An act of resistance

Gogol Center delves into the absurdity of human existence on the Israeli stage.

August 21, 2019 16:02
2 minute read.
An act of resistance

Left to right: Nikita Kukushkin, Filipp Avdeev, Andrey Rebenkov in ‘Who is Happy in Russia?’. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Gogol Center, one of Russia’s most intriguing theaters and the home of the daring Russian stage and film director Kirill Serebrennikov, will bring two signature shows – Dead Souls and Who is Happy in Russia? – to the Cameri Theater in Tel Aviv from September 1-5. The plays are somewhat loosely based on poems by Nikolai Gogol and Nikolai Nekrasov. They treat the eternal questions of freedom and slavery, the absurdity of human existence and more, and provide essential clues for understanding life in Russia – or at least attempt such an intellectual feat. In Israel, Gogol Center shows are presented by M.ART, a non-profit, cultural NGO that showcases contemporary Russian culture in London, New York and Tel Aviv.

In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Serebrennikov, the Gogol Center artistic director since 2012, spoke about the plays and his vision of theater.

“A theater show comes into being as a result of interaction between the stage and the audience, which will make the shows in Tel Aviv unique and totally different from those in Moscow, Vienna or Rome,” Serebrennikov said. He shared that Who is Happy in Russia? is based on findings of  an ethnographic expedition into the heart of Russia. “At first, these were just etudes on themes of Nekrasov’s poem, which I later, together with my actors, composed into a major stage text.”

Dead Souls premiered in 2014, “but since we – both actors and the audience – have changed a lot, so has the show. And this is what is great about classics. We can see in it ourselves as if it was a mirror.”

To describe the Gogol Center theater language, Serebrennikov used what he calls a “great German term, Gesamtkunstwerk, a work that makes use of different art forms: music, drama, visual art, choreography, altogether. Poetry, poetics, provocation, beauty, tenderness and fragility are shown though this method that we see more often in the musical theater.”

Serebrennikov, an internationally acclaimed director, is quite critical to what he defines as “disastrous, sinister tendencies of the contemporary world for global and total simplification of all issues, problems, discourses, speech, utterances, visuality, thought and philosophy. Everything is aiming for simplification. I don’t want to call it degradation, although I feel tempted to. I would rather use the physical term entropy. Maybe art, thinking people, philosophy, films and theatre pieces serve to resist this ‘simplificationism.’ Simpler-thinking people are convenient for any system. They are easy to manipulate, they are easy to lead. Whatever you tell them they will blindly obey. Complexity is today’s act of resistance.”

Dead Souls runs approximately 2 hours, 25 minutes without an intermission and will be performed on September 1 and 2. Who is Happy in Russia? is about 3 hours, 40 minutes in length with two intermissions and will be performed on September 3 and 4. Both plays are in Russian with Hebrew subtitles.
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