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Russia Pays Homage to Chekhov
The year 2010 marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Anton Chekhov (1860-1904), one of the greatest dramatist of the 19th and early 20th centuries, a short-story writer of genius, a man whose impact upon the world's drama and theatre has hardly been matched. In Russia, 2010 has been designated the Year of Chekhov. Thanks to numerous theatrical premieres, and the latest archive findings, Chekhov fans will have a chance to re-evaluate the legacy of their favorite author.
Text Elena Rubinova
Photos courtesy of Chekhov Theatre Festival

hekhov’s name is somehow able to unite a whole spectrum of performing arts genres, and his 150th anniversary has already generated a wave of cultural developments. Chekhov Year will be studded all year by theatrical performances, with the upcoming IXth Chekhov International Theatre Festival occupying central stage in the celebrations. Moscow, St. Petersburg, Yalta and the city of Taganrog, the birthplace of Chekhov, will host star-studded productions, theatre and literary conferences, exhibitions and commemoration days.

While the major events and celebrations are yet to come, the first exhibition timed to the anniversary and entitled ‘An Unfinished Play’ has opened its doors in Moscow at the Federal State Archives (ul. B. Piroghovskaya, 17). The exhibition revolves around the life of the writer, portraying him as the main character of his own play. Over 350 artifacts, are on the display, mostly for the first time, including Chekhov’s autographs, sketches, essays, and rare photographs.

“This unique exhibition took us over a year to compile from different archives, museums and private collections. For instance, we specially restored a hand written copy of the play ‘Uncle Vanya’. The exhibition sets as its goal to allow a broad public to get in touch with Chekhov’s life and personality, and not only to follow academic and traditional images that most people know from textbooks”, said Larisa Ivanova, curator of the exhibition from Russian State Archive of Literature and Arts ( RGALI), speaking to Passport.

The official Russian program of Chekhov Year kicked off with a four-day international festival, ‘Chekhov Days’, in Moscow, timed to the writer’s birthday on 29th January. The festival featured productions by a number of more radical directors, including the Russian inventor of the ‘soundrama’ genre, Vladimir Pankov, and his Swiss colleague Daniele Finzi Pasca, the author of ‘theatre-circus’, with a performance entitled ‘Donka’. In Russian ‘donka’ is the name of a special fishing rod that Chekhov used. Fishing was one of the writer’s favourite pastimes, and reportedly helped him to dream up many stories. The famous Declan Donnellan’s production of ‘Three Sisters’, performed by Russian actors and designed by Nick Ormerod, played on the stage of the Yalta Chekhov Theatre on the same few days. Within the framework of the festival, Pashkov House in Moscow will become the venue of an international theatre conference ‘A Word about Chekhov’. Such renowned practitioners and scholars of theatre as Peter Stein, one of the greatest living interpreters of Chekhov, Professor Donald Rayfield, Chekhov’s English biographer, British stage director Decklan Donnellan and their colleagues from Russia and the former Soviet Union like Mark Zakharov, Pyotr Fomenko, Yuri Lyubimov, Robert Sturua (Georgia), Eimuntas Nyacrosius (Lithuania) and many others took part in the conference. They shared their views of the man who made a formidable contribution to shaping not only modern theatre but also the consciousness of modern man. The conference also aimed to find new ways to perceive Chekhov’s works in our times.

Chekhov’s Days, held in Moscow this January, were a prologue to the 9th Chekhov International Theatre Festival that is traditionally held in Moscow during the two summer months from May 25 to July 30th. This year the program is solely dedicated to Chekhov’s plays, staged by the world’s leading directors. “This is the task that we have outlined for the anniversary year”, explained Valery Shadrin, General Manager of the Chekhov Festival at the press-conference.

This summer, drama companies and choreographic groups from 14 countries will offer their stage productions of Chekhov’s plays in Moscow. Classical drama versions of Chekhov will coexist with modern dance and ballet interpretations: the leading Swedish choreographer Mats Ek will bring his recent version of ‘Cherry Orchard’ while Nacho Duato, another major innovator in contemporary ballet, is going to interpret Chekhov’s world with a distinctly Spanish flair and passion.

Festival celebrations are not the only form of paying tribute to his genius. Preserving Chekhov’s memoirs and archives is no less important for future generations than his literary legacy. Serious cash injections from the Russian government have helped in the past to support Yalta’s theatre, Chekhov’s estate in Melikhovo (the playwright’s home in Moscow region while a UK based charity foundation, the UK Anton Chekhov Foundation, has recently succeeded in organising a campaign to restore the Chekhov House Museum in Yalta, which was run down in post- Soviet times. The charity is chaired by Michael Pennington, one of Britain’s finest actors. For those who are interested in Chekhov’s personality and life, a visit to a renovated museum housing Chekhov’s personal belongings may be quite a rewarding pilgrimage.

Apart from premiers in Russia in 2010, Chekhov’s plays will be performed world-wide under the auspices of the Chekhov International Theatre Festival, in a host of countries including France, Germany, Spain, The United States, Brazil and Canada.

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