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Short Stories From Soviet Past Make A Theatrical Hit In Kazan

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November 20, 2011


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Short Stories From Soviet Past Make A Theatrical Hit In Kazan

The distance between Moscow and Kazan is 850 kilometers or 530 miles. It took 3 years for the Russian State Theatre of Nations to bring its signature “Shukshin’s Short Stories” to finally premiere in Kazan. The play was staged in 2008 and only on November 20th, 2011 it was shown to Kazan viewers. Leaving our city’s national leadership ambitions aside, it is especially sad that only this year Kazan had the chance to see its famed daughter Chulpan Khamatova play a big part in the project.

The play, directed by Alvis Hermanis, is based on stories written by Vasily Makarovich Shukshin (1929 – 1974). The play has enjoyed both popular success and critical acclaim in Russia, receiving the Golden Mask award in 2010, Theatre Critic’s award for Best Play 2009, and the Crystal Turandot in three categories: Best Actress in a Leading Role (Khamatova), Best Actor in a Leading Role (Mironov) and Best Production. Evgeniy Mironov described their theatre as relatively new, “Although we perform in a building that is 130 years old, we are a young group. The theatre is about 20 years old.”

Mironov said, “for us, Shukshin was a man whose books remain on the shelf and are seldom read. Hermanis told me – You just don’t understand what Shukshin is, he is your treasure. As we have toured extensively with the play, I now begin to understand those words of Alvis. Audiences in different cities laugh at the same moments in the play; it has an inner truth that cannot be denied.”

Alvis Her­ma­nis has been cal­led a “new huma­nist” in the theatre’s world. One of the quali­ties that sets him apart as a direc­tor is the care with which he pain­sta­kin­gly obse­rves the deta­ils of people’s daily lives, and that is true whe­ther he is wor­king with con­tem­po­rary cha­rac­ters or cha­rac­ters ori­gi­na­ting in the past. Some have sug­ge­sted that Her­ma­nis cre­ates a “docu­men­tary” the­atre because of the utmost pre­ci­sion with which he obse­rves and inter­prets the real worlds that he trans­forms and coaxes into the­atre. He cre­ates pro­duc­tions exc­lu­si­vely about what he knows and remem­bers.

In this sense, Rus­sian audien­ces are at a distinct advan­tage for, having grown up with Her­ma­nis more or less in the same coun­try, they share many simi­lar memo­ries with him. On the other hand, Hermanis’s memory is uni­que. As rich as it is in minute detail, it never descends into a poin­tless nostal­gia for the past, nor does it ever wal­low in a ven­ge­ful rejec­tion of the past. Her­ma­nis has a highly deve­lo­ped sense of what is phony and con­tri­ved in the­atre, and thus, what so often makes the­atre old-fashioned and abhor­rent to young audien­ces.

In „Shukshin’s Sto­ries” Her­ma­nis did not ask his actors to „imi­tate” Soviet coun­try bump­kins from the 1970s. On the con­trary, he enco­ura­ged them to be con­tem­po­rary people who tell sim­ple and touching human tales that might hap­pen to any­one and could be acces­si­ble to all. More­over, he was ada­mant about main­ta­ining Shukshin’s ori­gi­nal texts in an una­dul­te­ra­ted form – the sto­ries are played exac­tly as they were writ­ten.

Another premiere of the evening – Tatarstan’s President Rustam Minnikhanov showed up for the theatre play with his spouse. This indicated clearly enough that the first cultural event he deliberately joined this year was the chaplet of stories from the lives of Soviet farmers. It may be the e-government and ipads era for the Tatar leadership these days, but one can never forget his roots. Or, in the other hand, it may be just a sign of that his wife, Gulsina hanym finally talked him into going to see some decent theater, for God’s sake.

PS. The audience was overwhelmingly happy. The President sent flowers to the cast during the standing ovation. Looks like he knew it was going to be necessary. Chulpan’s greatest moment.


Photos courtesy of the Russian State Theatre of Nations

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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.

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