With the onset of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there were calls in Europe to abandon Russian culture, but with the support of the authorities, at least in Germany, have not received. Chancellor Olaf Scholz and State Minister for Culture and Media Claudia Roth also opposed the boycott.
September 23 in one of the most important theaters in Germany – Deutsches Theater in Berlin – the premiere of the play based on Chekhov’s play “Platonov” by the Novosibirsk director Timofey Kulyabin.
Kulyabin is known for his contemporary interpretations of classical works. 2015 for fat reading opera “Tannhauser” an administrative case was opened against him in Russia for insulting the feelings of believers. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the director spoke out against the war. Then he staged a play in Prague. After that, Kulyabin did not return to Russia, he was fired from the Red Torch Theater, and the Bolshoi Theater withdrew his opera Don Pasquale from the screening. DW met the director for the play’s premiere in Berlin.
DW: Timofey, in your works you often transfer the classic plot to modern reality. How did you beat Chekhov’s “Platonov” this time?
Timofey Kulyabin: Everything is happening today with our contemporaries. The choice of scene is very specific: everything takes place in a nursing home somewhere in the Russian provinces. This is a nursing home for stage veterans. This is the place where time stood still. It doesn’t flow there, it passes there, so to speak. So formally we can say that this is about modernity, but it is rather about timelessness, about the loss of youth.
– And now, in the context of current political events, has this subject taken on a new meaning for you?
– Well, you can’t get away from these associations. Yet the heroes of my performance are abandoned lonely Russians, the intelligentsia, forgotten by all who live their last days, and in general will sink into oblivion, as it were, disappear, and everyone will forget them . Well, like it or not, associations are bound to form.
– Now a great discussion has arisen in the West about the abolition of Russian culture. How do you feel about it? Did you have any problems?
– Specifically, this did not affect me, as my position was initially quite clear. I declared it both on social networks and in the press, as did my entire team. We did not feel any pressure, on the contrary, support from both the theater and the actors. Obviously, when there are statements about the abolition of the entire Russian culture and so on, these statements are dictated by great emotional stress, impressions of what is happening. And I can’t blame you for that either. Another thing is, as always, you have to understand the context accurately, you have to understand specific people, specific projects, and so on. I don’t think there is one solution to this problem.
– Is there now an interest in Russian culture in Europe – both in classics and in modern productions?
– I think so. After all, Russian culture is part of European culture, it is not so canceled – at the click of a button. It’s impossible. One of my next works is Tchaikovsky’s opera The Queen of Spades in France. And no one suggested to change the name or authors in connection with current events.
– Some artists have taken the position that art is outside of politics, while others say it is impossible not to pronounce when there is war in your country. Do you think it’s okay to shut up now?
– Humanly speaking, I don’t think so. But from my own experience I see and understand how much the consequences (of such a statement – Ed.) can be critical for people, and they keep silent not because they have nothing to say, but because they are afraid. Fear is a very strong feeling. In addition, historically in our country, it often led many people. I’m not going to judge. This is a rather difficult question. Everyone decides for themselves.
How did you react to the statement? Alla Pugacheva?
– With pleasure. It seems to me that this is a rather targeted and clear blow to the regime. That is, Alla Borisovna did everything correctly, on time and accurately, it seems to me.
– And if the leaders of the leading theaters speak out, does that change anything?
– It depends on the figure, on the person, theater directors are also different. And the theaters are different, and the leaders, and their authority. Of course, when a very authoritative person declares his denial of war, then of course this is important.
– What do you see as the task of art now?
– Challenge (art – Ed.) as far as possible not to be silent and tell the truth, talk about how it really is, and not what they want the truth to look like. This is the only correct job.
– You wrote a message against the war in social networks on February 25. Can you remember what you thought then?
– It was the only possible reaction for me. I had no other option. I didn’t think it was necessary or not, I just did it. Once the events happened, we did it in the next second.
– In what scenario could you return to Russia?
– When I am sure for my safety and for the possibility to do what I want to do there.
– Are the cultural ties between Europe and Russia now completely broken or is there another form of communication?
– Formally, of course, they are practically torn. The number of international festivals that are canceled is enormous. In particular, I am the art director of the Territory festival, this is an international festival that no longer exists in this form. And so many festivals, tours and so on are now of course disrupted.
– What consequences does this threaten for Russian culture?
– This is a question for sociologists, but there is nothing good about it. Exchange is a very important mechanism to enrich culture. When a culture is locked up, isolated, it starts to stew in its own juice and never leads to anything good.
– Seven years have passed since the scandal with your opera “Tannhäuser”. What happened to creative freedom in Russia during this time? Is she still there?
– It’s getting smaller and smaller. Now not only is creative freedom diminishing, but so is freedom of speechand since yesterday already freedom of movement (since September 21, when they announced) mobilization – Ed.). This is an authoritarian regime, it has its own very specific properties, it demonstrates them, including, of course, freedom of creativity.
– You were literally in Russia until recently. Have you ever felt censored or self-censored?
– So that I think about it and feel it every day, no, this was not the case. There was a sense of tension in the air, but there was no sense that in an instant everything could collapse and collapse like that. Neither I nor my close friends, colleagues felt it in any way. Maybe it was a mistake, maybe our intuition failed us. I don’t think we were ready for this.
Which piece would you like to wear right now?
– Of the closest plans, there will be a performance based on Shakespeare’s play “Macbeth” in Frankfurt early next year, a performance based on Brecht’s play “Fear and Despair in the Third Empire” in Estonia. Well, in general, somehow everything revolves around the war. I can’t get away from her like that.
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