Thank you, festival!

[b]International Panorama Theatre Art Festival, traditionally held in Minsk every other year, once again allows us to penetrate fantasy worlds created by acknowledged stage masters from Russia, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Hungary and Belarus[/b]Crowded halls, smiles, bouquets of flowers, evening dresses and dinner jackets announce the beginning of a performance, as does the audience’s applause. The magical names of world famous actors and directors create a festive atmosphere in which you can quite lose yourself, inspired by such creativity. We are compelled to reassess the value of our existence, and the role of theatre in reflecting life in all its aspects.
International Panorama Theatre Art Festival, traditionally held in Minsk every other year, once again allows us to penetrate fantasy worlds created by acknowledged stage masters from Russia, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Hungary and Belarus
Crowded halls, smiles, bouquets of flowers, evening dresses and dinner jackets announce the beginning of a performance, as does the audience’s applause. The magical names of world famous actors and directors create a festive atmosphere in which you can quite lose yourself, inspired by such creativity. We are compelled to reassess the value of our existence, and the role of theatre in reflecting life in all its aspects.
The address of President Alexander Lukashenko reads that ‘The current festival surprises with artistic revelations and bright creative names. It’s symbolical that most of performances, included into the programme, have been staged on the basis of Russian and Belarusian classical works. This means that our nations aim common and eternal Values while trying to live in concord and mutual understanding’.
This year, Panorama isn’t so spacious compared to the last year’s, with the building of the Yanka Kupala National Academic Theatre, where most of festival’s performances used to be staged in the previous years, currently undergoing reconstruction. Therefore, theatrical companies had to demonstrate their ‘produce’ on various theatrical and concert grounds of Minsk. Over a week, theatre-goers had an opportunity to see nine performances, staged at the Central House of Officers, the Belarusian State Academic Musical Theatre and Minsk Concert Hall.
As is traditional, the Belarusian Culture Ministry, Minsk’s City Executive Committee and Yanka Kupala Theatre have acted as the founders of the Panorama Festival while the event’s general partner is still Belvnesheconombank, whose social mission is to support Belarusian culture.
The festival opened with Anton Chekhov’s Seagull by the Baltic House Theatre-Festival from St. Petersburg. This joint Lithuanian-Russian project aroused huge interest, featuring prominent actors Juozas Budraitis, Vladas Bagdonas and Regimantas Adomaitis (well known to Belarusians for performing in Russian and Lithuanian films). Jonas Vaitkus, a ‘patriarch’ of Lithuanian stage directing, has invited all these into his performance.
Of course, the works by all three masters are good. Budraitis’ Sorin is touching and sincere in his love to everyone while Adomaitis’ Doctor Dorn is ironical, cynical, smart and quick-sighted. Both definitely hit the psychological essence of images. At first sight, it may seem strange how in such a grotesque performance-buffoonery psychological characters harmoniously co-exist and reveal themselves. In total, critics note that it’s peculiar for Vaitkus to combine the incompatible: comic and drama, as well as real and conventional.
We’ve seen in the Seagull his peculiar directing manner, when pain and tears, which should be felt by a character, hide under the grotesque outer appearance of an actor. At first sight, it seems that the co-existence of deep emotions of characters with grotesque intonations, used by actors, is almost impossible. Meanwhile, this director’s idea is brilliantly embodied by Natalia Indeikina-Arkadina, who sharpens Chekhov’s thought on limitless human egoism. Young actress Darya Mikhailova-Nina Zarechnaya is also present in the director’s ‘drawing’, alongside Anton Bagrov-Treplev and others. Each performs their own part of egoistic desires — characteristic for a person.
One may want to ask why you are pretending in front of each other depicting what doesn’t exist and why do you hide yourself — a loving and sensitive creature — under sparkling clothes and abundance of high-flown words. Why do you close your soul-seagull in a cage or even kill it? It’s not accidentally that the stage director has introduced into the performance an image of a ‘live’ seagull — a dancing young girl in red, who is struggling in the net of these decencies and dies. This happens because a person is afraid to be himself and to breathe freely and confidently. Anyway, it’s also frightful to be weak, unloved and to be mocked at…, so I leave the question about topicality of Vaitkus’ Seagull without commentaries.
Jonas Arcikauskas’ set design is full of surrealism. In the beginning of the performance it seems that the stage space has been organised extremely absurd, since there’re too many things on the stage. A huge seashell and a horse head on the column attract the attention, as do a female leg and an angel, maps and a white bath on wheels, where Arkadina takes spa-procedures. There’s also place for a white piano and a huge ‘fake’ dog, sitting in a white boat, as well as Chekhov’s portrait and a stuffed seagull in the form of a wax dummy of a topless young girl in the finals.
A bright red female mouth, resembling the manner of Salvador Dali, is ‘flying’ over this space full of symbols, alongside something cosmic in red illumination in the shape of a ‘devil’s eye’.
All these symbols-rebuses stop being rebuses as action develops and are linked together while nourishing the mind. One can come to a conclusion that all items ‘play’ their own small roles reflecting the way of life of characters, as well as confusion in their minds and feelings: fragments of associations, hopes and dreams… There was also a huge lake there. Due to the video projector it was swashing in the depth of the stage while creating an illusion of the flow of endless life, on whose background the passions of Chekhov’s characters — hostages of their own illusions, desires and egoistic love — seemed small and completely unimportant before the eternity.
A talented performance by the State Puppet Theatre — Drei Schwestern — is based on Chekhov’s Three Sisters drama. Director Alexey Lelyavsky staged a performance about the deepest loneliness of a person, about their helplessness in front of life’s mystery, about their inability to live ‘here and now’ and about routine chaos and illusions if it may be better somewhere. This is a universal problem. Maybe this is the reason why the title of the performance sounds in German.
The characters of the Drei Schwestern catch at love to another person as a straw, which, alas, saves them only for some time or may be doesn’t save at all. They can also ‘travel’ into their childhood while embracing puppets or dreaming about the future. They speak into the hall and as if fall in a trance of distract before real moments of life, reminding speaking puppets. Most actors play brightly and recognisably. Servant Ferapont is good, as are Honoured Artiste of Belarus Alexander Kazakov’s nanny Anfisa and Timur Muratov’s Lieutenant-Colonel Vershinin.
Meanwhile, all actors of the performance are working as a team and one wonders how they manage to gallop on a horse, march, dance and argue with each other on a small stage. There’s place here for a lobby with footwear, for a dining room, and a servant’s room where servants peel potatoes and even for a father’s grave with flowers in pots. There’s also enough place even for puppets-statues, alongside a manor of three sisters, which is well located in the foreground. The horizon, where the characters are aiming to get, is illuminated in the background either in blue, or red or orange. It sometimes seems that it’s the Eternity looks into the estate of three sisters. Surprisingly how this device of stage design organisation (artist Tatiana Nersisyan) reminds of a child game on a small patch of land, in which there’s no limit to fantasy and where conventionality opens up broad opportunities for those playing.
Meanwhile, a motif of eternity, which should be guessed in Vaitkus’ performances, penetrates Lelyavsky’s performance through and length and sounds Chekhov-style ‘embossed’ in the final, when the eldest of the sisters Olga-Valentina Prazheeva pronounces her famous monologue: ‘… It seems that just some time will pass and we’ll learn what we live for and what we suffer for… If only we could know!’ The actress pronounces these so pathetically quiet and simultaneously dramatic that it seems that you’re merely a grain in the face of Eternity.
Plastic performance, based on Leo Tolstoi’s Anna Karenina, by the Anёelika Cholina Dance Theatre (Vilnius) has been looked forward to in Minsk, since there’s no such theatre in Belarus. The performance, awarded a Golden Stage Cross in Lithuania as the best performance of 2010, exceeded all expectations while keeping spectators on tenterhooks during the whole action. The performance stylishly combines ballet, plastic performance and drama. The inner dramatic nature of Tolstoi’s novel — a world famous work about love, read through dance — is fascinating.
Remarkably, but stage director penetrated deep into the inner state of a human, as well as their feelings, emotions, fears, doubts and hopes — all accompanying love — while interpreting in details the novel’s major storyline. I’d call such theatre a plastic theatre of experiences, where classical and modern trends harmoniously co-exist while supplementing each other. Maybe, no other performance of the festival, even the Idiot by director Eimuntas NekroЁius, hasn’t aroused such ovations as Anna Karenina while demonstrating us what true art is. Moreover, Anёelika Cholina Dance Theatre’s performances are always a full house in the Baltic States, as well as in Europe and Russia.
Hungarian Hairdresser — a tragic comedy — has harmoniously fit into Panorama’s palette. This performance is also about love. What can be better? The performance has been brought from Debrecen by the Csokonai Theatre and it was staged by Russian stage director Victor Ryzhkov based on the play by his fellow countryman Sergey Medvedev. A cheerful and charming hairdresser Nelli Syuch is waiting for a man of her dream from prison not noticing real life and adoration of her men-clients. The thing is that she’s waiting for her hero, with whom she’s fallen in love by correspondence and hasn’t ever seen him. The performance from Hungary has been heartily welcomed by the audience and the hall often bursted into laughter, since the enchanting actress was very skilful in interpreting a female’s yearning about big and beautiful love.
A laureate of the First National Theatre Award — Yanka Kupala’s Not Mine by A. Adamovich, who’s won the ‘Best Belarusian Performance’ nomination — aroused deep feelings towards characters’ compassion. It’s clearly, since Gartsuev theatre aims psychologism, when the inner life of major characters in the performance plays the leading role while its form of expressiveness is almost the same as in life: minimum external expressive means, which are used by actors in line with the director’s concept. The performance is about love of a Belarusian young girl Polina (Svetlana Anikei) and a German soldier Franz (Roman Podolyaka), who saves the girl and her mother from death. The performance also describes us what a person feels when he first falls in love and ‘practises’ love with his entire soul under dramatic conditions of the Great Patriotic War.
Although the meeting with Meno Fortes Theatre, which has demonstrated F. Dostoevsky’s Idiot, staged by Eimuntas NekroЁius, made theatre-goers tired (the performance lasted for 5.5 hours), yet didn’t leave anyone indifferent. The director of the performance doesn’t need any presentation, since his name has been always associated with original and spectacular performances. Once I’ve seen his very long performance, based on A. Chekhov’s Cherry Orchard.
I’ve also understood that NekroЁius is the director whose performances should be seen each time one has such an opportunity, because he is a true virtuoso in his profession. A stage canvas of NekroЁius’ performances is always very solid and unified, without any drawbacks in the director’s concept. Undoubtedly, one may get tired of long sitting and of thinking that some topics could have been omitted in the performance, but one won’t ever get tired of the desire to guess NekroЁius’ metaphors. On the contrary, one will long remember these metaphors and ponder how these gimmicks are subjected to the performance’s super-task. It’s wonderful how the deepest essence of metaphors is revealed with the course of time. For example, a white shawl-veil of Nastasia Filippovna, which one can ‘figure out’ during the performance as a ‘cat’ or something obscure, later appeared to me as a pure stream of life or a sinless part of the character’s nature with her heavenly thoughts.
NekroЁius-style life plays with us when we’re 20 or 50 and it’s sometimes difficult to sort out one’s feelings, so the tragic final is reasonable, since the director likes people and justifies their actions. During the action it isn’t always clear why this or that item appears in characters’ hands and why, e.g. something with stretchers on the back creeps to the stage in the final and then jumps out from them in the form of a ‘cat’ and leaves the stage with loud wow. However, this isn’t the essence, because the audience is captured with powerful energy of mutual relations between Dostoevsky characters, who’s been studied in details by NekroЁius.
Idiot is a performance on love, in whose nets young characters enmesh: Duke Myshkin (Daumantas Ciunis), Rogozhin (Salvijus Trepulis), Nastasia Filippovna (Elёbieta Latėnaitė) and Aglaya Yepanchina (Diana Gancevskaite). The performance also tells us how the ‘animal’ part of human existence dominates over a person whatever he makes and whichever high materials he uses to justify his actions. Escape of the ‘cat’ from under the stretchers is ‘read’ as a symbol of this ‘animal’ part, which disappears with human death releasing them from sufferings.
The Vakhtangov Theatre (Moscow) has presented its performance-dialogue, entitled Dedication to Eve, starring Vasily Lanovoy and Yevgeny Knyazev. The actors have brilliantly revealed psychological motifs of actions in a banal, at first sight, duo of ‘a man-lover’.
A joint Polish-Belarusian project — Pinsk Gentry by Dunin-Marcinkiewicz, staged by Panorama’s director and Artistic Leader Nikolay Pinigin — was demonstrated by Polish Rampa Theatre. It was very pleasant to see People’s Artist of Belarus, Victor Manaev, a favourite of Minskers and the only Belarusian among the Polish actors, speaking purest Polish language. It was also nice to refresh memory about the life of Belarusian gentry — familiar to us by the performance with the same name from the Yanka Kupala Theatre.
In my opinion, the festival closed with a very festive and educational-entertainment performance — Abduction of Europe, or Ursula Radziwill’s Theatre, which was added to the Kupala Theatre’s repertoire in spring. The performance invites theatre-goers into the past, into the castle of prominent Radziwill dukes, to take part in one of the festive evenings, which used to be so popular in Nesvizh. A ballet, comedy and opera were the highlight of the programme at that time, as was demonstrated by Nikolay Pinigin and his staging team.
The costumes from that epoch have been also recreated with hoop skirts and wigs. The drama, adjusted by Sergey Kovalev, used original texts of Ursula Radziwill — a wife of the castle’s owner Michał Kazimierz Radziwill Rybeńko. She is known to be a playwright and has written 16 plays and 17 opera librettos. Harlequin — a permanent character of commedia dell’arte — is a link for the participants of the ballet, comedy and opera in the Kupala Theatre’s performance. Alexander Kazela gracefully embodies a cheerful and quick-witted organiser of happy end of each story in this aesthetic and even somehow aristocratic performance.
The remaining actors demonstrate with no less gracefulness their vocal and choreographic capabilities while efficiently performing the director’s tasks. It’s known that Pinigin always expects from actors psychological assessment of the image, so even where the actors need to ‘sharpen’ their role, e.g. to make the public laugh, it becomes clear why they do it, so this ‘making everything comic’ is smart and spectators laugh smartly.
The 5th International Panorama Theatre Art Festival has been a success. The audience was again given an opportunity to feel in which direction the European theatre moves and its topics remain eternal while only forms change. This creative movement pleases, since it enriches soul, which is known to be especially beautiful in labour and in its endless aspiration towards perfection. Only one thing is left: to say thank you, festival.

By Valentina Zhdanovich
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