Theater News

Russian Rarities, French Nouveau

Direct from St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Marseilles, Perestroika theater and a one-ring circus highlight this summer’s Lincoln Center Festival. Henry Edwards gets the international story.

Lincoln Center Festival 2000, running from July 11 to 30, features an astonishing array of companies and performing artists from 20 countries. In a Festival highlight, the very special return visit from the Maly Drama Theatre of St. Petersburg and the U.S. debut of Moscow’s Vakhtangov Theatre guarantee that this summer cornucopia of aesthetic delights will be fit for theater-going Slavophiles. And for those searching for an international theatrical spectacle requiring no translation, a French nouveau cirque import is sure to fit the bill.

The Maly Drama Theatre

After Lev Dodin took over this run down, agricultural worker’s theatre in 1983, he decided to create a stage adaptation of three novels by Fyodor Abramov.

Brothers and Sisters
Brothers and Sisters

(The novelist, a key member of the Soviet post-war “village prose” movement, applied the tenets of naturalism to themes of rural life.) Dodin is a fanatical perfectionist. In order to capture the essence of collective-farm life, he took his actors to Abramov’s home village where they spent a summer immersing themselves in the myths and rituals of rural existence.

Their observations lurk within the core of Brothers and Sisters, Dodin’s two-part, six-hour distillation of Abramov’s literary efforts. Creating visual theater in the style of Tadeuz Kantor and Robert Wilson, the director supplies a stream of potent images that conjure a whole period of Russian post-war life. At the same time, they paint the aching portrait of a dying village.

Ultimately, however, the Maly Theatre is a social theater, and Dodin’s often-harrowing stage compositions have been designed as instructional tools. Addressing his fellow Russians, the director utilizes Brothers and Sisters to demonstrate that after his countrymen defeated fascism in Germany, they participated in the even more ruthless destruction of themselves. He credits their misguided belief that an imminent Communist paradise would compensate for all of their suffering for this unholy phenomenon. Dodin’s six-hour display of this devastation is his attempt to urge Russians finally to learn how to live more beneficial lives.

The Vakhtangov Theatre

Innocent as Charged
Innocent as Charged

Russian playwright Alexander Ostrovsky’s 19th-century melodrama, Innocent as Charged, tells the story of a woman who loses her lover and young son only to be reunited with them 17 years later. When Pyotr Formenko first staged the play in Moscow in 1993, he tossed out all stage directions. The director treated the first half as intensely intimate drama with the audience within arm’s reach of the actors. Then he moved spectators to the theater bar. Suddenly, audience members found themselves in the midst of a Muscovite carnival, replete with passion, alcohol, songs, and bearing of souls.

At the play’s conclusion, when the director’s tragedians and comedians joined hands and skipped round in a circle, viewers cheered. The rapturous response acknowledged the 66-year-old director’s dazzling achievement. Utilizing a boundless amount of theatrical wizardry, Formenko had successfully re-conceived Innocent as Charged as a celebration honoring the fact that his country was at long last beginning to attain artistic freedom. What a joyous theatrical event!

Les Colporteurs’ nouveau cirque

You won’t need headsets or supertitles to comprehend Lincoln Center Festival 2000’s Filao, a 75-minute choreographic circus spectacle created by the French nouveau cirque troupe, Les Colporteurs.


(Look for it in the caramel colored, striped, 50-foot-high tent in Damrosch Park.) By definition, nouveau cirque fuses the popular elements of circus entertainment with higher brands of artistic endeavor, creating a bohemian liason that audiences inevitably adore.

True to form, Les Colporteurs chose as source material, Italo Calvino’s novella, The Baron in the Trees. It’s the tale of a non-conformist who shuns society and settles in the treetops. Mediating between earth and sky, Les Colporteurs’ aerialists, musicians, high wire and trapeze artists transform the fable into a poetic journey of dizzying acrobatics, bravura high-wire work, and magical incantation.