Academic journal article TheatreForum

Boris Yukhananov: The Tale of an Upright Man

Academic journal article TheatreForum

Boris Yukhananov: The Tale of an Upright Man

Article excerpt

THE BACKGROUND

Boris Yukhananov has been an inconstant but resolute presence in Moscow theatre since the late 1980s. He is a soft-spoken man of exceptional erudition, wit, and imagination. There is something in him of the paper architect who dreams up extraordinary schemes that cannot always be brought to fruition. Indeed, much of the theatre that percolates in this director's head has not existed in any other form than a good story well told. My favorite project is his proposal to send guerrilla actors on missions of "theatrical terrorism" in order to disrupt other performances-in-progress.

It is hard to talk about Yukhananov without using the word "avant-garde," although the phrase in our day has become hopelessly flaccid. Yukhananov, who was born in 1957, has always been, if not out front, then at least in the margins by himself. He has, since the mid-1980s, been a pioneer in Russia in the making of video films, serving, since 1997, as a co-manager of the Cine Fantom club of independent cinema. (See the Russian-language website at www. cinefantom.ru.) His theatre productions, usually created for various incarnations of his own theatre bearing different names at different times, have invariably been experimental and non-commercial. Even the names of his theatres give an idea of his sense of humor and independence of mind: the Theatre Theatre, the Post-Theatre, the Studio of Individual Directing, and the Laboratory of Angelic Directing. His most famous production has been The Orchard or The Garden, a fantasy based on the text of Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard but eliciting thoughts of the Garden of Eden and of gardens, in general, as places of growth and flourishing. During the eleven years of its life, from 1990 to 2001, this piece was transformed continually into new "Regenerations," the last of which was number eight. Early versions ran as many as five evenings in a row. The Fifth Regeneration, a seven-hour, two-day affair, incorporated several actors with Down's syndrome. To an extent, they played the role of guerilla actors interrupting and interacting with the professional actors on stage. At the same time Yukhananov has a strong grounding in the traditional ABCs of Russian psychological theatre. He studied under the great masters Anatoly Efros and Anatoly Vasilyev at the State Institute of Theatre Arts in Moscow from 1981 to 1985. He was Efros's assistant on the production of Shakespeare's The Tempest in 1983 and assisted on Vasilyev's famous production of Viktor Slavkin's Cerceau from 1984 to 1986.

The Orchard or The Garden notwithstanding, Yukhananov seemed to fade from view at least as often as he burst unexpectedly into Moscow's collective consciousness with his strange, daunting, and sometimes taxing productions. A five-hour version of Goethe's Faust, replete with a magic show involving bicycles and live cats, was performed from time to time in five different redactions from 1998 to 2003. Sometimes in Moscow, sometimes in other cities, he has mounted productions such as Moliere's The Misanthrope, Tennessee Williams's The Two-Character Play under the title of Sunflowers, and Denis Fonvizin's eighteenth-century comedy, The Minor.

In 1997 and 1998, Yukhananov cultivated a project that was, as he put it, "drawn back to us from the future." It was called The Palace and was intended as an antidote to the notions of repertory theatres and "supermarket" festivals, which everybody, the director claimed blithely, "knows are dead." The project was to consist of an ever-changing series of performances connected by palaces, which were to appear somewhere in every work. According to the plan, the performances would travel from space to space, never settling in any single location. Always an admirer of metaphorical speech, Yukhananov declared to me at the time that he had "locked up the orchard" and now planned to "build a palace next to it... And since a king is the most important figure in any palace," he added with his own brand of understated bravado, "I will be the king in my palace. …

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