Editor Theodora Clarke speaks to one of the most visionary directors in Russian theatre, Dmitry Krymov, about his first performance in London. Having designed over 90 performances, awarded the Stanislavsky Prize for “Innovation”, the Crystal Thurandot award for “Best Director” for Demon, View from Above, and Opus No.7., won the Grand-Prix of the Prague Quadrennial, and twice awarded the “Golden Mask”, Krymov has made his name as one of the most influential Russian directors. Krymov’s paintings are included in the collections of The State Tretyakov Gallery, The State Russian Museum and The State Theatre Museum, The V&A, The Vatican Museum and in many private collections worldwide. His play, entitled Opus No. 7, is taking place from 3rd to 21st June 2014 across the UK. Translated by Olga Kren

Image courtesy of the Barbican Theatre

Image courtesy of the Barbican Theatre

  Theodora Clarke: You are bringing Opus No. 7 to the Barbican in June. Is it going to be the first UK performance of the play? Dmitry Krymov: Yes, it is. Opus No.7 has never been seen in the UK before and I am really looking forward to it. Two years ago the British public already had the opportunity to see another production of Dmitry Krymov’s Theatre Laboratory. I am talking about the interpretation of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” that was staged in the UK in 2012. My actors and I presented this play at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. We also performed it in the Scottish capital during the Edinburgh International Festival 2012 and won an award there.
Image courtesy of the Barbican Theatre

Image courtesy of the Barbican Theatre

TC: Could you tell me a bit about the play and what the central theme is that you are trying to present in Opus No. 7? How would you describe the performance? DK: I think that a theatre performance doesn’t require any theme at all. You know, you can have an interesting play without a theme. This is also the case with Opus No. 7. Anyway there are two central themes in this work: genealogy and the lives of Jews in Russia dominate the first part of the performance and Dmitri Shostakovich and his life, the second. TC: What was it that attracted you to a story of Russian Jews and the Soviet composer Shostakovich? How do the two relate? DK: I am interested in such categories as “large” and “small” and how they correspond with each other. For example, our past is “big” and prominent. In comparison we, as people, are relatively “small”. From the very beginning I wanted to show the audience my own understanding of these two controversial aspects: big and small, small and big. So I tried to bring the two areas together within the play and visualised them in Opus No. 7. Thus, in the first part of the play “Genealogy” our laboratory performs the history of the Jews as if it were the history of us, even if we are not Jewish by origin. Almost everyone has a family album with lots of photographs of family members and relatives. Usually we remember the names of the people photographed. Sometimes we can tell their personal stories. But after a certain period of time we just see many unknown faces and don’t recognise them. Unfortunately there is nobody who can tell us who they were. We are in front of murky water and we cannot see the bottom. The second part of the performance tells a story of Shostakovich’s life and his persecution under Communism. Although it is a completely a different story, it concerns big and small categories too. Small refers to the composer himself. It is well-known that Dmitri Shostakovich was relatively petit. In this context “big” can be associated either with his Motherland-Russia or with his mother, whom he loved and respected very much throughout his life. Power and death are “big” too. For this performance I looked at very political subjects. But it shouldn’t be read as a political play. It was not my intention at all to give this performance any political context.
Image courtesy of the Barbican Theatre

Image courtesy of the Barbican Theatre

TC: It is interesting that you say the performance is not political because the subjects you take seem to concern the persecution of artists under the Soviet Union. DK: Shostakovich is one of Russia’s most celebrated composers. Otherwise, he was a “small” person born in a “big” state. In Opus No. 7 I am trying to visualize the idea that usually the “big” state like the Soviet Union persecutes the “small” artists like Shostakovich and others. TC: You have been appointment Head of the Experimental Theatre Project within the Russian Academy of Theatre Arts in Moscow. I know you work a lot with puppets and have a very undistinguished style of creating your plays. Could you tell me more about your creating process?   DK: Puppets play very special role in my life and artistic work. I remember that day when my son was young and we sat in the car together. Suddenly he told me: “Daddy, you know, I found out that all people are puppets, puppets in God’s hands.” Like my son I would rather not separate a human being from a puppet. I think that in different life situations we sometimes act as a puppeteer for other people; sometimes we are manipulated by others, our puppeteers. TC: How will the puppets be incorporated in this particular performance? DK: For the second part of the performance I created two puppets: big and small. The big one is approximately 4.5m tall and symbolises both the mother of Shostakovich and his Motherhood. The smaller puppet represents the composer himself.
Image courtesy of the Barbican Theatre

Image courtesy of the Barbican Theatre

TC: I noticed that you have specifically referred to your theatre as a laboratory. There is such a history in Russian experimental theatre with directors such as Vsevolod Meyerhold. Who would you say is your greatest inspiration as a theatre director? DK: Unfortunately I didn’t see the plays performed by such famous Russians as Meyerhold and Stanislavski. According to the memoirs of their contemporaries, their plays were very special, unique and deeply moving. I must confess that they excite my imagination. Meyerhold and Stanislavski were the most influential figures in Russian theatre and I – as many other stage managers – sometimes use some of their achievements. But only as part of my theatrical palette. To say honestly, I would like to create something different. I don’t want to come too close to these greats. I prefer to organise my performances in the way I understand modern Russian theatre. TC: It is interesting to know that you were a visual artist first and then you turned to the theatre. What was it that made you change your discipline after such a long time? What attracted you to the theatre? DK: Yes, you are right. I used to work as an artist and a set-designer at the Moscow Art theatre and other Russian theatres. But one day I mustered enough courage to produce a play. I didn’t plan to become a stage director. So it happened accidentally. I began to conceive and produce more plays and enjoyed the process very much. Then I decided to leave my position as a painter and began performing on a regular basis. Since 2002 I have been teaching at the Russian Academy of Theatre Arts in Moscow. In addition, I created my own Laboratory and began a new experimental course, where set-designers, directors and student-actors study and work together. It is very important to me to work collaboratively with my students to devise each piece. TC: What do you think of the state of theatre in today’s Russia? Recently I have spoken with some Russian artists. They are worrying about the increasing restrictions that politics is placing on art. Do you feel the same with theatre? DM: Politics is a very changeable thing. Everything is changing now. Honestly, I don’t see any restrictions for me at the present moment that might stop my work in theatre. Only the lack of money sometimes makes the creating and production process harder.
Image courtesy of the Barbican Theatre

Image courtesy of the Barbican Theatre

TC: We have some Russian artists who were affected by visa restrictions. Have the members of your theatre company been affected by the sanctions and what’s happening in Ukraine? DK: Fortunately, the members of my laboratory were not affected by any restrictions. There was just a technical problem with obtaining a visa for one of my actresses. But I hope to solve this problem soon. TC: I see that Opus No.7 is a part of the UK-Russia Year of Culture 2014. Have you brought the play as part of this culture exchange programme intentionally or was it a coincidence? DK: I would say that it is a coincidence. As an independent project Opus No.7 was conceived much earlier and has already been played in Russia, USA and other countries. TC: I see that you are also bringing a version of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to the Barbican in November this year. What was it that attracted you to that particular play? DK: This performance was originally commissioned for the World Shakespeare Festival two years ago, which was produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) for Edinburgh International Festival 2012. In November this version of the play will be presented by at the Barbican in association with the RSC. We really enjoyed working on this project and have great expectations that other will enjoy our performance too.
Image courtesy of the Barbican Theatre

Image courtesy of the Barbican Theatre

In May and June the performance OPUS No.7 will be shown in the UK:

For all inquiries please contact the administrator of the laboratory Evgeny Khudyakov at hudoi.vsegda.prav@gmail.com or info@krymovlab.ru

Image courtesy of the novayagazeta.ru

Image courtesy of the novayagazeta.ru

Dmitry Krymov’s Lab: http://krymov.org/lab/