Published October 2006
In the previous newsletter (No. 4, Special Issue) we touched upon the theme of the impact of the adoption by Russian law-makers and bureaucracy of ill-thought-out laws that often threaten the very existence of what is the pride of national culture. To continue the theme we are now telling you about the situation in which the theatre titled “The School of Dramatic Art” under Anatoly Vasiliev has found itself.
Anatoly Vasiliev is a man whose name needs no commenting on. He is one of the world’s leading theatre directors, who earned the world’s renown after he opened his School of Dramatic Art. Then in 1986 riding the wave of “perestroika” theatrical studios began to appear in the former USSR, whose creative directions differed from the official policies prescribed for the theatre. Theatre in South-West, Theatre on the Floorboards, Theatre in Krasnaya Presnia and others appeared in Moscow. In the wake of the general trend of changes Moscow authorities began to offer premises to them, mainly basements. One of these in Povarskaya Street was offered to Anatoly Vasiliev, the supporter of the school Yerzi Grotowski. After renovations of the basement in 1987 the experimental theatre School of Dramatic Art presented its first production Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello. The production was a thunderous success at highprofile European festivals. That was followed by the famous Joseph and His Brothers by Tomas Mann, Moliere’s Amphitryon, Lamentations of Jeremiah by Vladimir Martynov that gave Vasiliev’s theatre the world renown as one of the most exciting present-day theatres. His school began to raise its status. People would come to Vasiliev for tutorship.
The basement in Povarskaya Street was also changed. The efforts of Vasiliev and his company turned it into a space where every corner was permeated with the theatrical spirit. Alongside rehearsal premises there appeared a library, a museum, a display room, professional sound recording studio, facilities for training workshops, a small hotel and a student’s hostel. In 1999 Anatoly Vasiliev was awarded Russia’s Literature and Arts State Prize for the establishment of his School of Dramatic Art. In 2001 Vasilyev’s theatre School of Dramatic Art (the first Russian theatre and to date the only one in Moscow) became a member of the Union of the Theatres of Europe (Théâtres de’Europe).
Moscow authorities could not disregard international renown of Vasiliev’s theatre and decided to present it with a building of 10,000-plus square metres in Sretenka Street in Moscow’s downtown. It had four stages and several halls for rehearsals, workshops and lecturing. In a nutshell, a royal gift. Live and enjoy it. However, events that followed began to remind of the ancient story about the Trojan horse. Moscow authorities began doubt that the theatre needed two premises – in both Sretenka and Povarskaya Sreet. So they decided to take the latter away, issuing a special resolution…
The process of adopting any resolution in Russia usually defies the laws of logic. It would seem natural that before deciding something one should ask the “subjects” in whose favour this or that resolution would be adopted, coming to a consensus and give it a legal form only after that. Here we have it the other way about. The decree comes first with a follow-up explanation to the “figures” of the good intentions of the authors of the document. The trouble is laws and regulations in Russia cannot be cancelled, they should only be observed…
That was how the decree “On the Reorganisation of the School of Dramatic Art”, which deprived Vasiliev’s theatre of its Povarskaya Street premises. To the great surprise of the officials Anatoly Vasiliev flatly refused to return the premises to authorities. The basement in Povarskaya Street is the life, the essence and the roots of his theatre. With roots destroyed no tree can grow, no matter how beautiful and lush its top can be. Moscow bureaucrats could not accept Vasiliev’s arguments treating them as the maitre’s caprice and empty talk. But on second thoughts they decided that as a genius Anatoly Vasiliev would hardly be able to run the luxurious premises in Sretenka street profitably (it must earn money for the city!). So they issued another resolution… to dismiss Anatoly Vasiliev from his position as the artistic director of the theatre he had created. One thing followed another. October 18, 2006 taking advantage of Vasiliev’s absence in Russia and without consulting him they appointed managing director of the theatre a man who, Moscow officials thought, could save the theatre of world renown, but from what or whom?
A piece of information.
Three buildings away from Anatoly Vasiliev’s theatre at 20, Povarskaya Street, the 5th Studio of Vsevolod Meyerhold was based in the 1920s. As is known, for some time the great Meyerhold was an acknowledged master and was treated kindly by Soviet authorities, but he was later repressed and faced a shooting squad. The great Virgil was correct, saying in his Aeneid “Quidquid id est, timeo Danaos et dona ferentes”. Vasiliev does not face such a fate as the times have changed. Deprived of his cherished brainchild and exhausted by fighting many new decrees and resolutions he may simply leave the country for Europe where its best theatres would be pleased to have him. But there would not be the School of Dramatic Art in Moscow any longer…
Still, there is some hope. The Moscow government would do better if it gives up its bureaucratic diktat and accept the fact that not all values in life are measured by the rate of profitability, money and golden metropolitan square metres. They should begin a normal dialogue with Anatoly Vasiliev, an artist of the world renown, issuing no more decrees.
The official web-site of the School of Dramatic Art:
Anatoly Vasiliev’s creative biography in English is available at:
If you wish to support the theatre, please contact:
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