Tatiana Likhacheva, Honoured Artist of Belarus, is rehearsing for a benefit performance at her native National Academic Drama Theatre (named after Yakub Kolas) in Vitebsk, taking the leading role in Love Lab
Her career has been successful, with the foundations laid in early childhood. Her creative parents encouraged her to perform from the age of two, reading poetry while standing on a stool or table. Her father would tie table cloths between two trees in the courtyard to act as stage curtains, ready for her entrance...
Her delight at appearing before an audience remains with her, transformed into deeper and more complex feelings of course. When she puts on her stage make up in her dressing room, she begins to enter the realm of her character. In Rook Despair, by Vladimir Korotkevich, she even played Death. Her outer self may be able to answer questions from the costume team, make-up artists and colleagues but her inner self is elsewhere. This profound ability to transfigure is characteristic of our greatest actors — and is unknown in other professions.
Tatiana is known for her charisma, her melodic voice, her insightful expressions, impeccable pronunciation, fluid movements and a special ability to reach within the essence of any character. She admits that she was born to act and is thankful for her gift of intuition, which helps her summon up various personalities.
I’ve watched her take on various roles upon the Kolas stage, where she was sent after graduating from the Theatre and Art Institute (now, the Academy of Arts). She’s appeared in Romeo and Juliet, Symon the Musician and Last Summer in Chulimsk. The young actress was the perfect Juliet, Hanna and Valentina, displaying romanticism, subtlety, integrity and impetuosity as needed. Other characteristics appeared from the vaults of her inner world, conjuring up depths of lyrical and dramatic tragedy.
I’ve always wondered how each role leaves its mark on an actor, since some part of the character must remain within, like a quiet echo. To understand this, of course, one meeting with Tatiana would not be enough. Fortunately for me, our long conversation at the editorial office was supplemented by a chat at the National Theatre Awards, which recently took place in Minsk. Tatiana has taken on the role of Chair of the Vitebsk branch of the Union of Theatrical Figures of Belarus and is a leading actress at the Kolas Theatre.
Her charm, dignity, genuine friendliness, optimism and openness are most immediately apparent — from chatting and from watching her in intervals between performances. However, she admits that she has her ‘dark side’ — like anyone else. “Yes, there is light and shadow inside me,” says Tatiana. She views her shortcomings are useful though, saying that she strives to overcome her weaknesses, which keeps her on her toes. We all gain valuable experience from battling hard times; it’s how we grow as mature adults. Tatiana is convinced that our souls die if we allow ourselves to stagnate. We need always to push forward, setting new challenges. As I listen to her, I realise that she keeps her ‘demons’ well hidden, smiling even through adversity.
Most of all, Tanya wishes to retain her love of life and the theatre. She cherishes her loved ones and nurtures a sense of peace. Six years ago, her beloved husband and famous fellow actor, Honoured Artist of Belarus Gennady Shkuratov, died. In May of this year, her mother followed. “We endure drama when we are sick; it’s as if you are half-alive. Tragedy is when we lose that which is infinitely precious. I’ve endured tragedy but want to live to see my sons and grandchildren happy. It’s fascinating to see someone develop from birth. I’m still alive, so there are things to be enjoyed: watching my family grow; creative meetings; and new roles. I have the strength to carry these out. Sometimes, I lose my will to love myself and the world becomes grey; the sun may be shining but everything turns to grey — or, at least, to black and white,” she admits. “There are times when you feel a lack of interesting or talented people around you. However, I then realise that the problem resides inside my own self, since I’m creating a barrier to their approach. I turn away from them myself.”
It’s true that all life’s joys and sorrows can be packed away inside you for use in the acting profession. Observing other people is also valuable, allowing actors to mimic mannerisms and gestures they’ve noticed. The characters created by Tatiana Likhacheva are lively and believable: Cordelia, Yevfrosiniya of Polotsk, Rogneda and Golda... She’s played over a hundred roles!
Tatiana is lucky, having been born and raised in a loving environment; it seemed to her that everyone on Earth loved her. However, she also learnt that not everyone is sincere and open, with the ability to rejoice in life. She once thought that rogues and scoundrels existed only in films and, even now, tends to make excuses for the poor behaviour of others.
Here, Tatiana Likhacheva tells us about herself, as a Belarusian with Russian-Greek origins.
Every year, I’d spend my summer holidays, until the 8th grade, in the Caucasus, in the mountains of Georgia, with my grandparents. There, in a Greek village, for some reason called Ivanovka, my Greek mother was born: Parfena Georgievna. It’s a heavenly place with beautiful people. I’d watch them and would speak to them in Greek. They baked bread in huge Russian ovens in the street and I ate wonderful pancakes, cheese and butter — which I learnt to beat in clay jars.
The mountain air is so pure and you can drink the spring water. Lambs and buffalos walk up the mountains at dawn, disappearing into the mist, returning each evening to their houses. Old Greek women in black sit, watching the children. My aunts and uncles live in Ivanovka. Some immigrated to Greece after the collapse of the USSR. Last year, I visited them in Thessaloniki and toured the city of Epidaurus, with its ancient theatre. It still hosts festivals of ancient drama and I was struck by the acoustics: all fifty five rows can hear even a whisper. Suddenly, I wanted to sing in this place. I don’t know why: maybe because of my Greek roots. So, I sang a song in Belarusian language, from Rook Despair.
My father, Vladimir, was a soldier, born in Orel, and my grandfather was a Muscovite. My grandmother was from Tambov. They lived in Volozhin until I was 7 years old, then in Polotsk, before moving to Minsk.
My parents really wanted me to become a doctor or teacher but Fate had other plans. In addition, I was guided by my mother, who danced and sang very well, and participated in art activities. She read a lot and encouraged my artistic education. By the time I reached fifteen, she even wanted to send me to the Drama Theatre in Tbilisi. As they had five children, this was difficult though; I was the eldest and they couldn’t send me away to school — although we didn’t live in poverty.
I first performed at the age of two, in the role of a nesting doll, with other children, for the New Year holiday. I sang: ‘I was born a nest-doll’. I remember clearly my head-scarf, sarafan [pinafore] and the stage on which I stood, which seemed tremendous to me. I learnt to read very early, perhaps inspired by my father, who loved classical literature and adored poetry. He recited Yesenin, Pushkin and Mayakovsky and had a wonderful trained voice. He also composed poems and fables and painted with watercolours, as well as taking photographs.
At school, I gained a diploma as a young ballet dancer and I was supposed to study at the college of choreography located in Minsk, but my mother did`t allow me to. Aged six, I told my friend that I’d become an actress, and she told me of her wish to become a doctor. Now, she is a doctor, and I’m an actress.
Path to professionalism
Next January, it will be 40 years since my first and second applications to join acting schools in Moscow and Minsk failed. Life was testing my determination to become an actress! I passed the third time and gained a place at drama school. Strangely, there was a problem with my documents, so I had to return to Polotsk, working at the international telephone station. I joined the Polotsk People’s Theatre but, one day, when we were in Vitebsk for a concert, our director, Nikolay Manokhin, told me that the Kolas Theatre was auditioning. He urged me to attend so I did and finally had my dreams fulfilled.
In Vitebsk, I lived on the fifth floor — which is now the office of the chief artist. It was an unknown city, without relatives or friends. On my first day of work, I was an hour and a half late to the rehearsal as I was lost for some time in the city and then within the theatre itself. Red in the face and sweating, I arrived at our rehearsal room, where People’s Artists Tishechkin, Kuleshov, Dubov and Markina were waiting. The Chief Director, Semion Kazimirovsky, simply said, “Meet Tanya! She lives the farthest away, so we forgive her.” I was close to hysterics and it took me some time and effort to learn all the entrances and exits of the theatre.
I love the theatre at night: darkness and the black square of the stage. It’s fantastic and romantic — my home! I worked for six months and hardly seemed to need to go to university, as I appeared in so many performances. However, Mr. Kazimirovsky, who treated me like a daughter, advised me to return, warning me that another actress could appear with a degree and, even if less talented, could be taken on, leaving me unemployed. I entered a course under Alexander Butakov, studying while still acting with the theatre for another six months, before touring Ukraine.
The company loved me as a daughter, granddaughter and sister. The professional experience I acquired in that atmosphere of love remains forever with me and my dedication to the theatre is unchangeable — although the theatre is quite different these days. Time dictates our style of communication and behaviour. People come and go but, truly, I believe that the Kolas Theatre is different to those in the capital and in other regions; it has a purity which distinguishes it.
My four years of study at the university were wonderful, every day being so full. We went to Riga, performing for those in military units along the border. We even performed in trains, putting on sketches about those who check the tickets. There was never a dull moment and, without exception, everyone loved their teachers. Stasevich Lilia Yefremovna, who taught us to speak on stage, was like a mother to us. Other real professionals were Tamara Sergeevna Uzunova and, of course, Alexander Ivanovich Butakov. They played a great role in my life and how they loved us! That love stopped you from ever feeling angry with life. Visiting teachers from Moscow marvelled at how handsome and tall our Minsk boys were: Gennady Shkuratov, Sergei Zhuravel (People`s Artist of Belarus — Wr.), Yury Kulik (the Director of the Young Spectators’ Theatre), Victor Gudinovich (an actor with the Russian Theatre) and Alexey Dudarev (a playwright and the Artistic Director of the Belarusian Army Theatre).
The most vivid memories from my university years and beyond are bound up in Gena. I didn’t notice him straight away and, for some reason, was convinced that he was married and had been born in the Baltics, brought here his sister to enter the institute. I don’t know who started this rumour. I’d also decided not to fall in love until I’d finished university. Later, I discovered that Gena had told himself the same thing!
That autumn was sunny and, one day, I was running up the stairs, late for my lecture, when I saw him from a distance. He opened the door and sunlight blazed around him. It made his hair shine and I could see that his profile was chiselled. He looked bronzed with green eyes and I quite forgot that it was him: I thought that it was Greek god! The door closed and the picture disappeared but the image remained. I was then absolutely head over heels and, at the end of the first year, decided that I had to tell him of my love. I was anxious about this being unreciprocated and him thinking me odd but I had no time and decided to act, telling Gena my feelings.
It was early in the morning and our lecture would soon begin. I arrived and waited, then saw someone already seated. It was him. I said, “Shkuratov, come here, I want to tell you that I love you. I think that you already know and yet do not. Time is passing and I’m suffering.” I opened my heart, revealing all, and then returned calmly to my seat. Our lecturer came and we began; I saw Gena writing but also glancing at me from under his arm.
We married in the fourth year and, after graduation, joined the Kolas Theatre together. We’d been invited to join Minsk theatres but I made everyone fall in love with my theatre. Dudarev was originally going to Vitebsk but I talked him out of it. He was already writing fiction and poetry and went to the Young Spectators’ Theatre.
Our creative and marital partnership was successful and I really appreciated Gena’s professional opinion; we’d often advise each other. As we are both leaders, we’d have been incompatible were it not for our creativity. Two such forces in the house, two strong characters and temperaments, would have led to arguments; it could not have been otherwise. When we disagreed, we simply stopped talking and, even when we quarrelled more seriously, we were able to put those differences aside when it came time to go on stage together. Once we began acting, our conflicts would pass. We also put aside such arguing when our children arrived.
When people grow tired of each other, they try new experiences but Gena and I never lost interest and were actually afraid of losing one another — despite what others may have thought. Gena starred in many films and I was always afraid that my husband might be attracted by one of his beautiful leading women. However, he was born to be a one-woman man and treated other women only as sisters. He lacked the usual glint in the eye that men tend to show women. Women could never cross his line of decency, even if they wanted to. So, I trusted our marriage to last.
I once asked him if he’d ever felt stronger, warmer feelings for another woman but he assured me, “Why would I when I have you?” People loved him everywhere he went and wherever he appeared: it was his gift from nature. My husband was beautiful in appearance and in his soul. People would go to theatre just to see him — as he was a wonderful actor. Even six months before his death, he was playing roles of healthy men. When he began having heart problems, he managed to convince me that there was nothing to worry about. When he died, no one believed it and asked if it was a mistake or a joke. They thought his name might have been confused with Shmakov [Fiodor Shmakov — People`s Artist of the USSR]. It took me a while to come to my senses afterwards, as I felt like I’d been turned to stone for three months. I still can’t truly believe he’s no longer with us.
Work saved me and my friends helped. In addition to the theatre, I teach acting techniques and etiquette at a modelling agency run by Sergey Nagorny, who chairs the jury of the Student Spring festival and is engaged in work with the Union of Theatrical Figures.
I’ve had periods when I haven’t worked but filled them with painting, embroidery and reading. I’m not afraid of old age or loneliness as I’m never bored by my own company and always have things to do. I write short stories and poetry, which appear suddenly. Even the smallest thing can impress me. I began with quatrains and wrote this after Gena’s death:
I cry at night and read poetry, with no power to confess my love: you no longer exist in reality or dreams. You come to me only in transparent reality. It’s so painful — severe. I can’t explain. So much needs to be pondered and solved. I love you. I love you in the scream of the night, in our song of love and green eyes, and in my bitter weeping, because of your kindness — because you were, are and will be — you...
I’ve worked with various directors, who each have different styles. I feel closer to psychological theatre, when form appears later, but it’s also interesting to work with those who have established form. You explore and develop. I try to express each director’s idea and am grateful to each director for sharing his experience — and style.
I’m one of those actresses who always need a director. I’ve been lucky in working with good ones. I once played a role in the comedy Cylinder, directed by Boris Vtorov; I could hardly dream of it! I worked with Yury Pakhomov and of Mikhail Krasnobaev and am now rehearsing Love Lab, with Mr. Pakhomov. I love my roles, which are so various: an evil aunt in Gorin’s Plague on Your Two Families (which continues the story of Romeo and Juliet); Lyuti in Dudarev’s Remembrance Prayer; and Death in Rook Despair. I’m proud of the latter. Vladimir Korotkevich’s dialogue is wise and philosophical and I have a large monologue. I also sing rock music and have quite unexpected stage make-up. It’s a true departure for me.
Maturity has quietly crept up on me, with age-appropriate roles also arriving. These reflect my inner world. The role of Yevfrosiniya of Polotsk is wonderful; I actually went to live in a monastery to prepare myself. Bizarrely, I played a monkey at 50, in Krasnobaev’s Doctor Aybolit, climbing up and down a mast. You have to embrace an element of fantasy as an actor; it’s a test of your professionalism. The possession of this profession brings me joy.
I love beautiful things...
I don’t play games as I find them a bit awkward and lacking in sincerity. My sons sometimes say me: you’re not at the theatre now so you don’t need to act. However, your profession has an impact on people — whether you are a teacher or a doctor... Maybe my children have this in mind...
I love to look at all things beautiful and eat delicious foods. We are what we eat in the literal and figurative sense. Our nourishment of the soul then affects what we give to the world. I have never felt inferior which is probably why I love beautiful people. All my friends are beautiful and I can express my admiration for the beauty of any man I meet — even for the first time. I’ve understood with time that others can find this confusing, so I’m more careful these days. I admire the work of colleagues and easily express my admiration if they perform wonders on stage with their talent. It doesn’t matter whether or not I like them off stage.
I don’t tolerate laziness in myself, but I’m only human, so am susceptible. I tend to be the one who jumps on a horse and gallops off in different directions. I’m spontaneous. I believe that we should love Heaven and Earth and everything in between. The prism of love softens all imperfections in the world. We should live, giving life to children with pleasure and raising them in love.
If you have talent, you should develop it and give pleasure to others. Take care of your health and retain an open heart and soul. If you do so, the whole planet will be better for it.
By Valentina Zhlanovich
Light and shade of Tatiana Likhacheva
[b]Tatiana Likhacheva, Honoured Artist of Belarus, is rehearsing for a benefit performance at her native National Academic Drama Theatre (named after Yakub Kolas) in Vitebsk, taking the leading role in Love Lab[/b]Her career has been successful, with the foundations laid in early childhood. Her creative parents encouraged her to perform from the age of two, reading poetry while standing on a stool or table. Her father would tie table cloths between two trees in the courtyard to act as stage curtains, ready for her entrance...