- The Golden Lion International Theatre Festival
The third Golden Lion International Theatre Festival in Lviv, Ukraine was the first on a large scale, attracting about twenty institutionalized theatre companies in its main program and an almost equal number of small, experimental, and youth companies in the “off” program. The Festival program included companies from various Ukrainian cities; the former Soviet republics of Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, Russia, and Kyrgyzia; as well as from Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Rumania, Bulgaria, Finland, Germany, and Belgium. The festival invited twelve jurors from all over the world (including myself from the United States), along with critics and artistic directors from other European theatre festivals.
The ancient city of Lviv, the site of the festival, has a long history, which is typical of Eastern Europe. It was established in the thirteenth century, as Civitas de Leo(in Latin) and Lwów(in Polish). Lviv initially served as an important crossroads for trade and commerce, but it quickly grew as a Polish political and cultural center, boasting examples of Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassical, and Secessionist architecture, including several magnificent theatres. After the partitions of Poland at the end of the eighteenth century, the city and its surrounding region were incorporated into the Austro-Hungarian Empire, under whose rule the city retained its political, cultural, and commercial importance—enjoying a revival after World War I as part of independent Poland. World War II subjected the city to alternating Soviet and German occupations, and after the war it was incorporated into the Soviet Union. With the establishment of an independent Ukraine in the 1990s, Lviv became the country’s second largest cultural center after Kiev. A city of a million people, Lviv possesses several resident state theatre companies: the Opera Theatre (home of both opera and ballet ensembles); the Zankoviecka Drama Theatre; the Army Theatre; the Voskresienie ( or “Resurrection”) Theatre; the Youth Theatre; and the Les Kurbas Theatre—named for a Ukrainian director of the 1920s and 1930s murdered by the Communists.
The Golden Lion Festival is the accomplishment of a group of Ukrainian theatre enthusiasts, led by Jaroslav Fedoryshin, artistic director of the Voskresienie Theater. Striving for Lviv’s cultural revitalization and Europeanization, they managed to put together a very ambitious and successful event in spite of the extremely austere economic circumstances in Ukraine. This year’s festival was [End Page 346]dedicated to “The Classics Through Experimental Eyes.” The best productions clearly fell into the broad category of contemporary and experimental reinterpretations of classical works.
Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters, in its production by Stanislavsky in the Moscow Art Theater in 1901, has been the model and measure for subsequent productions throughout Eastern Europe—if not the entire world. The original mise en scène (which I saw in 1969) was kept in the MAT repertoire for decades. Jaroslav Fedoryshin, in his Voskresenie Theatre production, turns the Chekhov classical masterpiece upside down, rejuvenates it, and reveals as yet undiscovered possibilities. In Fedoryshyn’s staging, the space replaces realism with mystery and depth. The playing area is situated on the flat floor of the auditorium of a small theatre, with the public seated on bleachers on and in front of the stage. The space is entirely white: a white rug on the floor; white neoclassical walls and balconies; and white curtains hung within the arches surrounding the playing area. Against this white background there were several oil lamps, a few black chairs, which under simple yet sophisticated lighting emphasized the actors in their pale costumes, including the military men in long ahistorical white coats and uniforms. As for the acting, the traditional Stanislavski psychological realism along with the expected mundane actions and behaviors are replaced by exercises, games, rituals, and dances inspired by Meyerhold’s biomechanics. The outer shell of manners, historical evocations, and societal references was broken, and the characters’ emotions and dreams were revealed with forceful humanity and astonishing beauty. The entire production was experimental—as well as coherent, convincing, and logical.
Sophocles’s Antigonewas presented by the Piatra Neamtz Theatre from Rumania, another perfect example of how...