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The Mighty Dramatic. What awaits the Bolshoi Drama Theatre after post-reconstruction reopening

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The opening of BDT’s main stage after a lengthy reconstruction spurned another wave of comparisons between the current artistic director of the Theatre Andrey Moguchiy and the great Georgiy Tovstonogov. What’s more that the two heads of the city’s biggest theatre have – similarities or differences? Pavel Nikiforov drew some parallels.

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Yuriy Zinchuk, host: “The stage at the Fontanka is now open, plays have been shown since Sunday. An interesting detail – last Sunday, September 28th, the man who gave the theatre its name – Georgiy Tovstonogov – would have turned 99. Naturally, we cant help making parallels between the current artistic director of the BDT and the past – Tovstonogov. That is in a spectator’s nature – to compare and draw conclusions. The question is whether anyone can repeat the artistic great deed which was done by the Great Goga – that is how Tovstonogov was called by the theatre’s actors. Pavel Nikiforov with some parallels in his report

Pavel Nikiforov, reporter: “An unprecedented move was made in St. Petersburg a week ago. For a whole day – to mark the opening of the BDT’s historic stage – part of Fontanka’s embankment in front of the theatre changed its name to Dramaticheskaya street and Bolshaya Dramaticheskaya Square. Maybe because of neglect – or due to somebody’s intentional forgetfulness – the street name tablet stayed, still hanging here. Andrey Moguchiy – director who likes to experiment, a vanguard. He’s no stranger to little artistic mischiefs. This tablet is like a symbol of the new Bolshoi, or more precisely, the Mighty Drama Theatre”

Only the lazy hasn’t tried to draw parallels between the two artistic directors. Two flamboyant personalities with peculiar styles – both as if were created to make parodies of them. Goga in spectacles with thick lenses and ever-present filtered cigarettes; Moguchiy – wearing all-black with a baseball cap concealing his eyes. Even their first words as artistic directors are similar. Here’s what Georgiy Alexandrovich said:

“I remember him saying – I am not edible”

And these are the first words of Andrey Anatolich to his troupe

“There have been a lot of vague leaks to the press, including that there will be bloodletting changes. This will not happen, I assure you. It will be slow…and not too painful”

Only that’s where comparisons between the two heads of the famed theatre – which has been in crisis for years now and has been living off its past – end. Firstly, Moguchiy refurbished the main thing to his liking – the historic stage. 2,5 years ago – right on Georgiy Schtill’s 80th jubilee – we tried to get in. Didn’t make it past the entrance checkpoint.

“Actor Shtill is here, he wants to come inside for a walkabout inside the theatre”

“I just want to stand there for 5 minutes”

The theatre’s restoration was held behind closed doors and few actually had a chance to see what’s inside. If anybody at all, until last week.

Georgiy Shtill, renowned actor: “With God’s will they’ll do it all. We can wait a year, but we already started thinking it would take three years”

Georgiy Antonovich was spot on, eventually. He managed to get inside his home stage theatre almost three years later.

Georgiy Shtill, renowned actor: “I’ve been taking these stairs for 53 years. Here is Tovstonogov’s portrait – its always been here, and will always be here. And as long as I remember myself, there have always been flowers here”

Secondly, Tovstonogov and Moguchiy are totally different in their approach to rehearsals. Georgiy was strict and despotic, could easily break it up if he didn’t like something

“You’re not playing the main thing, you don’t! You’re supposed to find yourself in idiotic circumstances”

Moguchiy is known to be a lot more liberal. He grew up with a different set of rules, although he said he’d never missed Tovstonogov’s shows

Sergey Losev, renowned actor: “Moguchiy is a clear representative of this new, younger movement – he was brought up with foreign aesthetics of the theatre. Although people in other countries – when we came on tours – told us that we should not change a thing, that we should stick to repertoire theatre”

And, thirdly, the volume of work. In the last 18 months, since Moguchiy’s appointment, only one show has seen light – “Alisa” starring Alisa Freindlich. It’s a star show which has been hard to get tickets to for over a year. But it is still the only one

Elena Gorfunkel, theatre critic: “One premiere a year is not normal for any theatre, let alone the BDT. But we have to keep in mind, that Moguchiy spent this year taking the theatre out of restoration. Also, Moguchiy had proved himself to be a very talented director even before the BDT. It turns out that here he’s also been an organizer – for the first time in his career”

Undoubtdely, Tovstonogov did not become the great magician of theatre overnight. But Moguchiy has all the ingredients – great actors, modern stage with excellent technical capabilities, full control of the theatre’s structure. Although some thing is still missing

“To feed the wolves while sparing the sheep – such things do not happen, dear. You have to break down!”

Its possible that all questions to the BDT’s artistic director will be answered in a show based on Chernyshevskiy’s novel “Chto Delat?”. Andrey Moguchiy plans to run it in November. Meanwhile, the “make way” sign is still hanging by the BDT building. This means that carte-blanche has not run out. Yet. 

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