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Love Drama That Left Everybody Silent

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November 22, 2011


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Love Drama That Left Everybody Silent

Chulpan Khamatova, Andrei Merkuriev, 4 projection screens and 24 black chairs – this is all that Alla Sigalova needed to change the Russian theatre history for good. On 21 November the Theatre of Nations staged its famous “Poor Liza” play which was built upon Leonid Desyatnikov’s “Poor Liza” chamber opera. Desyatnikov, born in 1955, was inspired by the classic sentimental tale by Nikolai Karamzin (1766-1826) when was a student at the conservatoire in the 1970-s.

In 2008 the choreographer and director Alla Sigalova has resolved to return “Poor Liza” to the stage by transforming the chamber opera for two voices into a choreographic duet by actress Chulpan Khamatova and Andrei Merkuryev, a soloist of the Bolshoi Theatre.

In Sigalova’s version the action begins in a contemporary movie theatre. Two people — a he and a she — have come to a midnight showing and they are the last ones left in the house. Strange and unexpected things begin to happen when Desyatnikov’s music begins to play — reality is distorted, images begin to come to life on screen and, before we know it, we have lost track of where film gives way to theatre, and where music arises out of dance.

In this creative, boldly experimental “Poor Liza”, Karamzin’s sentimentality and Desyatnikov’s delicate neo-romanticism come together with Sigalova’s brash, contemporary choreography and the unbridled energy of the famous, young performers.

Chulpan Khamatova, who hasn’t had much formal dance training, danced amazingly fluently and it was her, who really pitched the tragedy theme into the play. The perfection of Merkuriev’s moves were just a shoulder for her to lean on. Seduced and left alone, Khamatova’s Liza is so deep in love that life is unbearable for her without it. This sad story is a warning for everyone who has an intention of playing with love. But it is also a clear sign of that love is not going to stop playing with us.

The Kazan public was a bit shocked by that actors do not say a word during the entire play, a couple of spectators even left. One of them explained me later that he was not ready for such a dramatic change of Khamatova’s image in theatre. He was expecting her to speak out. As for the majority of viewers, they were so much consumed by the silent duet that after the ovation they left the theatre’s hall without saying a word.

A beautiful girl dies, a playboy lives. No fair trade.

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Denis Valeev

Former freelance correspondent for RFE\RL, Denis gained rich experience in corporate management with a multinational FMCG company operating across Russia. Now he is enjoying his post-retirement life in Kazan and the job with the Kazan Times is a sufficient part of this pleasant experience.

  • Ginamm

    Poor Liza, performed by Andrey Merkuriev and Chulpan Khamatova at the John Hancock Theater, Boston, 17 June 2012. Presented by Maestro Artist Management and The Theatre of Nations.

    Poor Liza is billed as a re-telling of the 18th century novel of the same name by Nikolai Karamzin which tells of the doomed love between Liza, a peasant girl, and the nobleman Erast. I have only read a synopsis of the novel, but this striking and memorable production seems to bear only slight resemblance. Does that matter? No!

    The 70-minute performance, a mixture of music, dance, drama and video, is initially set in a deserted movie theatre, and is a haunting portrayal of obsession.

    Although Khamatova is not a classically trained dancer, her powerful acting skills drew in the audience and she perfectly conveyed the emotions of almost manic obsession, passion, and the eventual desperation and despair of rejection.

    Merkuriev displayed mesmerizing acting skill and seemingly instinctive and blindingly perfect dance moves.

    I became almost unaware of the dramatic music and lyrics, partly because of it being sung in Russian, but mainly due to the emotional power flooding from the stage.

    Maestro Artist Management is stated as being committed to creating an ongoing dialogue between American audiences and international artists to promote greater cultural understanding and awareness. It seemed strange then that the audience was almost one hundred percent Russian (my husband and I were the only two admitted non-Russian speakers when it came to the post-performance Q&A session), so the event appeared not to have been marketed outside of that community. It also seemed that because of Merkuriev’s involvement, many in the audience were expecting classical ballet.

    Poor Liza needs and deserves to be presented to a wide audience to properly showcase the stellar performances and this brilliant representation of Russian performance art.

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