Russian theatre in performance

‘Witness for the Prosecution’ by Agatha Christie Theater Yunogo Zritelya, Moscow Director Henrieta Yanovskaya

The Scotland Russia Institute is showing a stirring exhibition of photographs from award winning performances of Moscow and St. Petersburg theatres and directors.

The photographer Ken Reynolds revealed that his first photographed performance happened sixteen years ago in the Tramway. It all started with Lev Dodin’s breathtaking staging of ‘Gaudeamus’ in 1992. Since then his camera has caught over 250 rehearsals and performances of which thirty three black and white full frame images are exhibited under the title ‘Russian Theatre in Performance’ at 9 South College Street in Edinburgh.

The fast black and white filming technique without the use of flash has already become the artist’s trademark. Reynolds started his photographic career in 1978 with a collection of colour abstractions and later moved to capturing musicians in performance when he discovered the expressive power of images in black and white.

To the name of the internationally acclaimed director Lev Dodin and Maly Drama Theatre of St. Petersburg, Reynolds gradually added the great names of Kama Ginkas, who eventually became his closest friend, Valery Fokin, Henrietta Yanovskaya and many others.

Each of the photos is a performance in itself, opening spaces within the staged performance of unusual directors’ concepts about setting, acting and stage design wherein the human world is depicted as a tense struggle of desire, suffering, mystery and freedom, spoken through plasticity of acting bodies in simply decorated but just enough to tell the story spaces.

The Maly Drama Theatre (MDT) joined the Union of Theatres of Europe in 1992 and received the title ‘Theatre of Europe’ in 1998 (a very prestigious status which only two other theatres share: the Odeon in Paris and the Piccolo in Milan). Since that year MDT has participated in the Golden Mask National Awards and received many prizes. Photos from the first MDT Golden Mask prize for the best production and best director in 1998 of Chekhov’s ‘Play without a Title’ can be seen at the exhibition along with other known Chekhovian plays like Cherry Orchard, Three sisters, Blank Monk and Ivanov. In the gem photo collection one cannot miss the image from the internationally acclaimed ‘Brothers and Sisters’ by MDT based on the novel by Fyodor Abramov (part of a trilogy), which has existed for over twenty years, made a tour around Europe, Japan and the USA and was awarded many prizes, including ‘best foreign performance of the year’ in Britain in 1988. Photos from another play with equal fame, ‘Devils’ by Dostoevsky, also directed by the talented Lev Dodin, could be spotted amongst the exhibits.

Among the most stunning performance moments are that of Kafka’s Metamorphoses, a gripping terror in the eyes and body of the just awoken Gregor (adapted and directed by Valery Fokin and Alexander Bakshi), rivalled by the striking symmetry of acting body and setting in which the body’s architectural potential is explored in photos of Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’(Pushkin Theatre in Moscow, dir. Roman Kozak), showing semi naked lovers’ death scene in which Romeo‘s posture resembles a triangle with his legs stretched aside and his body stable like a column in the centre to hold the fragile dying Juliet; Pavel Semchenko’s candle lit face and lamp lit square mouth in AKHE’s ‘White Cabin’, or MDT’s production of Chekhov’s ‘Play without a Title’ stage design of wooden veranda, knocked chair lit by the dim light of two candleholders and a human body fusing with the stairs.

The surrealist dimensions and experimentation of some of the photos are thrilling: Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’ performed by Theater Na Yugo-Zapada (South West Theatre Studio) in Moscow creates the illusion of a giant headless body which holds a small head between the thumb and the palm of its right hand; Dostoyevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’ prolonged shadowy figures (Taganka Theatre, dir. Yyuri Lyubimov) and the airy presence of a woman and a child in Kama Ginkas production ‘K.I. from Crime’, which was Ginkas’ successful debut on the American stage in 2003, leave a stirring presence.
‘Russian Theatre in Performance’ exhibition runs between 5 November 2011 and 28 January 2012 and is free to visit.


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