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The breakthroughs and disappointments of the Theater. Chekhov. Yalta-2011 Festival
29 September, 00:00
A SCENE FROM THE PLAY THE CHERRY ORCHARD: IRYNA KUBERSKA (RANEVSKAYA) AND DAVID GARCIA (PETYA TROFIMOV) / Photo by the author

Theater festivals have become very rare in Ukraine. The capital has been living without a big theater forum for two years. The oblast centers, like Lviv, Odesa, and Kharkiv, are only partially recompensing the gap. Only Yalta gathers representatives from the whole post-Soviet space. The Fourth International Festival of Theater Art “Theater. Chekhov. Yalta” showed 11 performances by Ukrainian, Russian, French, Israel, Estonian, Spanish, Azerbaijani, and Kazakh theaters.

The Yalta-based Chekhov Theater is located several dozens meters away from the Yuvileiny Concert Hall. Yet the distance between them, the world of show business and high samples of art, sometimes gets even longer. The loud Music-Fest organized in September by prima donnas of the Ukrainian and Russian pop music, Sofia Rotaru and Alla Pugacheva, was followed by the festival “Theater. Chekhov. Yalta.” Its organizers were hardly seeking commercial success. In a sunny resort town the audience wants to relax and have rest, not be thinking of serious problems. At least such is the common opinion. But this opinion can be refuted by good plays and convincing performance of the actors.

The festival billboards showed plays far from being purely entertaining. The Azerbaijani National Theater of Drama from Baku brought the play Repenting dedicated to the Karabakh War, whereas the Karaganda Theater from Kazakhstan, a parable play, A Way to Kyoto. The composition of the first play written by Guseynbala Miralamov resembles a duel. Two sworn brothers, Murad (Ramiz Novruz), who profited from the war, and Vatan (Nureddin Mekhtikhanly), who lost not only his Fatherland, but also the possibility to maintain his family, for almost two hours lead an argument about real and imaginative values. Dunai Yespaiev is a confident leader in the second play written by Kyrgyz playwrights Galia and Mirza Gasparov, both as hunter Kozhshas (a kind of repenting for his sins), and as an actor who plays this role along with a talented actress Botagoz Maskutova.

Whereas the Azerbaijani play is openly publicistic, the Kazakh one is brought by the director Alimbek Orazbekov through the prism of poetic theater. However, the members of the jury (including three playwrights at a time, Yurii Rybchynsky, Oleksandr Mardan, and Anatolii Krym) had many complaints about the play built like a theater fantasy, but scarcely convincing. Compared with Chekhov’s Cherry Orchard or the production of Lesia Ukrainka’s Forest Song by the Kyiv Theater on Lypky, it is hardly of worthy level. But the Yalta Festival was not meant as a venue to show merely Chekhov’s plays (like the International Chekhov Festival in Moscow).

At a press conference Mardan mentioned that the budget of Wiesbaden International May Festival (a festival of modern drama) makes one million euros. A total of 22-23 plays are shown there in a 12-day period (for comparison: 11 plays were shown in Yalta during a week). And the expenditures are shared in equal proportions by the state, and as we would say, the city and the oblast. To invite such a respectful theater as the Small Drama Theater from Saint Petersburg, the head of the Yalta Theater Mykola Rudnyk added, 150,000 euros are needed. In spite of the support of the local authorities and funding provided by Russian patron Aleksandr Lebedev, the festival is still lacking money to attract really good projects.

The participant theaters received as prizes the crystal models of the facade of the Chekhov Theater, built during the playwright’s lifetime. Over 100 years ago its cozy hall, which has been recently revamped, featured a company from the Moscow Art Theatre, therefore this year’s production of the Tribuene Theater from Spain, The Cherry Orchard, winning the prize “For the best ensemble of actors” and “For the best director’s work” from Iryna Kuberska was especially symbolical. The refined and versatile artiste from Nizza, Li Sarfati, was especially bright. In the play A Melodrama in Boudoir she sang, accompanying herself on the grand piano, the vocal miniatures by Debussi, Ravel, Pulenko, Offenbach about the fates of women, which resemble many Chekhov’s characters. The Kryvy Rih Theater of Music and Dancing Arts with its emotional and dynamic interpretation of Ernest Hemingway’s novel Farewell Arms was beyond genre and artistic competition.

The theater from Yakutsk brought to the festival a production of the short story Verochka, which told in both sarcastic and touching manner, with many theatric findings the story of unrequited love of unattractive provincial woman.

At a closer look, even plays with elements of absurd appeared close to Antosha Chekhonte, and not only those written by the “titled” masters of this style, like Eugene Ionesco (the Israeli theater from Ashdod showed his Chairs) and Daniil Kharms (the composition of the Russian Theater School from Tallinn). The author of The Complaints Book and Motley Stories back in the late 19th centuries was convincing his readers that the deeds of his compatriots may be fully deprived of any reasoning and logic. This found a reflection in the production of Nilolay Kolyada Nosferatu by the Tyumen Theater. The comic and at times sad clownery was performed by the wonderful actors, Leonid Okuniev and Igor Kudriavtsev, who can be called anything but provincial.

In the variegated kaleidoscope of performances, in terms of artistic level, the Donetsk Theater of Young Viewer from Makiivka, which showed Shelagh Delaney’s play A Taste of Honey was lagging behind. This was the only performance, during which people were leaving the hall in a demonstrative way. In this sense the decision of the jury to award the Makiivka Theater a prize for “The risque interpretation of the Western drama,” which emerged on the Soviet stage 50 years ago, looked somewhat strange. However, everyone was awarded with festival prizes and titles. The hardest task for the jury was not to eliminate second-rate performances, but to invent an encouraging nomination for them. I would add here one more award, for the most devoted audience which preferred the Chekhov Festival performances to the pop concert in Yuvileiny. Thus, the festival has achieved its primary purpose.

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