Russian Theater from the Empire to the Soviets

Russian Theater from the Empire to the Soviets

Russian Theater from the Empire to the Soviets

Russian Theater from the Empire to the Soviets

Excerpt

THE FORMAL HISTORY of the Russian theater begins on that memorable day of October 17, 1672, when comedians, directed by a few Germans, gave their first performance at the court of Moscow. But the manifestations of Russian natural theatrical instinct can be traced back, many centuries before this event. In fact, the pagan ceremonies of the ancient Slavs, such as the expulsion of winter and the welcome of spring, and the later Christian festivals of Christmas and Easter, or the mixed rituals of the Carnival, analogous to the Greek Dionysian rites, were true theatrical performances. What remains of them in Russia from the eighteenth, nineteenth, and even twentieth centuries, and has been collected and studied by ethnographers and folklorists, shows a strong drive for self-expression in various ways which definitely stem from prehistoric times and, in any case, from the pre-Christian epoch. In modern Russian the current expression for marriage is "to perform a wedding," and in ancient times the wedding was actually divided in scenes or acts: proposal, engagement, and marriage. Each act had its own subdivisions: sometimes the rape of the bride, the flight and the fight, the reconciliation, the ransom, the religious blessing, the union of the newlyweds, and the traditional proof of the bride's virginity. The wedding lasted two or three days and had solo numbers and choral ensembles. Similarly, professional mourners were invited to a funeral; they were often the same persons who had taken part in the wedding.

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