Life in paradise and beyond
[b]She was such a wonderful Paulinka in the performance at the Yanka Kupala National Academic Theatre: feminine, smart and charming… Those who saw Honoured Artiste of Belarus Zoya Belokhvostik play this role as a student realised immediately that she was unique.[/b]I remember admirers speaking of her as a diamond and they were right. Zoya’s stage presence, even in those early days, confirmed her as a world class actress, certainly worthy of the MKhAt training. However, her roots tied her strongly to Belarus. She absorbed the culture of several acting generations and was taught by outstanding Belarusian teachers and actors: Galina Makarova, Pavel Kormunin, Zinaida Brovarskaya, Lilia Davidovich and Gennady Ovsyannikov.
I remember admirers speaking of her as a diamond and they were right. Zoya’s stage presence, even in those early days, confirmed her as a world class actress, certainly worthy of the MKhAt training. However, her roots tied her strongly to Belarus. She absorbed the culture of several acting generations and was taught by outstanding Belarusian teachers and actors: Galina Makarova, Pavel Kormunin, Zinaida Brovarskaya, Lilia Davidovich and Gennady Ovsyannikov.
I can’t forget how easily Zoya moved at that time and with what charm she sang; she danced beautifully and raised her eyes as if looking into the depths of the soul. A small smile would play on her lips and she held herself with dignity, as would any noble girl. Of course, she inherited acting genes from her great grandfather, grandfather and father but she also had great determination and diligence.
Her playing of Paulinka developed each year, over 16 years, and she would surely have continued longer had not her mother, Olga Glebova, urged her to move on. Zoya knew this to be good advice, despite her stage director being happy for her to continue in the role. Valery Raevsky was very reluctant to allow her to transfer the role to Svetlana Zelenkovskaya.
Zoya’s life has revolved around acting and creativity. Of course, the theatre now has a new building and Zoya cannot know what her role will be in the future but her fans remain loyal. She has delighted us in People of the Marsh, Not Mine, Dinner with Nuts, The Boor, Kolyady Night, Cabaret and The Black Lady of Nesvizh. However, she is sad that the repertoire now doesn’t include some of her favourite performances: Idyll, Bloody Mary, Ivona, The Princess of Burgundy and Vanyushin’s Children.
As the theatre re-opens, it has just three performances being staged, since it will take time to master the new stage equipment. Zoya has been teaching at the Academy of Arts, as well as performing in To Drink, to Sing, to Cry: an uplifting performance directed by talented young Katya Ogorodnikova. She plays a leading role, revealing one person’s destiny to the audience.
Of course, Ms. Belokhvostik understands that there are no small roles; actors are sometimes obliged to reluctantly retire from big roles (a ‘standstill’). Accordingly, they must show strength of character and professionalism. Zoya believes that maturity brings understanding that we create our own happiness and that it’s impossible to love others if we close our heart too readily. She also admits that we must find other motivations to drive us once the passion of youth is past.
Ms. Belokhvostik has faith that age brings with it an ability to ponder life more closely and our role in the wider world, choosing priorities for our remaining time on Earth. I’m convinced that Zoya has many wonderful roles ahead and will remain happy, nurturing all that is positive.
My peaceful childhood lasted until my grandfather was alive and this was truly life in paradise. After that, another life began connected with lots of obligations. It was another world in which words ‘it’s necessary’ and ‘you should’ sometimes deprived me of smile…
I don’t remember that unless I was six adults forced me to do something. I — left to the four winds — lived in the state of happiness when you understand subconsciously that everyone loves you and you love everyone. A separate history is connected with each of my family members — mother, father, grandmother and grandfather — in which the melody of love was and continues to be a keynote. As soon as I think about that distant time our summer cottage and images connected with it appear in my mind. I speak with everything that is growing, lying under my feet or moving…
The huge surrounding world is alive and fascinating. I remember my room with dolls, drawings and moulding. I also recollect in mind the flower bed with phloxes and it seems that I as if fell their aroma and feel how skin on my palms is dried up because of the ground in which I potter in order to find a hidden place for my ‘secret’. Then after lying phlox flowers heads I cover them with a piece of glass and powder with ground and begin to foretaste how I will show this beauty later to those whom I love. I also hear the singing of birds and the noise of leaves… Among this sunny splendour with overwhelming green colours of summer I see him — the major hero of my story — my grandfather.
This is my legendary grandfather Gleb Glebov — the pride of Belarusian acting school… However, at that time I didn’t know this. For me another thing is important: that is playing with him. My grandfather was very plastic and moved easily while constantly showing me various improvisations and I guess who he is at that moment: a tea pot, a hair or a rook. I also show something myself…
In our games the grandfather was often my son and I put him at the corner, forced to creep under the table and fed him with porridge from leaves and flowers. He did everything and behaved according to proposed circumstances. Interestingly, but then I didn’t want to play similar games with children. Of course, this wasn’t the level of People’s Artiste of the Soviet Union who was called a great improvisator. Later I understood that when the grandfather was playing with me he was already death sick.
My grandmother was a strict person and I associate books, fairytales and literature with it. We were reading and speaking much… The Kupala Theatre actors often visited our home and the grandmother offered them to eat red-beet soup or cakes… I remember how I was standing close to her and kneading my dough and was moulding my own cookies.
I’d like to return into this paradise world in order to get that state of the soul when everything brought joy. I’d like to do everything I want: to travel, to experience the unknown, to bring my dreams into life, even if they’re not connected with my actor’s profession. I’m confident that dreams come true only if a person does something in this direction. Nothing has been ever easy to me and nothing has ever fallen under my feet. Everything that arrived into my life was due to my hard labour. My mother and father [Valentin Belokhvostik — People’s Artiste of Belarus] worked hard…
My great grandfather in my mother’s line was an actor and worked at the Kropyvnytsky’s Theatre [Marko Kropyvnytsky is Ukrainian playwright, actor and director] but then became a railway engineer in order to earn the life of his family. So, this ‘infectious disease’ — acting profession — comes from there…
My mother has always been and remains to be the greatest authority in my life, as well as in my thoughts and recollections. I’ve always listened to her judgments, analysis and criticism of my acting works. Vocalists and teachers enjoyed working with her — a brilliant concertmaster and musician. Moreover, she was a very delicate person, as well as smart and loving and boasted a good taste. She always made remarks very softly and carefully.
We used to go to rest by car to Odessa and to the Crimea… My father and automobile was some integral unit. I remember his confident hands holding the steering wheel and his white-teeth smile... He didn’t have any car accident during his whole life.
Paulinka is my greatest impression from the theatre and my grandfather playing Pustarevich in it. I didn’t like that my grandfather was offended in this role and was beaten there. When Agata began to beat my grandfather I cried at the top of my voice for the whole audience hall: ‘You can’t beat my grandfather!’ I was immediately withdrawn from the audience hall and didn’t appear there unless I understood that it’s necessary to sit silent there.
I’ve known since I was 4 years that I would be an actress, so I was always in the forefront at all parties in the kindergarten and school. This was as naturally for me as to breathe. Everyone knew who were my grandfather and my father. I studied at elite school #30 in Minsk’s centre and our class was wonderful and very friendly. In total these were children of intelligent parents and grandparents, so were brought up without complexes. Anyway, it sometimes seemed to me that teachers who were teaching exact sciences scorned me — an absolute humanitarian. However, I learnt later that they understood that I wouldn’t need exact sciences in my life and my rating was high.
Belonging to a dynasty of actors brought great responsibility; I felt it as a burden for some time. My daughter Valentina is in the same position, being the fourth generation. I constantly felt that I mustn’t let down either my grandfather or my father. This lasted until I gained some recognition; I then stopped feeling the need to prove my talent in my own right.
As the years pass, your insistence on high personal standards grows. You become aware of what you need and what you can achieve. However, you also need to be flexible, adapting to various situations. Personal appearance is important, since you are always presenting an image: on stage and off. I dress for comfort and beauty but especially like to dress up glamorously, with evening make-up and jewellery. I like this side of being an actress and try to look the part. I also enjoy looking pretty at home, as I was brought up to do so.
I’m not currently in my most creative period; it may just be a time to ‘survive’. It’s not that I don’t have offers of work, as I’m involved in performances, but I’m seeking something more, feeling that I have the power and experience to do so. Probably, the theatre’s restoration is to blame. Fortunately, it is finished and we’re open again. Maybe, the time will come when more favourable, serious performances are available to me. Meanwhile, the Arts Academy is also undergoing reconstruction; it’s like a ‘natural disaster’, with rehearsals and classes in rooms scattered all over the city. The usual educational process has been disturbed, so problems arise for the creative process. No matter what anyone says, I’m convinced that this does influence our quality of work.
Paulinka is my ‘child’: my first role on the Kupala Theatre stage. Today’s renewed Paulinka, with new actors, is a completely different performance.
I’m introverted, yet have become more open as the years have passed. I’m open with my relatives and friends and with those whom I trust and want to help. I’m always open with students and even a stranger may arouse reciprocal feelings in me, if they are kind and sincere.
I’m very strict with myself and others but especially demanding of myself — sometimes to my own detriment. With age has come wisdom in thinking before I speak and being more diplomatic. Some take criticism to heart and some can be greatly offended. I believe that we must preserve our dignity. I see those close to me as being encircled in a sunny aura of green and yellow. I think that all those with pure hearts are the same.
There’s something in acting profession which doesn’t depend either on one’s own talent or belonging to some dynasty. I was told this by my father when he looked through my diploma performances. Although he saw an actress in me he told me not to indulge a vain hope and to remember that there’s always luck and success in the acting fate. Moreover, it may happen that a truly good actor may find themselves in the ‘restricted zone’ for some reason and I’m grateful to my father for his lessons: none of us is secured from this.
Everything I was taught at the institute was useful to me in my work with students. I know how to behave and not to behave with them. However, sometimes it may happen that what you invent when preparing for my lessons may not come in useful, as you deal with personalities.
The apprehension that you master the profession came to me at the institute during the diploma performances. Although it wasn’t sustainable, I really felt this and believed that I’m able to play. I performed in the drama which I’ve composed myself relying on Chekhov’s stories. Moreover, I played in Čapek’s Mother and Zoya in Turgenev’s On the Eve. Meanwhile, my acting life has both rises and falls of the tide. Sometimes before the performance I feel uncertainty; however, as soon as I’m involved in action my forces strengthen and I feel perfect myself.
Something may dissatisfy in the partner during the performance but I won’t tell this. I think that if they did something, e.g. forgot the text, they couldn’t so otherwise. This happens with everyone and it can’t be explained. If an actor is awaken at night they will tell you the whole role but are able to have brain freeze on the stage. Before the start of the performance I sit and check all key moments: God forbid to forget the text. Everything may happen and the words will be forgotten. This is terrible! In this situation the most important is not to glaze over and to continue telling with your own words. If this is a compound sentence where improvisation is impossible, this is awful. However, actors always find the way out from this situation and their partners help them and prompt. Spectators don’t notice such things but for us, actors, this is a true shock.
I like my stage partners as they are and I don’t complain. As you have such a partner than you deserve such. However, that actor is good who is able to give everything to the partner and doesn’t follow your playing.
A great actor is talent and responsibility. As a rule, in life these are modest and doubtful people — not arrogant and puffed-up. They’re in constant search in profession, since they know that one can’t achieve something in it forever. I’m convinced that it’s necessary to move your legs even if you’re standing on one and the same place and to change all the time. As cells in the human body constantly divide, movement is everything in acting profession. However, it is probably a guarantee of success in any other profession.
It’s difficult to determine the level of your own talent but, fortunately, there’re other people who will do it.
Communication with youngsters who live in another rhythm inspires to move constantly. The contact with young people enables me to clean in myself what has gathered dust. I look on their mistakes and discoveries, their ability to hungrily absorb the profession and revise something in myself. If I feel that I stagnate I begin to address books. During reading the answer to the question comes to me obligatory, but this happens so unexpectedly when I’m in despair to find the answer. I now read Chekhov and Tennessee Williams.
When I rehearsed Paulinka it was very fearful. I started to tremble at night and opened the door of the Yanka Kupala Theatre with trembling hands. I don’t even remember how I reached the rehearsal room along the corridors. I recollect with gratitude everyone who helped me. Everyone helped me: Galina Makarova, Zinaida Rynkovich and Pavel Kormunin whom I called uncle Pasha, cherished memory to them. He was especially tactful and could whisper his advice to the ear so silently as if it weren’t not him. I don’t like when youngsters are taught with an instructional tone not understanding that they offend their personality in this way and I try not to do this myself. Youth is freshness and novelty. Even if youngsters make mistakes in trifles there’s what we can learn from them. Trifles can be corrected.
There’re also grey paints in acting profession: this is when an actor is less involved in the theatre due to some reasons. Time moves on inexorably and a feeling appears that the theatre doesn’t need you and self-criticism and depression begin… The crisis has entered my life with the theatre’s repairs, since many of performances, where I was involved in big roles, were removed from the repertoire. Yes, you shoot in cinema and teach and, of course, may be greatly involved in some other projects; however, this doesn’t bring that joy which gives drama theatre. Nothing can replace the work in the theatre. Some theatres have promising plans and actors are aware that intensive work will begin in a year or two although now they my experience stagnation. So, they quietly live and wait for their wonderful roles. I hope it won’t pass by me too in the nearest future.
The actor’s professional luggage is a strong voice, good diction and an ear for music. Of course, the most important is stage charm. Its components are naturalness in communication with stage partners, the ability to capture them with your one’s own feelings and thoughts and the ability to observe life and embody its bright features on the stage. I greatly enjoy when these features are present in a student, although maybe in their infant state. Then I think that some theatre will be lucky and a great individu-ality will grow up. Some immediately make a name for themselves brightly but can later freeze while others — not outstanding at first sight — continue to develop further. Some do this quicker, some slower. There’re both categories of students at my course and I try to make everything to help them learn this profession.
Nothing will unless one feels the nature of acting profession. One doesn’t have either a brush or paints, like painters have, either a violin, like musicians have. One has just some invisible ‘buttons’ which are built-in and it’s necessary to understand how they work to independently. One can feel everything brilliantly but doesn’t know how to express these feelings and emotions in such a way that people believe. Without colossal labour in searches ‘when and which button to press’ one will fail to become an actor.
Roles and rehearsals
There’re many items in the Belarusian acting school worth of delight and adoration, and it may take a long time to enumerate them. Many of our actors are a true standard for me. Fortunately, some of these still work in my native theatre.
The role doesn’t ever ‘holds’ me after the performance. Of course, I analyse and recollect something; however, if the performance was a success, I mostly rest in good mood. Meanwhile, when I rehearse a complex role during 3-4 months, it definitely doesn’t hold you.
It’s always a tragedy when there’s no rehearsal and it’s always a great joy when we have rehearsals. During the so called ‘draft period’ of rehearsals I as if pounce on the role, quickly learn it and perceive everything what a stage director says. This is a great happiness when a stage director places accents in your role and you understand what they want from you. I adore time on the eve of run-throughs when there’re costumes and the make-up and soon you’ll enter the stage… Of course, something is still being checked and verified but everything will happen very soon. The process of playing itself is something delightful, especially if you fit the image, as does your partner…
Men and husband
I like the world order, which includes men and women. It’s wonderful that there are men. It would be boring for women to live without men and men would disappear as a species without us. We can help them with their very serious attitude towards themselves and soften it with our tenderness and love. The whole our life is a game. There’s no need to treat temporary difficulties so dramatically. This does not mean that one should not take seriously the profession, duties and problems. However, when I see men’s faces, which reflect the drama that men feel inside, and it doesn’t matter what it is caused by, I’d like to say, ‘My dear, let’s treat everything easier -- you don’t roll Sisyphus’s stone… Life is so that there always can be problems in it, that’s why don’t ignore us, don’t wait until you fulfil everything while we are alive as it’s impossible.’
I think, it’s very important in relations between men and women to remember one thing: here and now, and not tomorrow, not later… I refer this to my husband, Alexander Gartsuev, Artistic Director of the Belarusian Drama Theatre). He has a difficult period in life now. I also refer this to my friends’ husbands.
I know many wonderful families, built on mutual love, yet the atmosphere of the houses is in stagnation and there’s no pulse of life. Yes, everything is well, peaceful and quiet there, but it’s so stuffy... I cannot put up with this. After all, if love was, it will not disappear. This means that we have dropped out of its flow and fence ourselves off the life energy, so our sacred duty is to live life with joy, and not drag along it just because it is given to us.
I am convinced that any woman, no matter how old she is, waits her man to express his feelings. Let it be not so often and passionately as in the young age. On the contrary, the restraint which comes with age has its own beauty and dignity. The same situation is with love which becomes better with time, like wine...
The family will be complete, conve-nient and warm for everyone if all members of the family contribute their soul and heart equally. Then, old relations won’t lose their charm. Anyway, if someone does not hear me and does not try to understand, then I don’t need them in my life.
The story of my marriage was romantic. I came to the theatre, and Sasha was in the army at that time. Then, he returned, and at the time the Kupala Theatre often travelled with concerts which featured Sasha and me; we sang songs and this is the result we have now.
My husband is a workaholic, and work in his profession is in the first place for him. However, he does well everything about the house and garden: he has truly gifted hands. We have a farm near the Lithuania border, so he made everything for us to spend vacations with full comfort there.
We don’t manage to forget about work at home. Once our daughter Valya said, ‘One day, we should decide not to talk about theatre at home’. I agreed with her, as it turns out that we have a kind of a production meeting, look at one another, but don’t see, say something, but don’t hear... Of course, we really try, but sometimes it’s not so easy…
When I think about my daughter, I immediately see her as a child, laughing. My little Valya laughed in such a way that everyone around would laugh heartily too. She is a true miracle. I realised how capable she is on seeing her in The Boor: her diploma performance. She is a better actress than I am: cooler, more talented and more beautiful. She developed quickly, which makes me very proud and happy. I’m confident that her grandfather and great-grandfather would be pleased. We have a close relationship, although Valya can be too candid at times. However, I’m grateful to her, as she has intuition regarding others, seeing through them as if with an X-ray; she is more insightful than me. She gives me and her father advice. Valya is a pure and positive person; I see my love for her as being a tender pink.
I feel great happiness at being born on this Earth and in this country. I don’t wait for rivers of milk and honey, believing we must generate our own destiny. My parents worked hard to put bread on the table so, from an early age, despite being very happy, I knew that cherries needed to be collected, washed and removed of kernels in order to make jam. From the youngest age, I realised that fairy tales are different to reality. If you want to live in a paradise, you must create it yourself. You must fight to recreate the light which illuminated your childhood soul.
Life is full of puzzles and secrets to be discovered and understood, like searching for hidden treasures in the flower bed. Those who seek will find…
When I help others, my soul is uplifted.
I feel love from others but still wonder sometimes whether I fully understand the souls of those closest to me.
We have a dog named Grusha, who keeps us young at heart, meeting us joyfully and entertaining us. She makes everyone laugh and is so open in her faithfulness and love that we can really learn from her…
I enjoy my age and I like the self-knowledge it has brought. I appreciate life and understand more. I’m also happy that I have such a wonderful daughter, who will give me grandchildren in the course of time. I’ll be playing with them, in order to help her, which pleases me. Nevertheless, I know of no greater joy than entering the stage and acting.
By Valentina Zhdanovich