Theatre inspires us to greatness
[b]International Panorama Theatre Art Festival takes place in Minsk for the fourth time, offering theatre lovers a month of alternative experience[/b]The major festival is finished, due to take place again in 2011. The huge coat-hanger — the festival’s symbol — has been removed from the faзade of the Yanka Kupala National Drama Academic Theatre, where over 20 performances by Belarusian and foreign theatres took place. The logo was designed by famous artist Vladimir Tsesler.
The major festival is finished, due to take place again in 2011. The huge coat-hanger — the festival’s symbol — has been removed from the faзade of the Yanka Kupala National Drama Academic Theatre, where over 20 performances by Belarusian and foreign theatres took place. The logo was designed by famous artist Vladimir Tsesler.
Journalists have finished writing their articles about the festival, having attended seminars, master classes, press conferences and lectures — where theatre critics discussed individual performances. The response has been positive all round and the festival continues to ‘echo’ in ‘thick’ magazines like The Mastatstva. Everybody seems pleased: the Kupala Theatre, the Culture Ministry, the Minsk Mayoral Office and Belgazprombank — which for the second time financed Panorama.
Looking at modern trends in drama, how does Belarusian theatre compare with that of Russia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Switzerland, Italy and Venezuela? What unites them and what makes them different? What ideas are boiling in the heads of young Belarusian playwrights and producers? Their talent was recently on show during the ON-LINE project, exploring the theme Who Am I? Producers were given one week to prepare their plays.
Critics unanimously agreed that, this year, ON-LINE demonstrated few innovative ideas, although the majority of the young producers taking part are already working for Belarusian theatres. It must be difficult to judge such a competition; to judge well, you’d need to see works not once or even twice, but from different perspectives.
Perhaps the question is whether such a project has significance at an international festival. Of course, it’s exciting to see leading actors from our theatres taking on unusual roles. Zoya Belokhvostik, an Honoured Artiste of Belarus — from the Kupala Theatre — revealed a new side to herself in Dialogue No.1 (playwright Alexander Kazela, director Yekaterina Averkova).
Meanwhile, Panorama’s SOUND-programme — featuring well-known bands — was a delight. Each has been formed by actors from Minsk theatres and deserves admiration for amazing drive and adrenalin. Rock, Latin, jazz and folk rhythms foamed like champagne cocktails and unpretentious melodies brought tears of joy. The stage seethed with action, creating a fitting end to the festival. Smoke cloaked the stage and flames soared up — bathing the front rows with heat. Mini-fireworks and shadow theatre added to the entertainment. The show was an utter sensation.
I particularly admired the work of Kupala Theatre actor Igor Petrov — a festival organiser and producer. Meanwhile, the bands DetiDetey, Malanka-Orchestra and Silver Wedding were magnificent. Back in 2005, the Belarusian State Puppet Theatre organised a ‘musical-theatre show’ in street orchestra style. Its songs were ironic and grotesque — performed in Russian, German and French — with elements from puppet and buffoon theatre. Well-chosen props were used — old suitcases, bottles, frying pans and, even, a real horse with rider. Orchestral soloist Svetlana Ben rode around the stage several times as the audience cheered.
Soon after, a picturesque group of artistes recalled Federico Fellini’s works with their ‘freak-cabaret’. They are already popular in Russia, France, Germany and Poland, performing at festivals and clubs. They sing, tell anecdotes and combine life-affirming Russian folk music with French chanson and German cabaret. Their female soloist may be petite but she commands the stage, her face so serious that it reminds one of a mask. Nevertheless, she uses humour brilliantly, raising involuntary smiles from her audience. Svetlana Ben is such a natural actress that she would be an asset to any theatre company.
At the close of the festival the festival’s creative manager and Kupala Theatre Art Director Nikolay Pinigin presented each participant with a diploma. I couldn’t help but wonder who would have won the Grand Prix if the event had been a contest. As I watched each performance, I kept thinking: where is the winner, uniting every artistic component? Unfortunately, I could find no answer. Every performance had strengths and weaknesses, viewed subjectively. Next, I asked myself: why do I personally need theatre?
Never before have I heard a hang played; it looks rather like a ‘flying saucer’ while the sounds it produces evoke the mystery of space. Opening the Panorama festival was Warum, Warum? (Why, Why?) by Britain’s Peter Brook — a master of psychological theatre. It was staged in one of the oldest Swiss theatres, the famous Schauspielhaus. Composer Angelo Francesco virtuously playing the hang joins actress Miriam Goldschmidt on stage for an hour. The heroine’s monologue suits the music perfectly, awakening subconscious memories from younger years. She reflects on the essence of life and on the nature of the theatre itself. Nevertheless, at the end of the play, I found no answers.
When you live in expectation of a miracle, you gain a closer understanding of your identity and environment, your origins and destiny. Theatre aims not only to entertain us but to enlighten us and awaken our sense of truth and morality. If a play fails to live up to our hopes, we can’t help but feel sorrow. Within us, we have a fundamental desire to live in a better world — one without trouble or suffering. Peter Brook’s play reflects on life in the same way as Shakespeare, promising the miracle of revelation, bringing us into a new world. We enjoy watching the human spirit in action, seeing how it behaves in various situations. Many would argue that theatre’s role is only to invite us to ponder but I love the idea expressed by the Swiss in their performance — the theatre exists to entertain us and to help angels make us more spiritual.
At the end of the performance, heroine Miriam Goldschmidt looks into space and we see the astonishing smile of a perplexed child — one promised answers but who does not receive them. Her confusion hides her hope for a miracle.
Another ten productions followed, in various languages. Some were exotic and unusual but, regardless of the audience’s true preferences, Belarusians were hospitable hosts, offering generous applause. I couldn’t help but feel that this ‘approval’ was sometimes inappropriate: some performances seemed hardly worthy of praise. Estonia’s Russian Drama Theatre (Tallinn) gave us Ugly Truth by Йric-Emmanuel Schmitt; to me, it lacked life, deprived of the internal spring that twists within a plot, making it attractive. Wonderful Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was chosen by the Bashkiria Academic Drama Theatre. Sadly, the emotions it provoked hardly compared to the depth of those aroused on watching the film of the same name, featuring Jack Nicholson.
The Days of St. Petersburg Culture at Panorama were represented by two shows — The Notebook of Trigorin by Tennessee Williams (Comedians Drama Theatre) and Nikolay Gogol’s The Gamblers (N. P. Akimov Academic Comedy Theatre). The well-known classics were courteously received. Meanwhile, The Storm, presented by the Alexander Pushkin Drama Theatre from Magnitogorsk (produced by Lev Erenburg) was astonishingly creative. Its dominating image of water symbolised emotion — seen in a steam bath, in water being drunk, in that being used to revive someone to their senses and in a real swimming-pool installed on stage. Subconscious passions filled the stage — too much at times. The erotica and nakedness was fitting but Nikolay Ostrovsky’s protagonists seemed to be hostages to their desires, unable to understand the true nature of their needs, bringing them suffering.
Tatiana Tolstaya’s Sonya (New Riga Theatre) shows us a romantic but naпve heroine who also doesn’t know what she wants. Nevertheless, she eventually arouses sympathy from those around her. Producer Alvis Hermanis and actor Gundars ĀboliņЁ did a brilliant job of bringing every detail to life, convincing us of the reality of the story. Open-hearted Sonya meticulously washes her hands, sews, lays the table, writes love letters, put cream on a cake, stuffs a chicken and puts it in the oven… we can almost smell its aroma. As an experienced theatre-goer, I can honestly say that I’ve never before seen a stage set so full of human energy and authentic detail. The set is rather like another character in the play. The audience hung on every word and action, drawn into the Latvian theatre ‘dish’. The fact that a male character who saved someone during the Leningrad siege turns out to have saved a rascal presented great appeal.
Another favourite production was Oskaras KorЁunovas’s version of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, by Vilnius’ City Theatre (Lithuania). The play’s lightly ironic tone was preserved, as I noted with pleasure — having re-read the classic recently. Romeo and Juliet, shown in Minsk several years ago, is a love tragedy while Dream is a comedy — showing the fickleness of love, which makes us hostages to our desires — especially in youth. Two young couples wander through the woods, facing their fears while being manipulated by fairy magic. They are finally united with their true loves and all is right with the world. KorЁunovas celebrates Shakespeare’s poetry and farce, a cocktail of buffoonery and fantasy. With great talent, he takes the actors through the plot at breakneck speed. If one were unfamiliar with the play, it would be difficult to follow all the twists, such is the intrigue. The audience seemed to enjoy every moment however, with the greatly comedic ‘play within the play’ especially tickling younger viewers, while sparking intellectual musings from the more mature audience.
Everybody remembers the popular saying that the grass is always greener on the other side; human nature cannot help but admire that which seems remote and exotic. Watching Panorama’s closing performance of Servant of Two Masters, by Carlo Goldoni (directed by Alexander Nordstrцm), I felt sincerely grateful to Belavia Airlines — who funded this splendid play. Staged by world-famous producer Giorgio Streller, who has made the Italian Piccolo Theatro di Milano known worldwide, it was a true masterpiece. Ferruccio Soleri — in Japan called ‘heritage of humanity’ — has played the Harlequin’s role for forty years. I met him backstage at the Kupala Theatre, where he sat in the dressing room of USSR People’s Artist Gennady Ovsyannikov. I caught myself thinking how fabulous it would have been if the renowned Kupala Theatre, with its unique traditions, would have been able to tour Japan several decades ago! Beyond doubt, its actors would have won fame and honour for their marvellous performances, which move audiences to tears of joy and sorrow. The delightful and inflammatory Paulinka has been on their repertoire for 65 years — and we can easily imagine it on the Milan Theatre stage; the passionate Italians would naturally adore it. After the premiere of Servant of Two Masters famous Belarusian poet Leonid Dranko-Maysyuk joked that Paulinka and Truffaldino are so alike in their perception of the world, despite coming from different cultures, that they’d make a wonderful couple.
As far as the Belarusian programme of the festival was concerned, I’m happy to note that the general opinion was positive
— everything was perfect and we have much to be proud of. Among those of note was Pinsk Gentry, by Dunin-Marcinkiewicz, and the joint Russian-Belarusian SOUND-DRAMA project, alongside Chekhov’s Wedding (Yanka Kupala Theatre — detailed in issues No.6 — 2008 and No.3 — 2009). Bulgakov’s Flight (Maxim Gorky National Academic Drama Theatre) and Moth (Young Spectator Theatre) were also moving. Every performance at Minsk’s theatres was worthy of the Panorama programme.
In conclusion, I’ll repeat that theatre continues to live and thrive in its own manner, reflecting the issues of its age, ebbing and flowing. It cannot die; while we live, it will also breathe. While we perceive life in all its brief wonder, there will always be inspiration for the stage. The festival, undoubtedly, enriched us — expanding our awareness while refreshing our conceptions. The choice before us was wide, encouraging us to exercise our preferences — and hence scrutinise them.
By Valentina Zhdanovich