest school museum into a contemporary cultural and tourist complex. A Minsk firm has promised to finance the project, while planning a leisure facility not far away, near the lake. A summer amphitheatre in Prozoroki would be able to annually accommodate fans of Buinitsky for a regular festival.
“It would be wonderful if our theatrical holidays, organised from time to time, could become a regular theatre festival,” notes Ms. Ginko eagerly.
“The revival of theatrical traditions connected with Buinitsky could seriously inspire youngsters and help promote Prozoroki,” believes Inessa Mikhailovskaya, Chair of Prozoroki Rural Council. “The settlement has not only a rich history but good social infrastructure, being located between a motorway and a railway. I think that Prozoroki will only benefit from such a ‘cultural shake-up’.”
If the festival takes off, the village will certainly need its own hotel (named in his honour) and tavern; an empty two-storey collective farmhouse could be the perfect venue, located near the Polotsk-Glubokoe motorway. The plans are beautiful yet logical. “There’s rationality in organising a theatre festival dedicated to Buinitsky,” agrees the Director of the Belarusian State Museum of the History of Theatrical and Musical Culture, Zinaida Kucher. “Of course, definite funds will be required, so it may be logical to first set up a Buinitsky fund. If we really want to turn Prozoroki into an interesting site, able to intrigue both local and foreign tourists, we need a creative concept and efficient management.” The idea appeals to employees of Minsk’s museum, who are ready to assist their colleagues from Glubokoe District in any possible way.
Prozoroki has always attracted attention with its history and architecture. Driving along the nearby motorway, it’s difficult not to notice its Orthodox church and Roman Catholic church. They say that Ignat Buinitsky, although Catholic, donated significant funds to building the first church. Meanwhile, storks have built a huge nest between the high spires of the second.
Rundown buildings have been demolished, fences have been painted and the exit from the motorway has been developed on the eve of the 150th jubilee of our famous fellow countryman. A park named after Buinitsky is to be developed and rural residents are hopeful that a new stage is dawning for the settlement, rich in cultural events.
By Sergey Golesnik