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History of Russian Theatre
April 3, 2006 14:38

Skomorokhs (old picture)

Looking back for the roots of theatre in Russia we find that the first theatricals were pagan shows with dramatic recitations of fables, tales and proverbs, and singing and dances, performed by skomorokhi, traveling minstrels. The Orthodox Church and authorities persecuted those daring lovers of liberty who were sort of spiritual guides for country folks maintaining close link to pagan traditions. The skomorokh tradition was so strong that in spite of the vehement persecution it lasted for a long time – till the end of the 17th century.

As an alternative to the pagan theatre in the 16th century there appeared church theatre performing Biblical stories.

The year 1672 saw the opening of the first theatre in Russia that would stage plays on Biblical subjects. That was the theatre at the court of tsar Alexei Mikhailovich.
Fyodor Volkov (1729-1763)

In 1702 Peter the First ordered to build a public theatre on Red Square. The theatre seated several hundred spectators. Finally, in 1720 Englishman Medox put Peter’s Theatre at the corner of Theatrical Square to stage operas and dramas.

Theatrical life in St.-Petersburg starts from 1752 when Fyodor Volkov’s amateurish troupe was invited from Yaroslavl town.

The end of the 18th – early 19th saw serf theatre springing up in many estates.

In the 19th century Moscow and St.-Petersburg become centres of theatrical life: the Maly (Small) Theatre was founded in 1824 and the Bolshoi (Big) Theatre replaced the burned Peter’s Theatre in 1825. Alexandrinsky Drama Theatre was founded in St. - Petersburg in 1832.

Book tickets for Russian ballets

Book tickets for Russian Operas

The first masterpieces of Russian drama were brilliant plays by Griboyedov and Gogol. By the middle of the century there came forward Nikolai Ostrovsky’s plays, which encouraged formation of a new generation of actors. Malyi Theatre

Russian opera theatre underwent enriching transformation thanks to new music compositions in the19th century.

The turn of the 20th century marked the burst of theatrical activities and searching for new styles. Strange as it may seem, the conservative art of ballet renovated comparatively fast. The powers and capabilities of the new Russian ballet found their full expression in Diaghilev’s ‘Ballets Russes’ in Paris, starting from 1907.
Konstantin Stanislavsky (1863-1938)

The most important event of the period was the foundation of Moscow Art Theatre of Konstantin Stanislavsky and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko in 1898. Russian drama theatre as we know it today is in many ways rooted in the school of those genius stage directors.

Later there came to life drama theatre in St.-Petersburg created by Vera Komissarzhevskaya with V. Meyerkhold as stage director, ‘Old Theatre’ by Nikolai Yevreinov, ‘Modern Theatre’ by Konstantin Mardzhanov, and Chamber Theatre in Moscow founded by Alexander Tairov in 1914, as well as Meyerkhold’s studio in Petrograd and Yevgeni Vakhtangov’ studio in Moscow.
Meyerkhold's Theatre, 1930

In the Soviet period lively theatre innovations lasted for about 15 years, along with democratization of the theatre and engaging such gifted playwrights as Mikhail Bulgakov, V. Vishnevsky, V. Ivanov and N. Pogodin. However already in the 1930s innovative theatres became subject to suppression and their activities were cut short (Meyerkhold’s Theatre, Jewish Theatre of Solomon Mikhoels and Tairov’s Chamber Theatre).

Russian theatre as part of the Soviet theatre had to fit in the rigid frames of ideological dictatorship.
Oleg Efremov (1927-2000)

The renovation of musical theatre was prompted by ballet revival. However it was drama theatre that caused a real blow-up of public spirits resulting in creation of social theatres and basic transformation of other theatres.

Today the Russian theatre enjoys utter freedom of creativity, if happily overlooking commercial conditions and demands which still prove to be limiting, perhaps more than ever. In most cases it is the degree of promotion rather than the level of talent and artistry that determines the mass success of this or that production or theatre.

Meanwhile, theatrical life of Russia is spanless as the country itself; who knows on what stage (perhaps the most modest one) you chance to see the miracle created alive in front of you.

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