The Electrotheatre Stanislavsky, which took an old pre-revolutionary name meaning “cinema” to its new future, opened its doors in the winter of 2015 with a light show and a composition by Dmitry Kurlyandsky that were seen/heard by all passersby on Tverskaya Street. Romeo Castellucci’s (“Human Use of Human Beings”) public rehearsals as well as reports in the “Afisha” magazine on the architecture of the renovated theatre which uncovered the beauty of brickwork and balustrade railings under the drop ceilings of the late Soviet period, and, last but not least, the public appearances by the new artistic director Boris Yukhananov with his ingenious commentary on his strategy all served as the anacrusis to the grand opening.
The manifesto of the team led by Yukhananov (he of Anatoly Vasiliev’s school, of the multistyle workshops of the 1980 s) formulated the motion vector of the former Stanislavsky Drama Theatre: theatre is a productive interactions medium (that operates on a virtually 24‑hour basis) with an emphasis on highly artistic directing and is intended for an educated “commoner” audience.
Yukhananov implements this idea by acting in two directions simultaneously: via the “product” created by top-level guest artists (Romeo Castellucci, Theodoros Terzopulos or Heiner Goebbels) and through enlightenment that draws into its orbit artists from various fields: from new composer music to contemporary poetry. Similar strategies of extensive development were also chosen by many other venues and theatres in Moscow, St Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Voronezh as well, and later everywhere else. Sensing a great need in a dialogue among themselves (but by “themselves” meaning “the other”, the one who yearns for educational practices and “participation” in the process of creating urban cultural environment), theatres opened their own territory in order to, if not civilize spectators (the word itself is totalitarian by nature), then to at least label for them the seats of equality, enthusiasm and freedom.
A seat does and doesn’t have meaning: the new life of the theatre on 23 Tverskaya Street is both connected with its past and isn’t. The Stanislavsky Drama Theatre, which grew out of Konstantin Sergeyevich’s idea about an opera and drama studio (an idea that was, essentially, never implemented here), experienced different times, as is well known. This theatre, which had no clearly defined initial destiny but did have an interesting company, was rocked from one wheel to another, depending on who was at the helm. Brilliant theatre directors: Mikhail Yanshin in the 1950 s and Boris LvovAnokhin in the 1960 s, then briefly in late 1970 s – Andrei Popov, who brought with him his students Anatoly Vasiliev, Boris Morozov and Iosif Raichelgaus; Boris Ravenskikh and Leonid Varpakhovsky – the briefly appearing heirs to the free prewar Meyerhold years; the whirl of names in the 1980 s and 1990 s, which are memorable for “extremist” forays into Vladimir Mirzoev’s stationary theatre territory. In a way, it is an ordinary fate of a Soviet theatre that didn’t become a theatre house like it happened with the most powerful ones, but one that had lived its own, complex and often very modest life.
In looking back into the 2000s one cannot help but remember “I Don’t Believe” by Marat Gatsalov, Mikhail Durnenkov and Ksenia Peretrukhina, who were the first in this theatre’s history to reinvent its destiny and the very space of the theatre auditorium of the former cinema with a balcony. Gatsalov’s production, which had stumped many, including the theatre itself, and where the ghosts of the past – Maria Lilina, Glikeria Fedotova and the young Alexeyev – came to life like in an interactive museum hall, appears to us from our time like the beginning of future changes.
Yukhananov chose several paths at once, without giving the city the promises of blustery “five-year plans.” It has already become a tradition in today’s Moscow, spoiled by festivals and productions by world-renowned masters – from Lepage to Sturua, from Hermanis to Wilson, from Nekrošius to Pommerat, to invite foreign directors to stage productions here, with our company and local technical and administrative capacities.
One such example of the installation of foreign, advanced experience that is frequently difficult to adapt to local landscape was Terzopoulos’ “The Bacchae”, which would have been impossible to imagine without having the artists involved in it – Elena Morozova, Alla Kazakova and Oleg Bazhanov – be immersed completely into the practice of training. Castellucci’s “Human Use of Human Beings” became an example of an intricately structured remote management of a desired result. And, lastly, Heiner Goebbels’ “Max Black or 62 Ways of Supporting the Head with a Hand” was successful only thanks to the delicate transfer of the technically sophisticated and by no means new production into another city, another theatre and a different mentality, as well as to the wonderful reincarnation of “Max Black” made possible thanks to actor Alexander Panteleev and sound engineers who, along with him, brought the text of this production to life. It was with these large-scale productions that the Electrotheatre became part of the city’s background with its idea of the prestige of “cultural tourism” and an identifying flag for informed spectators. And those latter wish to see Castellucci here and now, and they’ve read Goebbels’ “The Aesthetics of Absence” in theatre historian Olga Fedyanina’s translation, published by the Electrotheatre’s own Theatre and Its Diary Publishing House, and rightfully consider it to be a good reference point in a world of “frontier” theatre.
The dialogue between theatre and Castellucci, Terzopoulos and Goebbels was facilitated by Yukhananov’s genius and philosopher. In essence, this contact is not even likely without a detailed, thoughtful commentary. In the case of their work with the Electrotheatre we received a multipolar territory of conversations about art – articulate but aiming beyond a simple adaptation.
In this regard, we would be remiss not to recall another paradoxical thesis from Yukhananov’s manifesto: “artistry and accessibility thanks to the highest quality of productions” which do not deceive spectators by alluring lightness (something that can easily be inherent in new European and young Russian theatre) and do not scare them with elitism. Quite the opposite, for Yukhananov, who went through the 1980 s Underground, the idea involves precisely equal openness to spectators who find themselves outside of class boundaries. This stratification was being both formed and demolished during the zero years: festival practices also had a certain influence on the creation of “art clusters” within the society. Still, poets, who wish to only perform for free, opera celebrities, intellectual gurus, young philosophers, feminist writers, and fans of Parallel Cinema all come to the Electrotheatre in reaction to the various “beacons.” Without deluding oneself with the ability to convert all these streams into theatre audience, one can only give the opportunity of time and place, and this day and age that alone means a great deal for artists who have lost the support of government programs. And the free, non-authoritarian nature of Yukhananov’s initiatives denoted that opportunity as an endless corridor of presence of different people but in the same field.
As a matter of fact, the actual productions that he had staged at the Electrotheatre also in a way represent the implementation of the idea of integrating one world into another. In “The Blue Bird” (whose cast includes Vladimir Korenev, who at one time rebelled against various artistic directors, along with his wife Aleftina Konstantinova, who blended elegantly into a hi-tech production) the words of real people about real past meet Maeterlinck’s idea of the children’s journey into the other world. “The Constant Principle” brings together entire cultural symbols of the bygone era and the whimsical deconstructionism exotics of today’s warring world. “The Sverlians” – an opera series set to the music of Russia’s six major composers – joins the verbal ligature of Yukhananov’s novel, compound composer letter, Stepan Lukyanov’s ideal video design, and the distinct flavor of the wild nonconformist art of the 1980 s that teases with its promise of true radicalism. The very appearance of this type of art in the heart of Moscow is curious in itself, of course. There’s something in it from Boris Yukhananov’s past adventures, some of it is marked by his aesthetic reference points and predilections towards long-playing formats, towards the length that ignores the fact that Moscow subway does not yet operate on a 24 ‑hour basis. But a lot of it also reveals yet another of Yukhananov’s intentions, and every time Yukhananov with his producer and artistic instinct divines the right time and manages to slightly anticipate us in our own habits. And right where the newly arrived Electrotheatre spectator falls into the gap between the past, where Yukhananov’s visionary practices lay, and the present, which is devoid of the stylistic traits of that past, is found that most interesting, fascinating something that surpasses us in our most sure expectations.