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Nostalgiafor Soviet TheatreIs There Hopefor the Future? Mikhail Shvydkoi FOR THE RESIDENTS of the former USSR, the past seven years were not only a time of historical tremors and cataclysms that no one could have predicted-the unification of Germany and the break up of the Soviet Union-but one of a shift in social consciousness not exempt from the hysteria characteristic of our homeland's extremes. It was a time of tragic dialogue with the value system in which the majority of people over the age of thirty grew up. The sixties generation, having called themselves "children of the Twentieth Communist Party Congress," and having passed judgment on Stalinism without ever giving a fundamental appraisal of the Communist prison camp which encompassed the whole Soviet Union until the death of the tyrant in 1953-fought for "socialism with a human face." Even the Czechoslovakian "reformers" used this device in their speeches in 1968. But not one of them could imagine the "human face" existing without Socialism. In contrast to the few dissidents who waged an open battle against the regime, people working in the arts strove for humanism within the existing system. They believed that the system was eternal and that it was only possible to liberalize, not fundamentally uproot. This liberal mentality was typical of all the best theatre practitioners and theoreticians of the mid-1950s both in their creative and civic outlook. It was precisely in the mid-50s that the active work of several directors began: Oleg Efremov and his colleagues at the "Sovremennik Theatre" in Moscow reformed the artistic practice of the Moscow Art Theatre; Georgi Tostanogov in St. Petersburg (then Leningrad) brought his Georgian temperament to the academicism of the northern capital; Anatoly Efros at the 111 Central Children's Theatre tried to combine the unmixable-the legacy of Stanislavsky with the directing methods of Vsevolod Meyerhold. At that same time, others were shaping their own creative style: Voldemar Panso and Kaarel Ird in Estonia, Mikhail Tumanishvili in Georgia, Grachya Kaplanyan in Armenia. They felt themselves to be not only representatives of their national cultures, but participants in a single artistic process occurring on the territory of one-sixth of the globe, to whom the success of their other colleagues was important for they had common enemies or common friends. For genuine artists, independent of their aesthetic inclinations , the pathos of their art was a battle against Stalinism, the Party Bureaucracy, and a battle for the rights of the individual. Here is the essence of the art of the sixties generation, which has unified not by aesthetic concerns but by civil, social and political positions. That is why one can speak in the same breath of Yuri Liubimov, who favored openly activist, Brechtian theatre and Efremov, a representative of the tradition of psychological realism; of Tumanishvili, a classmate of Efros, who absorbed the lessons of the Moscow Art Theatre, and his young colleague, Robert Sturua, who brought a Brechtian sensibility to the Romanticism of Georgian theatre. The 50s and 60s instigated a new unfolding of the riches of Russian and world theatre of the twentieth century. The names of Meyerhold, Tairov, Mikhoels, Les Kurbasa, Sandro Akhmeteli came back into artistic practice, in addition to various attempts at new approaches to the teaching of Stanislavsky, which the official ideology had already turned into a type of "government theatre aesthetic" by equating his methods with Socialist Realism. Now there were the first translations of Beckett and Ionesco, "the angry young men" from Britain, the plays of Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, and Edward Albee. Although they all appeared under the official rubric of critical commentary on the "limitations of the bourgeois state," in the mode typical of that period of Soviet ideology, they became a natural part of theatre life. The sixties generation suffered greatly at the end of the thaw with the rise of the new branch of Communist dictatorship which started after the damage of the Prague Spring in 1968. Under the conditions of "Brezhnev stagnation" they tried to create liberal art, to make an inhuman system humane. The new generation of artists who entered the theatre in the 70s: Anatoly Vasiliev, Lev Dodin, Kama...


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pp. 111-119
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