[b]Are awards really necessary? A priori — yes. History shows us plenty of examples of awards stimulating human creativity. Encouraged by their recognition, people achieve even greater successes. Famous Belarusian actors Tatiana Markhel, Victor Manaev and Igor Sigov were among those Belarusians given high state awards and honorary titles recently — unrivalled in Europe or the Americas [/b]Awards are bestowed in so many areas of human activity: orders, signs, medals, crosses and various statuettes and cups — bronze, silver, gold and crystal. All date from various times and nations. It’s supposed that the predecessors of Olympic Cups were the goblets used by wealthy people, drunk from during Olympic competitions. Lacking anything more substantial to hand, the most distinguished Olympians were presented with wine goblets as gifts.The ‘Golden Palm’ of the Cannes Festival may have originated from a palm frond, as depicted on the Cannes’ coat of arms. From 1986-1987, the higher executive body of the European Union — the European Commission — established an award which is recognised by the European Parliament and the Council of Europe as the most prestigious European prize for cultural achievements. It’s believed to rival that of the Cannes Festival and of the Olympic Games in its status, promoting theatrical art throughout Europe and developing cultural ties.
Awards are bestowed in so many areas of human activity: orders, signs, medals, crosses and various statuettes and cups — bronze, silver, gold and crystal. All date from various times and nations. It’s supposed that the predecessors of Olympic Cups were the goblets used by wealthy people, drunk from during Olympic competitions. Lacking anything more substantial to hand, the most distinguished Olympians were presented with wine goblets as gifts.
The ‘Golden Palm’ of the Cannes Festival may have originated from a palm frond, as depicted on the Cannes’ coat of arms. From 1986-1987, the higher executive body of the European Union — the European Commission — established an award which is recognised by the European Parliament and the Council of Europe as the most prestigious European prize for cultural achievements. It’s believed to rival that of the Cannes Festival and of the Olympic Games in its status, promoting theatrical art throughout Europe and developing cultural ties.
The annual Laurence Olivier Award is considered to be the most prestigious theatrical award worldwide, founded in 1976 in the UK to honour Mr. Olivier’s lifetime work. The prominent British theatre and cinema actor played almost every leading Shakespearean role as well as directing and producing films. Each laureate is given a bust of Olivier in the role of Shakespeare’s King Henry V. The American Broadway Tony Award is the closest rival, given to the best actors for their achievements in drama, opera and musicals. Russian Oleg Menshikov, a favourite of Belarusian theatre and cinema lovers, won the Laurence Olivier Award for his role as Sergey Yesenin (a prominent Russian poet) in M. Sherman’s When She Danced, staged at London’s Globe Theatre.
Russia has many theatrical awards — the most significant being the ‘Golden Mask’ National Theatre Award of Russia, established by the Union of Theatre Figures of Russia in 1994. A golden lapel badge is given to each winner. Some awards are unique to a particular city — such as the ‘Golden Soffit’ of St. Petersburg and the ‘Crystal Turandot’ of Moscow.
The highest theatrical award of the Belarusian Union of Theatre Figures — ‘Crystal Paulinka’ — was founded in 1992, being first given to Stefaniya Stanyuta, a legendary actress with the Yanka Kupala National Academic Theatre. Now, the prestigious list of laureates, annually announced at a festive ceremony, contains over 20 names. This March, Vera Kavalerova, an actress with the Young Spectators’ Theatre, was awarded the prize. Other Belarusian awards are unique worldwide. These include honorary titles given to prominent personalities in theatre, cinema and music: Honoured Artiste of Belarus and People’s Artiste of Belarus.
Belarus also continues the Soviet tradition of awarding titles — a process I must admit that I adore. The best of the best receive their titles regardless of ‘the lack of feasibility’ of such awards. Naturally, it’s right that we recognise the best performances, acting, direction and set design. However, just because an actor wins a prize one year and not the next hardly shows that he is less worthy the following year. Rather, the title of Honoured or People’s Artiste is eternal, recognising true talent. It is not a one-time bonus, such as is given at a company for bumper results.
If we look at the history of theatre, we see that the first People’s Artiste within the USSR was famous Russian bass singer Fiodor Shalyapin. Back in 1918, the Council of People’s Commissars awarded him the title after he charmed everyone at his concerts. The revolutionary party elite were among his grateful fans and, from that time, the notion of a People’s Artiste came into general use, noting one unconditionally honoured by everyone: art connoisseurs and ordinary fans.
The title of People’s Artiste of the USSR was founded at the decision of the Central Executive Committee of the USSR, adopted at a session in January 1937. The title was awarded to outstanding art figures from Soviet nations who especially distinguished themselves on stage, screen and through music. It was noted: ‘…The conferment of the honourary title of People’s Artiste of the USSR is performed at the recommendation of the Culture Ministry of the USSR, the USSR State Committee for Cinematography, the USSR State Committee for Television and Radio Broadcasting, the Board of the USSR Cinematographers’ Union and the Union of USSR Composers. Those awarded the honourary title of People’s Artiste of the USSR are given a certificate of merit from the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet (Council), a lapel badge and a certificate. The lapel badge is to be worn on the right breast, placed underneath Soviet orders, if there are such…’
The first artistes awarded the honourary People’s Artiste of the USSR title were Konstantin Stanislavsky and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, who created the famous system of method acting, known worldwide as Stanislavsky’s system. Russian actors Vasily Kachalov and Ivan Moskvin were also honoured and the tradition continued for more than fifty years. In December 1991, prominent Russian stage and screen actors Oleg Yankovsky and Sofia Pilyavskaya were the last to receive the title.
People’s Artiste of the USSR Gennady Ovsyannikov, of the Yanka Kupala National Academic Theatre, was among the last awarded from Belarus with this title. Over 1,000 people from the huge former multi-national Soviet Union wore and continue to wear this title.
The title of People’s Artiste of Belarus was conferred even earlier. In 1928, Vladislav Golubok, an actor, playwright and stage director, became the first to hold the title. He was also a set designer for his performances. In those times, Golubok’s company was famous countrywide for successfully staging vaudevilles; his actors were extremely musical. The musical section was headed by Nestor Sokolovsky, who wrote the State anthem of Belarus. Mikhail Luchenok, the father of prominent composer Igor Luchenok, masterfully played the violin for the troupe. Legendary Stefaniya Stanyuta began her career with Golubok’s Travelling Theatre, which boasted a unique national flavour. Its audiences adored and admired the actors’ sharp jokes and wit and, of course, their folk dances and songs.
Those bestowed with honourary titles in the cultural sphere are great in number, including Vladimir Tkachenko, who became the country’s first guitarist to be awarded. His best guitar solos were performed during his days with famous Pesnyary band, headed by Vladimir Mulyavin. Now, the outstanding musician and arranger works with the National Concert Orchestra of Belarus, conducted by Mikhail Finberg. Victor Tarasov also deserves mention, being a People’s Artiste of the USSR and an actor with the Yanka Kupala Theatre. He was the first to receive the title among those who graduated from the Belarusian Theatre and Art Institute (now, the Academy of Arts) — at the age of 48. At 23 years old, he became an Honoured Artiste and, at 29, was awarded the title of People’s Artiste of Belarus. Unfortunately, the great master has now passed away.
Undoubtedly, every actor (like any good warrior) who gains fame, has their own marks of distinction in the public eye. I’d like to name three personalities, for whom public applause have recently ‘materialised’ into honourary titles. I’ve seen each perform many times; on each occasion, I’ve admired their acting, so I can confidently assure you that they deserve their titles.
Tatiana Markhel is now a People’s Artiste of Belarus, currently working with the Belarusian Drama Theatre. She has played many complex roles and possesses generous comedic and dramatic talent. However, her true forte is her Belarusian mentality — recognisable not only in the role of an old peasant woman but in the role of opera singer Ingrid who loses her voice (in Bergman’s Women). Looking at Tatiana in this role, you can’t but love her masterful use of her national identity for the European character. In 2003, at the International Golden Vityaz Festival in Moscow, Ms. Markhel was awarded ‘Best Female Role’ for the work.
Ms. Markhel is unique in having an inborn talent for playing ‘Belarusian’ roles; some women have to study thoroughly, going to live in a village to really understand rural life and play a peasant woman. Ms. Markhel has the talent in her genes; it is there whether she likes it or not, full of ‘Belarusian national flavour’. This vividly manifests itself in her expressions and gestures, body language and intonation. She began her acting career with the Yakub Kolas Belarusian State Academic Theatre in Vitebsk. Over twenty years, she became known as a national drama actress, playing roles in plays by Belarusian classical writers: Yakub Kolas, Vladimir Korotkevich and Alexey Dudarev. Her striking Belarusian peasant women are cult classics of Belarusian cinema.
Her acting career entered a new stage when she joined the Belarusian Drama Theatre in 1993. Over the decades, she has played roles from Shakespeare, alongside those created by contemporary playwrights, conjuring up bright and memorable images. Of course, her talent for playing peasant women has revealed itself even more in Minsk. Additionally, Ms. Markhel sings wonderfully — especially when performing folk songs, which she collects. She is also known as an interpreter of ceremonial (ritual) singing cycles and has represented our country at international folk festivals in Lithuania, Estonia, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, the USA and elsewhere.
Her colleague Igor Sigov has been awarded the title of Honoured Artiste of Belarus. He joined the Belarusian Drama Theatre a year after Tatiana, having graduated from the Acting Department. He immediately made a name for himself, boasting a rare and courageous charm — unusual for a Slav. This may be why he later gained recognition at the Melpomene of Tavria International Festival, held in Ukrainian Kherson, in 2006. He was awarded a diploma ‘For Stage Embodiment of the Depth of the Slavonic Soul’ for his role in Eternal Song, based on Yanka Kupala’s dramatic poem.
Mr. Sigov has a tight working schedule at the theatre, always being engaged in a production. He has played many complex roles — from Edgar in Shakespeare’s King Lear to Trigotin in Anton Chekhov’s Seagull and Svidrigailov in Yelena Popova’s Sonechka (based on Dostoevsky). He has been often invited to perform with other theatres too. He took on the role of Khludov in Mikhail Bulgakov’s Run, staged at the Maxim Gorky National Academic Drama Theatre, and has also graced the screen. He has liaised with Belarusian and Russian film directors, while acting in a short feature film directed by Irish Juanita Wilson (nominated for an Oscar in 2010). Fans were able to see their favourite actor dressed in a dinner suit (hastily sewn for him by Minsk’s creative studio on the eve of his departure), walking the red carpet alongside Hollywood celebrities such as Quentin Tarantino, Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep. In one interview, he admitted that he experienced a whole range of feelings: fear, pride and joy…
We can also feel joy for our countrymen who grace the stage and screen. I’m proud of talented Victor Manaev, an Honoured Artiste of Belarus and an actor with the Yanka Kupala Theatre, who I’ve interviewed previously for our magazine (Victor Manaev: ‘Life’s Secrets Become Evident on Stage’, #8/2008). He is now a People’s Artiste of Belarus, as he deserves to be, having long gained public recognition. Audiences flock to see him, asking box offices which plays he’s performing in at the Yanka Kupala Theatre. He’s visited Poland over 20 times, playing Kryuchkov in Wincenty Dunin-Marcinkiewicz’s Pinsk Gentry (directed by Nikolay Pinigin), staged at Warsaw’s Rampa Theatre. Actors and audiences have ‘fallen in love’ with Manaev.
I call Victor to congratulate him and ask how he feels about his new title.
“Of course, I was surprised. It was somehow unexpected,” notes the actor. “What did I feel? Undoubtedly, I felt grateful to my theatre, which recommended me, and to the country’s authorities. I felt some special warmth when I imagined how my loved ones would be glad for me. My fans won’t be indifferent either, although they won’t applaud me less or more depending on whether I have the title of People’s Artiste. I’m pleased that many of my friends and acquaintances can take pleasure in my achievement. They’ve called me to offer congratulations. There’s something positive in our tradition, which is lacking in Western Europe; I haven’t gained insight into this yet.”
Of course, audiences love actors not for their titles or awards but for their talent. These servants of Melpomene allow us to feel life more sharply: its joys and sorrows. They also encourage us to dream and to look at ourselves objectively, seeing our weaknesses and strengths.
Undoubtedly, alongside Honoured and People’s Artistes, others deserve acknowledgment for their stage work. Let’s hope that everyone who deserves recognition will, in time, receive it. Opportunities expand annually; recently, the National Theatrical Award was launched. The selection board has already determined which performances will take part in a festival scheduled for September in Minsk. The jury is known as the Theatre Academy, comprising up to 200 representatives of theatrical society. They’ll decide who deserves this great honour.
By Valentina Zhdanovich