Advanced High/Superior The Theater of Yuri Lyubimov

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In this episode you’ll watch TV hosts Dmitry Dibrov and Dmitry Gubin in the Russian weekly television program Temporarily Available, aired on ATV, interviewed one of the most prominent Soviet cultural figures, 93 year-old artistic director of the Moscow Taganka Theater Yuri Lyubimov .

The Taganka, arguably the most influential dramatic company of the hard epoch of Brezhnev’s stagnation, has its symbolic dominance in Soviet dissident culture. Launched in 1964 with Brecht’s play The Good Person of Setzuan, the Taganka was conceived by Lyubimov as a genuinely synthetic theatre, drawing on music hall, circus, and shadow play, with involvement of well-known composers and set designers. Lyubimov employed unstereotypical theatrical devices, stylistic contrast of comic and tragic, grotesque and pathetic, satirical and serious for a particular type of expression. There's no politics in the plays, but there was something that was threatening to a dictatorship – an open conversation. Despite the pressure and obstacles, the Taganka managed to deliver cutting-edge, effervescent performances. For example, in Hamlet (1971) the main part was played by the bard Vladimir Vysotsky, a leading actor-singer known to millions across the Soviet Union, who recited Pasternak's unpublished poem Hamlet to the guitar. Vysotsky's costume—a black sweater and jeans—made him a man of the people rather than a prince, and his troubles of conscience could be shared by the audience. The integration of the audience, its participation, was vital to the production. Quite often the production was not limited to the stage and the auditorium, but started outside the theatre. Lyubimomv brought to the Russian stage novel Master and Margarita (1977) by Bulgakov, long a Soviet underground classic. As Lyubimov challenged classical literature in making it tangible to a contemporary audience, there were serious difficulties with the authorities over the productions: the compositions often were criticized for a lack of profundity, actors were attacked for their lack of psychological portrayal, censorship was tightened up at the time, but the Taganka theater profited from the presence of liberals in the nomenklatura.

Finally, in 1984, Yuri Lyubimov was dismissed from his post and later that year, while he was traveling in Italy, was stripped of his Soviet citizenship for "hostile activities.” At the height of the perestroika, in 1988, when control of theatres was removed from the Ministry of Culture (1986) and given to the theatres themselves, when censorship was abolished, Lyubimov returned to Moscow; and in 1991 he resumed the artistic direction of the Taganka. For many years Lyubimov teaches actors and art-directors his own created theater system and aesthetics. Nowadays there are three generations of Lyubimov’s students acting at Taganka stage.

The most recent production at Taganka is Yuri Lyubimov's adaptation of Arabesques by Gogol. Lyubimov orchestrated the philosophical dialogue between the writer himself and his alter egos, which from time to time transform into Kafka and into Hoffman. As always there are a few settings in Lyubimov's performance but there's maximum movement.