The Olympics is a paradoxical phenomenon. On the one hand, it lives in a spirit of competition and rivalry. On the other hand, it is a symbol of peace. Indeed, at the time of the Olympic Games in Ancient Greece, a sacred truce was established. People rested from war and strife. The International Theatre Olympics that also came from Greece is free from a sports race and the motto Faster, Higher, Stronger, but the Olympic flame lit up it. The flames of talent, the element of the life-giving fierce fire, i.e. creativity, all this bring director Theodoros Terzopoulos’ idea. He became the founder of the unique project, embracing the whole world and uniting things seemed to have no common ground, at first sight: peoples and countries, theatre styles and genres, “old forms” and new experiments.
The International Theatre Olympics was conceived and founded in 1993-1994 and a year later it began its life in the legendary Greek city of Delphi. Since then, the Olympics began its march around the world: Japan, Turkey, South Korea, Poland, China, India. The Theatre Olympics was held in Moscow in 2001. It returned to Russia again, to its cultural capital – St. Petersburg in 2019. That was a special year both for the host country of this unique event (the Year of the Theatre was officially announced in Russia) and for the Theatre Olympics as such. In its touring, it comprised two mutually enriching parts: for the first time, it is held in 2 countries – in Russia and in Japan.
In Japan, the Theatre Olympics has already ended. It was held from August 23 to September 23, 2019, the Theatre Center created in the mountain village of Toga by famous theatre director Tadashi Suzuki. Toga is a place of attraction both for professionals and theatre-goers from different parts of the globe and an office of the Tadashi Suzuki SCOT (Suzuki Company of Toga) troupe.
Two shows from the repertoire of the Alexandrinsky Theatre were presented in Japan: technologically complicated and enriched with special effects like the 5D cinema Today. 2016 – … and the performance The Twelve, interesting as it is in its search for theatrical language using sound design as well as Achay concert of the Alash Ensemble (the Republic of Tuva) that introduces the Japanese audience to khoomei (a Sayan-Altai Highlands throat singing).
From June to December, Petersburg and the regions of Russia have the opportunity to get acquainted with the most interesting examples of the world theatrical performances, as well as the national theatres of Russia, which cannot always tour because of their specific life. This autonomy and isolation, including spectator restriction (great attachment to one genre, a style or a type of a theatre), the Theatre Olympics strive to overcome. And according to positive feedbacks and good reviews from audience review, it succeeded.
The Olympic principle: “it is not the winning but the taking part which counts“, found a living embodiment here. The architecture of this year’s event program is reminiscent of a long-running theatre festival where one tour is replacing another. As in the case of the sports olympiad, the theatrical program is a review of the achievements of modern dramatic practices. There are no record-holders and putting on a pedestal because the winner of each performance is determined individually by each spectacular. One thing is crystal clear – there are no losers in so-called competition here.
Some feel that it is impossible to realize the immensity does not arise because the performances of foreign theatres organically merge into the Russian program, interspersed with exhibitions, workshops, and creative initiatives. The St. Petersburg theatre season also coincided with the Russian authorities’ initiative on facilitated visa issuance for foreigners who wish to visit the former capital of Russia on the Neva River. Holders of electronic visas are given a unique opportunity to get acquainted with the city where theatre rules this year, and t brutal theatricality of architecture, art, appealing views and city light signs.
Performances do not struggle for spectator attention, they are good neighbors as in the Olympic village. That roommate moment, however, is also expressed in the fact that although the program of the Russian edition of the Theatre Olympics is replete with a variety of names and titles, there is no single core and distinct message that always distinguished the previous Theatre Olympics. Creating Bridges – became the slogan of the year, but it appeared in management framework of the festival, which covered, it seems, all the theatrical events and initiatives, including the performances of the largest theatre festivals in Russia – – the Chekhov Festival, “Golden Mask”, “Access Point”, Baltic House and NET.
A vivid range – it is wonderful, but so far it has not been possible to hear a clear note, the clear sound of one loud and intelligible idea, the theatre’s message of Olympics to the world. However, there is still time before the end of 2019. And also, we should remember that the Olympics suggests an Olympian calm, bequeathed back in Homer’s Odyssey. The grandeur, solemnity, and equanimity of the inhabitants of Olympus is quite inherent in the events of the Year of the Theatre in Russia, which, despite a string of theatrical conflicts and unrest, try to save face in the international arena.
Through a lush and rich media program, only two tiny parallel currents appear, they cause the greatest interest of the public. This is a national program of Russian theatres, opening not only foreigners but also Russians new pages of theatrical culture, creativity and national traditions of a huge country, as well as vivid performances of European theatres. One of the objectives of the festival is to expand the audience’s borders and overcome the audience’s distrust and skepticism. The organizers are doing everything possible to attract the audience’s attention to the performances not only with the help of world celebrities, theatre majors but also theatres from far regions of the country.
The program of national theatres of Russia carries not only a cultural, but also a social mission. It acquaints the viewer with how national traditions live and develop in the era of digitalization and multiculturalism. The performances presented in this section overcome patterns and social stereotypes about the isolation of faraway theatres from the world contemporary theatre process.
The Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), the Republic of Tatarstan, the Republic of Karelia the Republic of Buryatia, the Chechen Republic, and the Republic of Bashkortostan will bring the original and interesting visible message for a modern progressive spectacular to St. Petersburg.
Hots Namsaraev Buryat State Academic Theatre of Ulan-Ude will present A Flight: A Story of Bilchir. The work of the young director Soyzhin Zhambalova based on an artistic expedition and performed in Bulgat dialect of the Buryat language. The play is based on the documentary story of Osinsky District residents in Irkutsk Region, who watched the construction of Bratsk Hydroelectric power plant on the Angara River. Large tracts of land were flooded later. Documentary fragments are combined with notes from Valentin Rasputin’s Farewell to Matyoraya, but they are told not only with words but with music, songs, and dances characteristic of the Buryats. In a multi-layered performance, the pages of the past come to life and touch today.
Olonkho Theatre of Yakutsk will present a Dzhyrybyna the Warrior Woman immerses the viewer in the secrets of shamanistic rituals and ancient beliefs. About this performance, nominated for the Golden Mask, the Russian National Theatre Prize we will tell in more detail on the pages of The Theatre Times.
The performance of The National Theatre of Karelia, Bear the Son, which includes songs and ceremonies in Finnish, Karelian, Vepssian and Russian languages, also is a creation with a magic component. Khodari is another fabulous performance of this theatre, but it is a fairy tale for adults. The traditions of folklore and the eternal themes of the fight against black forces for the human soul are combined here with folk humor and traditional anecdotes.
Khanpasha Nuradilov Chechen State Drama Theatre from Grozny will bring to St. Petersburg two performances My Home – Red Home or Going Home and Higher than the Mountains. The first performance tells a contemporary story about the difficult life of an immigrant in Paris who does not want to lose his national identity. The second plot is a beautiful story in which Chechen folk traditions and legends are twisted into an eternal story of love and mercy, forgiveness and a sense of duty.
Galiasgar Kamal Tatar State Academic Theatre will present the performance The Rooster Flies on the Wicker Fence, which is based on a funny story of a neighbor’s quarrel in a Tatar village in the Soviet seventies. A distinctive feature of the performance is the study method of the director Farid Bikchantaev – the text of the performance was born in the process of rehearsals.
Mazhit Gafuri Bashkir Academic Drama Theatre will play Zuleykha Opens Her Eyes, based on the bestseller by Guzel Yakhina. This story begins in the winter of 1930 in a remote Tatar village. Zuleikha is sent into exile to a remote region on the Angara River in Siberia. Peasants, intellectuals, criminals, Muslims and Christians, agnostics and atheists, Russians, Tatars, Germans, Chuvashs – all will meet on the banks of the Angara, fighting for their lives and future.
The Theatre Olympics contains the whole world and goes around the world. 50 theatres staff, 21 countries, and countless spectator emotions and impressions – all this and even more is the Theatre Olympics, which is certainly worth visiting before the end of the year. The Olympics will officially end in the framework of the St. Petersburg Cultural Forum in November, but the performance under its auspices will continue to amaze the audience until the end of the year. After all, the theatre can overcome all boundaries, be it time or space.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.