The Spiral Turn. Olga Foux

2010, ITI-INFO
Dmitry Krymov, a set designer, graphic artist and painter whose works can be found in the dozens of private and national collections, once agreed to organize a course for set designers. Soon after that, the theatrical world of Moscow got a new theatre of the genre which is impossible to define. And now it is also impossible to imagine Russian theatre without Krymov’s Laboratory.
When speaking of Dmitry Krymov it is often emphasized that he is the son of Anatoly Efros and Natalia Krymova. Though in this case it is not just another banality dwelling on whether the nature relaxes with children of geniuses or, on the contrary, working extra hours. It’s just that his artistic life (mostly, its last theatrical part) is an amazing proof that nothing disappears without leaving traces: the grass is finding its way through stones; Shakespeare is rhyming with Chekhov, Cervantes with Harms, Tolstoy with Van Gogh. And in Krymov’s theatre where play artists and opera singers, one can distinguish Efros’ intonations.
This unique theatre has begun from the “half-production” “Nedoskazki” (“Not a Fairy-tale”) by the “half-director” Krymov, who had already staged “Hamlet” in Stanislavski’s theatre. Set-designers were the actors in “Nedoskazki”- if acting can be the right word to describe their weird manipulations. They were painting on each other’s skinny backs “fullstop-fullstop-comma” – and the mournful image of the icon emerged. Out of the hands crossed and marked with red paint, lips appeared. Using the simple requisite (scythes, felt boots, rags, sticky tape, suitcases, buckets of paint) the “half-actors” were telling the fascinating and very scaring fairy-tales, and not with happy-ends, making us the remember the original horror of Afanasiev’s fairy-tales. “Repka” (“The Turnip”) ends with a collective suicide, the Frog Princess was being cooked on the primus stove, Little Red Riding Hood – killed by greedy children, while Zmey Gorynych (the Dragon) – depicted by the three girls in black – was cooked for fried eggs.
The homeless theatre of set-design students has got its house thanks to Anatoly Vasiliev who invited them to play at his “School of Dramatic Art”. The house, which King Lear from Krymov’s …“Three Sisters” is losing. There lived Lear, his daughters and Jester who was looking after the girls. They were being bathed in the tubs, muffled up in the towels and made recite poems (Shakespeare’s sonnets) standing on the chair. The scale and the optics of the image were changing – the cosmic tragedy together with Lear (Michael Yanushkevich) has acquired almost an intimate intonation, has grown out of the family squabbling, the everyday life, where Britain is not larger than a house. And this house stops to exist if it is being divided. There was no catastrophic tempest, and the wind was not howling, though that doesn’t change the bitter – the daughters one after another abandoning their father – essence.
The theme of the house would arise in the theatre when their own house they shared with Vasiliev’s “School of Dramatic Art” was put under the threat of the “a la bureaucratic” property redistribution and the offended king bounced away. “Auction” was Krymov’s response. Here one can see Trigorin talking to, for example, Ranevskaya. Here the prevailing motives of Chekhov’s plays appear: tactless reasonability of Lopakhin and Serebryakov against romantic starry-eyed idealism of Ranevskaya and Voynitzky; art, intellectuals, childhood and lost nature. The house, the family estate is dying. The brand of “Povarskaya str, 20” is playing the role of the cherry orchard that at any moment is going to be destroyed to provide place for summer cottages – that is apartments and offices – building. The decoration – the estate model made out of sand, a couple of “cherry trees” made of the broom twigs – has an address plaque “Povarskaya str, 20”. The characters are clubbing together to buy out the cherry orchard. They’re ready to pounce on anyone who would consider the destruction of their house reasonable.
Together with the actors, “Auction” also has puppets as its participants - Prozorov sisters and Trigorin; their broken silhouettes are both elegant and ridiculous at the same time. In the final part of the performance “the Prozorov sisters” would be wrapped in black polyethylene – the cheapest funeral – and buried under the sand estate. There is obviously no place for their refinement in the present-day world. While in the air one feels the atmosphere of the tragic gaiety and such an impossible combination of youth and death.
Holy place is never empty – there is still no such “congenial genius”, for whom it would be worth starting this bureaucratic auction, so the divided Vasiliev’s house is no longer a house, but “The Open Stage”. Thus, Dmitry Krymov and his company are still playing their performances there. “Donky Khot”, for instance. Krymov’s “co-author” Sir Vantes wrote this play having three sources of inspiration: the fragment of Don Quijote’s testament from the novel by Cervantes, "Diary of a Madman" by Gogol and “The Act of the medical examination of the prisoner Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachev Harms” by the psychiatrists of the prison hospital. But how sophisticated the director’s marginal notes and images to this fantastic writing turned out to be!
Landscapes of hot La Mancha are just strokes of gouache paint across the sketching board; the windmills - rotating abacus. Donky Khot is an extremely tall, “doubled” man in the world of dwarfs on bended knees. Aldsona, putting together the scraps of the torn book, would try to reach out for him and even dance tango with him. Though she would never be able to raise from the knees as he would never bend the knee. Donky Khot would be buried several times (or deported under guard – which actually does not make great difference), cut into pieces, quotes, plots and cliches, and let his lost soul wander around the world in lonely kites knocking at the closed windows.
Funeral becomes a sort of prevailing theme in Krymov’s theatre. The theatrical nature of the funeral wailing, the quintessence of memory and hope for a kind of resurrection – the renaissance in the cultural memory of the descendants. Krymov’s “Tararabumbia”, a mixture of the funeral procession and Stalin’s parade is going to become the main performance of Chekhov’s Festival, as an epitaph to Chekhov’s centenary.
In the same genre of funeral is staged the most absurd Krymov’s performance “The Death of a Giraffe”, a sort of introduction to “Tararabumbia”. This giraffe is an artificial creation of four actors concentrated like the children when playing. It’s made out of a tea table with porcelain cups with unfinished tea, some pieces of marshmallow sticks, bright bricks and cones, balloons and some other things. Such creatures would not live for long. “They were not created for this world, and the world was not created for them”. Giraffe would smash into smithereens. And a fantastic company would visit its grave: giraffe’s wife in the wheel chair, the already grown-up giraffe’s son of the family abandoned by him, a widow, a French journalist, his circus partner whom the giraffe taught to make a .. focus with a match, an immigrant who’s become a taxi driver in America, and a female “person of Caucasian nationality” with bad Russian, bad English and a bag stuffed with all kinds of things: turmeric, Tazepam, basil, Corvalol and the photo of grandmother Ashkhen of year 1906. The absurdity is becoming more extreme with every epitaph and every picture, while the giraffe’s story, separated from the original event, is gradually going up and up, to the sky, to the space. Where are you, giraffe, a fragile wonder, that can’t be explained by words or submitted to any logics - neither linear, nor absurd?
It is from there, from the very sky that falls to the well of the “Globus” hall the one-eyed Krymov’s Demon with one wing with fingers, sharp-clawed paw and bare foot. He would be reanimated and let fly away. The performance’s subtitle “The view above” is bird's-eye view of the world, the view full of amazement, pity and love. The fantasy of Krymov’s co-authors (he always emphasizes that his performances are a product of collective mind) is flying high in the ascending cultural flows.
Demon is wandering through space and time. Amidst the white emptiness Adam and Eva appear accompanied by Bach’s “St Matthew Passion”, and the lash-snake is crawling and lashing people for their fall, leaving just scraps of paper on the floor. The floor of “Globus” is covered with several layers of paper: black paper alternating with white paper, an ideal opportunity to create the images as if out of emptiness, painting them with a couple of strokes or drawing them out of the torn paper.
Tolstoy, barefoot, leaves Yasnaya Polyana (a young man with an extremely long beard of bast puts his two feet into the buckets of paint and goes away leaving footprints on the paper snow). Almost bodiless paper Gogol burns in the copper basin the second volume of “The Dead Souls”, running a risk to burn himself in that fire. Vynil disks are falling on the floor, and a company of artists are edging each of them with yellow rubber gloves-petals and wildly tapes the whole composition with stems of black sellotape. The signature in black paint: “Vincent” – compliments to Van Gogh, and together with him - to all geniuses who suffered from not being understood.
We are at the Pirosmanian wedding party. Suddenly one of the guests, having put on Beria’s pince-nez, jumps on the table hanging like a prey-bird over the bride. And the beam of merciless light cuts the anxious cheerfulness of Caucasian marriage.
A happy girl is rushing on her bike, followed by the floating in Chagall’s manner mother and father holding their beloved child’s hand. And they fly away forever and leave their daughter lying on the ground as a frozen clot.
Compassion is a key word in Krymov’s theatre. It was this word that made him forget about everything to take up Platonov’s “Cow” (a story of a little boy Vasya, suffering because of hid favourite cow’s (which “has given everything: her milk, her child, meat, skin, entrails and bones”) death). Gradually Platonov’s plot acquires the most unpredictable associations with his own childhood. There are two Vassilys here: a grown-up (Sergey Melkonyan) and a child (Anna Sinyakina), with scratched knees. Cow appears to be a girl (Irina Denisova) here with beautiful eyes and slim legs, wearing a beret; there is a tiny video image hidden under her blouse – a cow depicted as a Madonna and child – with a package with an image of a calf. Having lost her child, she would turn into femme fatale, someone like Anna Karenina in her white shroud-dress, and would throw herself under the train. The father is a giant on the buskins-chairs. He is hiding a treasure in his bosom – a radio set that is not only broadcasting noises or news from the fields, but can even play the forbidden jazz. Listening to this jazz, even the cow relaxes its vigilance and loses her calf out of sight, while it is being sent to slaughter.
A freight train is rushing along the skyline – practically flying in the air. Then it moves to the screen made of the blanket covers (an ideal screen for watching slide films, the beauty of which the DVD generation would never understand). The cow would see other cows through the half open windows of the train, and would feel happy. But she would not see her calf in the first three carriages, followed by carriages with prisoners, and then – just “surrealistic rubbish”: Mausoleum with Eiffel Towers, dismembered giraffe, Lenin-like bust of Pushkin and overturned Stanislavski – what system can be there?! And the cow is constantly unwinding the long rope which has taken her son; she is trying to track his final journey and understand people’s logic. Here is the master, drinking beer in the cafeteria, than participating in the meeting, and going to a class in minimum of technical knowledge. And again: cafeteria, meeting, minimum of technical knowledge. And the bell is always tinkling lonely. “Little ones cost more here”, the cow understands. Those who haven’t had such a cow in their childhood that would make shudder from the pity for anther living being, run a risk of not becoming real persons.
Donky Khot, Lear, Zmey Gorynych or Ranevskaya, the boy Vasya dedicating his first essay to the cow, or Lev Tolstoy with all his books already written, - a man in Dmitry Krymov’s theatre always feels himself alien, separated from others.
This is the theme of “Opus Number 7”, a performance about the outcast-people (part 1 “Genealogy”) and outcast genius (“Shostakovich”). The first part is told with the help of boards, tin plate, tailcoats, children’s boots, buckets of paint, X-ray photos. Starting from the Old Testament’s “Abraham fathers Isaac”, it dodges through centuries till it finally meets the awful catastrophe of the 20th century – the Holocaust. The images are being created right there on spot, and their deep simplicity is impressive. Roughly knocked cardboard is the Wailing Wall, the pained splashed onto it from the buckets – the silhouettes of bent people in frock-coats bleaching before our eyes. The coats of the fallen ancestors with “sprouting” hands is the organized time that was “out of joint”, a scaring ancestral memory. The baby carriage with a pile of children’s boots with their names is the personified horror of the civilization that has given birth to gas chambers and terrorist acts.
In “Shostakovich” the brightness of the vulgar theatre naturally combines with the most subtle psychological play. Its main characters are a four-metered long well-endowed doll Mother Homeland (Rodina-mat) and a little scared starveling, with music gushing out of his throat as if here were a consumptive. While the imperious mother is reaching out for the revolver. Portraits of Akhmatova, Meyerhold, Mayakovsky and other best people of Russia are flocking together like butterflies attracted by the light and became a wonderful target for Mother Homeland. However she misses the mark trying to shoot Shostakovich. Moving lightly, as if in a sensual dance, she pursues the genius mad from the animal fear. Shoot- misfire, another shoot – another misfire. As she is not able to shoot this “moth” that is too slippery, there is nothing else left than to award him piercing him - just like with a pin - with Lenin’s order. Thanks to his mother he would never be able to straighten himself up again. Soon the living genius would be substituted by a floppy rag doll, and powerful and rich Homeland would stifle him clasping him to her mother’s breath.
Sharp and witty, tender and breathless music is alternating with Shostakovich’s “penitential” discourse – Chinese torture with falsity.
The culmination of “Shostakovich” is the invasion of tin roaring voiceless pianos accompanied by the famous “invasion” theme from “Leningrad Symphony” as if music itself is protesting against the “natural” way of things.
“In Act three, against the background of the mindless stamping of feet – it is this 'stamping' that must be heard – enters Horror”. It is the famous Meyerhold’s phrase about “The Cherry Orchard”. “The Opus” hasn’t opened anything new about the fatal epoch (leave this lot for historians), but made our skin feel how “horror enters”.
Olga Foux ITI-INFO 02-2010




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