The Tabakov Theatre company at the Chekhov Moscow Art Theatre
Chekhov has been one of the favourite playwrites for theatre directors for generations. Almost every well known (and not so wellknown) director thinks that he has something new to say about Chekhov’s masterpieces. Chekhov himself called his plays comedies, even though while reading them, you can’t help wondering if you should laugh or cry. I do not think I can remember any Chekhov production that actually made me laugh. His plays are usually full of paradox in the sense that his main characters spend their time pondering the eternal “what if” questions, while suffering from their inability to change either their own lives or the world around them.
It is symbolic that this version of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya is performed on the stage of the Chekhov Moscow Art Theatre. It is a very Chekhovian performance, slow-paced with long pauses in the dialogue and low-key set design. The costumes and the scenery are all in light pastel colours, as if they are also reflect the boring uniformity of the world around.
much you enjoy this performance of Uncle Vanya probably depends on how many productions you have seen. Since this is at least my sixth, I found myself stuck in familiar territory by the end of the first act, and unable to change anything. There is only a certain amount of time that you can devote to exploring new directing techniques or originality of a set design. But for relative newcomers to Chekhov there will be plenty to ponder.
The Tabakov Theatre
This performance, based on the Austrian drama by Thomas Bernhard, is called “a comedy which is in fact a tragedy or vice versa” in the playbill. One of the longest running productions by the Tabakov’s theatre (it opened in 2002), Play Actor is a multi-level tragedy of an actor, into which his family is dragged. It is a great illustration of the adage that genius and folly go hand in hand.
The leading actor, Andrey Smolyakov, received an award from the Stanislavsky International Fund as well as an award from the Moscow Expert Jury for his part as Bruscon. The success of this performance
is largely due to him and the monologue which he delivers so well. For two rapidly-passing hours you witness Bruscon’s contemplations about theatre, and Smolyakov convincingly depicts a man who crosses the fine line between reality and acting. It is a very sharp dialogue with himself, and sometimes with his family members who truly suffer from his unbearable personality.
Fluency in Russian is especially important to enjoy this play to the fullest.
The Bolshoi Theatre
For the first time in sixty years Mozart’s opera has been staged at the Bolshoi Theatre. The opening night was in October. It is a joint production of the Bolshoi Theatre, Opera Festival in Provence, France, Theatre Real Madrid and the Canadian Opera Company from Toronto. The history of this production includes a suitably theatrical degree of scandal. Anatoly Vasyliev, the famous director, walked away from his contract after the opening night had already been announced. The scramble to find a replacement led to the Russian director, Dmitry Chernyakov, and the Greek conductor, Teodor Kurentzis, being invited to showcase the opera, which was originally created for a French festival.
The surprise novelty of this version of Don Juan is that it has a contemporary setting. Culture shock hits the audience as actors, dressed in gym shoes and modern jackets, parade around the stage of a major historic theatre. It was even more disturbing to see them getting undressed in a very provocative way and simulating sex. Of course, in Chekhov’s the Seagull, the hero Treplev often claimed that the theatre needs new forms, but one doubts that unacceptable directing and sensationalist acting in Russia’s major cultural centre is what he had in mind. It is sadly all too clear
nowadays that some directors do not know how else to attract audiences’ attention except by staging the classics in an ostentatiously “modern” way.
The set design is built mainly around the funeral wreathes, however there is no explanation of what they are supposed to mean. One show-goer called this experiment clownery, which summed it up neatly. It is frustrating to see something that belongs in the circus at the Bolshoi Theatre.
Our Man in Havana
The Malaya Bronnaya Theatre
This is the first time that a Graham Greene novel has been staged at this theatre. The director Aleksey Frolenkov defines its genre as being “spy detective parody”. Our Man in Havana is one of the best-known of Greene’s novels, based on his own experience of working for the British secret service.
The action takes place on Cuba shortly before the Cuban revolution of 1959. The location of the play is an invitation to fill the evening with Cuban music and dancing. There is not really any deep philosophic value to this play but if you are ready for a fun evening, while you follow some absurd adventures of a regular British seller
of vacuum cleaners who in one day becomes a secret service agent, go for it. It is an adventurous play mixed with different farcical and grotesque situations. Pre-dating James Bond, Greene was a master at teasing out the mix of tragedy, farce and absurdity in the espionage world, with the audience unsure whether their tears are of laughter or agony. A modern Chekhov.
Por Una Cabeza
tango dancing and music performance
Tango, that intrinsically Latin American dance form, enjoys its worldwide birthday each 11 December. The popularity of this dance is increasing every year, and the Day of Tango is celebrated worldwide. Por Una Cabeza is Moscow’s special programme to join in the fun.
The project leader, Pablo Zinger, is originally from Uruguay. He is a conductor and pianist, specialising in the music of Astor Piazzolla, an Argentine tango composer and bandoneón player. This programme includes the best tangos
of Carlos Gardel, perhaps today’s most prominent tango dancer, to the varied melodies of Piazzolla. Alexander Mitenev, a St. Petersburg virtuoso musician will be playing the bandoneón which is a type of concertina particularly popular in tango’s Argentina and Uruguay heartland and an essential instrument in the tango orchestra.
Two Argentinian dancers, Valeria Maside and Annibal Lautaro also feature in the packed programme.
Salute to Sinatra
Concert to mark the 95th birthday of Ol' Blue Eyes
On 12 December, the Yauza Palace commemorates Frank Sinatra’s 95th birthday with a concert of his most famous songs, as interpreted by the British jazz singer John Downes.
John Downes started his singing career in England as a front man for the British rock group, The Dolphins. He is currently busy with a popular series of tours around the world. He has been to Russia
several times, establishing artistic contacts with the Oleg Lundstrem orchestra. In 1994, the Guinness Book of Records recognised this ensemble as the world’s oldest continuously-existing jazz band. Mr. Downes has successfully performed together with them a number of times, and will do so again to celebrate the legendary American singer’s birthday. Curtain up at 7:30pm.