Every year in late March the theatre-going Moscow community hosts the event that many Russian theatres always await so eagerly. It is a competition/festival of performing arts and the award-giving ceremony of the National Theatre Award “Golden Mask” for the best productions of the previous theatre season. In 2010 Golden Mask will be held from March 27 to April 15, and as in previous years national awards will be given to theatres and various theatre specialists for the best works in the regular disciplines of the performing arts (drama, opera, ballet, operetta and musical, and puppet theatre).
The professional Theatre Award “Golden Mask” was established in 1994 by the Russian Theatre Union. At first some would take its name as not very appropriate and even bordering on the banal. However, artist Oleg Sheintzis succeeded in implementing the idea of the award with so much elegance and wit that discussions of other versions of the name ceased. Taking as his base the mask of Venice carnival, he incorporated in it the decor of a double-headed eagle with its wings widely spread that brought to memory the Russian coat-of-arms with its top bearing a semblance of “the third eye” in the shape of a tiny mask of Commedia dell’Arte. This way the mask became a symbol of the kinship and unity of the Russian and European theatres.
The very first press conference convened by the Theatre Union heard the statement that the award would be exclusively “independent” to be given “by professionals to professionals.”
The first “mask” addressed Moscow theatres. The Theatre Union distributed more than 2,000 questionnaires to Moscow theatres, asking them to single out the best productions of the 1994-1995 theatre season, giving the names of the best performers, directors and stage designers. The panel of judges took into consideration opinions of both practitioners and critics, who quite surprisingly, proved to be unanimous in their choice. The first award-giving ceremony in Maly Theatre in 1995 is still remembered as a spirited and sincere holiday dominated by the genuine spirit of the professional theatre community.
Within the years of its existence (in 2010 it will be its 16th time) Golden Mask that once was an award for Moscow theatres has gained a national status and became a prize to be given to theatres of the entire Russian Federation. Many members of the theatre community nearly dreamed about getting this sign of recognition and professional success.
Golden Mask today is a large-scale theatre project supported by the federal authorities. Sberbank, the largest Russian bank has been its general sponsor since 2002. The selection of productions for the competitions is done by two Boards of Experts (separately for music and drama theatres) made up of leading Russian critics. During the theatre season they visit the companies that apply for the participation in the contest and make up the main bill of the national contest festival.
In the 2008-2009 theatre season the Golden Mask experts watched 655 productions to select 40 of them for the final competition programme.
Aside from the main agenda the festival has a non-contest programme “Maska Plus.” As the previous events show not all productions that appeal to specialists and viewers meet the requirements of strict selection Golden Mask has worked out throughout its history. There are outstanding works at the junction of different genres that infrequently define new theatre trends. The non-contest segment of Golden Mask-2010 is primarily theirs. Alongside the Russian theatre companies it is the scene for theatres from the Baltic republics, Byelorussia, Ukraine, Armenia, Poland and Belgium. This year a special segment of “Maska Plus” is dedicated to the present-day dramaturgy. It includes readings of new plays, seminars, production of lesser-known playwrights and debates on these.
One more programme on the Golden Mask bill is the “Russian Case”, which has been a part of the festival since 2000, aiming to include foreign guests, producers, managers, theatre festival organisers and critics into its activities. Its principal goal is to reflect the full scale of the present-day picture of the present-day Russian theatre, including, when possible all the forms and directions of both the long standing tradition and unusual or innovative. The programme aims at representing the full range of the contemporary theatre, referring to what the present-day Russian theatre is, attempting to represent all its forms and directions. The programme must have practical results. It can include joint projects, festivals, tours, translations of plays into Russian and foreign languages and other aspects of the global theatre cooperation. Within the framework of Golden Mask-2010 19 Russian productions will be shown to foreign visitors as a part of the “Russian Case” from April 8th to 12th.
The Golden Mask programmes that are not directly linked to the giving of the national theatre award include the project titled “The Legendary Productions and Artists of the 20th Century.” The project aims at giving to Russian theatre-goers an opportunity to learn about the works of performing arts that have become a part of the world’s theatre heritage. Earlier the frameworks of the Golden Mask included productions “Arlecchino, Servant of Two Masters” by Giorgio Strelher (Piccolo Teatro di Milano), “Der Aufhaltsame Aufstieg des Arturo Ui” staged by Heiner Muller (Berliner Ensemble), “The Possessed” and “Brothers and Sisters” by Lev Dodin (Maly Theatre-Theatre De L’Europe, St.Petersburg), solo programmes of the famous French dancer Sylvie Guillem, the performance of the Dutch maestro of modern dance Jiři Kilián, and the “Impressing the Czar”, a production of the Royal Ballet of Flanders staged by William Forsyth. Within the framework of the programme “The Legendary Productions and Artists of the 20th Century” in 2010 the Moscow theatre goers will be able to see “Dido and Aeneas”, a production of US choreographer Mark Morris (Mark Morris Dance Group).
The Golden Mask-2010 has on the sidelines the event that crowns it is the National Theatre Award for the best works of the past season. The Award Ceremony will be held on April 16th. The short list of the nominees, the bill and information about all the events of the Golden Mask-2010 are available at the web-site www.goldenmask.ru in Russian and English.
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