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"Pushkin's Fairy Tales" by Robert Wilson at the Theatre of Nations
Theatre Premiere
Supported by Sberbank and SIBUR holding company, Theatre of Nations premiered with “Pushkin's Fairy Tales” staged by internationally acclaimed maestro of stage direction Robert Wilson. Article by ALLA SHENDEROVA

In the world there are only few directors to match the scale of 73-year-old american, Robert Wilson. He mastered color, light, art of scenography and all other aspects of what we dismissively call “theatre of form”, like nobody else. Back in 1998 when a show by Wilson was first performed for Moscow audience, something got shifted in our theatre world, and perhaps not only there. His Persephone, based on an ancient myth made us think twice about the “missing spinal bone” (expression ascribed to Malevich) of Russian art, which during the course of XX century got trimmed and stripped of OBERIU , abstractionists, Tairov Chamber Theatre and other sprouts of formal art. Of course, Wilson never stages by the book; he creates an elegant tone-painting and visual imagery using a famous story plot as outline. However, the habit to think in form and neglecting the psychological aspect don't mean that there's no room for emotions and discovering of meaning in his shows. Like in his Persephone, ambivalent sounds and motions embodied the ambivalence of human nature – how humans strive for light, and how they are doomed to end in the ground. This drove audience to tears.

Experts would say that maestro has changed since. That being in such a great demand all over the world made him go replicating himself: shows resembling current Pushkin's Fairy Tales have already been on in Berlin and Paris – these are 'Shakespeare's Sonnets' at Berliner Ensemble and 'Fables de La Fontaine' at La Comédie-Française. This is truth, but not all of it. In Berlin and Paris Wilson took images by Shakespeare and La Fontaine to incarnate them on stage. There's a fundamental difference though to the Moscow material he used: Pushkin's Fairy Tales are – as is all of his poetry – mind-boggling not only with its imagery (images often being borrowed, as in Fisherman and the Fish – from the Grimm brothers), but they strike with the remarkable richness of the language, owing to which Pushkin is indeed called “everything we got”.

Clearly, language barrier got in Wilson's way of assessing the material (although they say that he would stop actors when they broke the rhythm of the piece); so maestro dived deep into the fairytale world, having studied hundreds of old paintings – starting from ones that depicted the poet himself, and up to the ones painted by Vrubel and even to the old cartoons. Likewise, both members of franco-american duet CocoRosie explored Russian songs and tied those motives into their original music.

Ginger-red Storyteller (regards to the portrait by Kiprenskiy), dressed in tails and top-hat, is seated on top of the oak tree, and behaves as if Wilson knew the famous poem by Venichka Yerofeyev, where 'a line is written – there goes a shot '. And under the oak there are white cat, ginger-winged cockerel, ginger-bearded priest, white swan and other characters, all dancing in tune with the music. Actors are transformed by the fantastic makeup and wigs in such a manner that you would hardly recognize the Storyteller for Evgeny Mironov. Naturalness is despised by the Wilson's theatre: everything here is artificial – voices, gestures, even the rich guggling that is heard when the characters empty their bottles into their throats. Even the Fisherman's (Alexander Stroev) tongue that he shows at the disappearing Gold Fish – it's painted black, which from the very beginning gives the tale some air of dark grotesque humor.

However, there is nothing particularly sinister in it. This show must be favored by the teenagers – because of its stylish lightness borrowed from famous musicals; and because of its verse sung in funny exaggerated voices as jazz, rap and chanson; and because it is free of any didactics. Although, more sophisticated audience will notice the fishing boat trembling in the midst of the deep blue of either sky or sea; and they will hear lyrical lament inside of the cheerful CocoRosie rhythms. They will grasp that thirty warriors are in fact knights in coats of armor, one smaller than the other – appearing from the underground and ready to disappear back to the ground (a diagonal from left to right); and that the barrel with the baby and the Saltan's wife isn't floating but is rolling sharply downwards (a diagonal from right to left); while the island that promises redemption looks too much like a mirage. And the seasoned theatre-goers will definitely grin at the black header on the head of evil sister weaver from the 'Tale of tsar Saltan' (Daria Moroz), that looks like it got borrowed from Grushenka of Bogomolov-staged “Karamazov Brothers” - a show telling of our inescapable Dostoevskyness.

Of course, discreet and careful Wilson would never even think of Dostoevsky as he looks into no Russian gaping abyss and refrains from chiches and stereotypes by replacing common Russian-ish features with European and even Japanese ones. He lets his emotions loose only once in the She-bear, by making a short unfinished tale the climax of the show: the beautiful She-bear (Daria Moroz again) is dancing in the forest of slender trees, glowing with joy, until the Hunter – almost like in the noh theatre – makes a strike at her, his face disguised by a lion mask. Murdered, She-bear will disappear sorrowfully in the depth of the stage carrying the fork on top of her head, her cubs following her, the music will quiet down, and the audience will notice that a gray-haired old man is seated in the Storyteller's armchair. Naturally, that's Pushkin: he promised that 'not all of me will die', didn't he? So he didn't die, and he observes how we are killing all the beauty; and he is saddened.