STUDIO OF INDIVIDUAL DIRECTION (MIR)


The Studio of Individual Direction emerged from the Free University, founded in Leningrad in 1987 on the initiative of the Goroshevsky brothers (sons of the director Erik Goroshevsky). The combination of the three main words in Russian harmoniously formed the abbreviation MIR (meaning both WORLD and PEACE in Russian). This not only referred to the educational entity, but metaphorically determined a fundamentally new strategy in pedagogy. One of the concepts of the Studio’s teachings – identifying the universal properties of the directing profession – brought about the need to involve diverse fields of art: painting and graphics, music and performance, film and video. Beginning with MIR’s very first experiments, the Studio’s fundamental principle was integrity. Boris Yukhananov, a founder and ideologist of the Studio, laid out his basic pedagogical views in such essays and treatises of the 1980s and 1990 as, "Theatre is the Territory for Discovering the Potential of the Universal Personality" (1991), "Introduction to the New Universum" (1996), and "The New Universal Method" (1997), etc. From its very foundation the Studio of Individual Direction was a territory of interdisciplinary activity, as evidenced not only by the practical work of its students, but also by a wide range of theoretical disciplines taught first at the Free University, and then with the first group of MIR students (MIR-1), who gradually moved from Leningrad to Moscow (where Yukhananov headed up the Free Academy). Within the framework of the Free University, Igor Aleinikov taught a course on the history of avant-garde cinema and taught students to work with a 16-mm camera. Andrei Kuznetsov-Vecheslov taught physical and audio-visual culture. Vadim Drabkin taught video art; Andrei Bezukladnikov tutored in the art of photography; members of the group Obermaneken (Andrzej Zakharishchev-Braush and Yevgeny Kalachyov) led courses in the history of pop music; Gleb Aleinikov lectured on the history of the postmodern; Rustam Yukhananov taught philosophy. In the future many of the Studio’s teachers worked with Yukhananov on other projects.

Yukhananov’s Studio did not buy into the classical model of the teacher-student relationship, consisting in the transmission and interpretation of a certain tradition. The process of teaching at MIR occurred in exactly the opposite way – where the teacher's work was intended to reveal a student’s potential in isolation from one or another tradition. The principle of non-interference presupposed a certain degree of freedom for the trainee in the choice of material, genre and even art form.

In creating the Studio, Yukhananov relied on several fundamental concepts that allowed a young artist to test him or herself in situations that were free of tired formats, boundaries, or traditional oppositions in art, and to focus his or her creative will on spontaneous action. In search of a new methodology, the director turned to the mystery play as "the actualization of timeless space by means of ritual," and proposed to connect this area of creative work with so-called attractions ("the actualization of present time by means of tricks"). The creation of one's own myth and the repudiation of social and cultural trends presupposed the rejection of any representation of anything that had once existed, as well as the avoidance of "calquing" or the ironic reinterpretation of various cultural phenomena, which was so typical of the then fast-fading postmodern era. The key idea of the World Myth stood in contrast to the mimetic principle of interacting with reality, and it abolished hierarchical links as such.

A huge part of the work in every MIR project involved the analysis of text, and the attempt, by bypassing interpretation, to rediscover the text anew, to reveal its true properties. Yukhananov considered this primarily an activity of the professional work environment. There were two more: the process of creative exploration and the process of execution. The process of creative exploration, which dealt more with the image of an individual than with his or her personality, was always important for MIR, especially in the first multi-year project, The Garden. Each artist sought to build a relationship between these interconnected zones – the professional and the process of creative exploration. The process of execution aspect was closer to reality and was associated with the artist’s self-identification, though not only in art. As a rule, theatre pays this zone the least attention. From the earliest projects, however, the process of execution aspect was crucial for the students of MIR, both in terms of creating their own myth, and for building a professional platform.

"Integration takes place when you construct a real world before a student’s unique, developing consciousness without reconciling or coloring it with your own attitude. You, of course, have your attitude - you, of course, hate someone, consider certain work principles meaningless and crazy and so on. But since you are bound together with your students, you provide them the opportunity for growth, you are the medium of their burgeoning consciousness regardless of your hatred for Director N, or for Director N’s principles. You experience these things together with the student whose consciousness is awakening, and, through his or her eyes, you discover, for example, the effectiveness of these principles for his or her own individuality. Even if you yourself cannot work with these principles, these Director Ns, with these texts and so on. This paradox always provides results." (Boris Yukhananov, "Educating the Ninja." Cine Fantom, 2012).

FROM THE LABYRINTH TO THE GARDEN

The first class of MIR was, in a sense, a logical continuation of the Theatre Theatre group, which Yukhananov founded a few years earlier and which produced a number of high-profile performances and productions in the artistic spaces of St. Petersburg and Moscow (The Misanthrope, Mon Repos, Khokhorony (Ha-Ha Funerals), The Observer, etc.). These culminated with his work on Octavia, based on the play by Seneca and on Lev Trotsky's texts about Lenin. The main avenue of exploration for the first participants of MIR lay through the worlds of Jorge Luis Borges. The labyrinth – a key image in the Argentine writer’s work – lent its name to one of the Studio’s evolutionary projects. As the students traversed the "branching paths" of Borges's texts, they formulated the notion of the "world-myth," which would be explored increasingly in Yukhananov’s further projects, especially in The Garden. It is precisely this mythmaking that, according to Yukhananov, helps reveal the universal potential of a person's personality (Boris Yukhananov, "The Labyrinth Theme. Leningrad, Borges,” 1990). As such, the complex composition of the production Borges (1989) was based not so much on the poetics of the original source as it was inspired by the individual experience and aspirations of its performers. The action developed in a loose manner and included the urban landscape, the space of the yard of the Znanie Society House and its environs.

Graduates of MIR-1 included the artist Alexei Belyaev-Gintovt, film director Vladimir Zakharov, video artist Kirill Preobrazhensky, and artist Irina Vasilyeva, who was called the queen of the “Mitki” St. Petersburg movement, and others.

The MIR-2 class was convened in Moscow. For nearly a year Yukhananov and his students continued work on the Labyrinth project, while developing productions of The Chuchkhe Principle and B/W. During this period the Studio took a path that not only determined the field of their search for the next decade, but also led to the formulation of key postulates of what later would be called “new processualism.” In 1989, the evolutionary project titled The Garden came into being. It would have been predictable to stage Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard at the crossroads of two eras while adapting the plot for the realities of the Perestroika age: Chekhov’s topic of individuals running up against their times was felt sharply in those years. But Yukhananov was never interested in topical urgency any more than in utopian dreams about the new age to come. In The Garden he refused entirely to tell stories about people. The category of time was also transformed into a kind of stagnant period, in which an apocalyptic view of the world is impossible. The Garden was an indestructible space of happiness inhabited by so-called "garden creatures."

"Undertaking his Garden, Yukhananov first of all declared his withdrawal from the space of social ‘metamorphosis.’ He cared only about myth, myth and nothing more. Thank God, the Chekhov matrix is greater than its external manifestations and is, therefore, absolutely not reducible to them. Chekhov's play stands the test of sacredness ..." (Dmitry Bavilsky, Mitya’s Journal, 1997).

THE GARDEN AND ITS METAPHORS

The Garden occupies a very special page in the director’s work, and it requires separate, detailed commentary. In the framework of this narrative about, or history of, the Studio of Individual Directing, however, we will limit ourselves to chronological commentary. The first experiments unfolded within the Kratovskaya Mystery in the Moscow suburban region: a country house and its environs were transformed completely into a space for the creation of The Garden. It [the garden] is indestructible – such was the revelation that soon dawned upon the “garden dwellers.” Each new incarnation of The Garden was called a "regeneration": it was reborn again and again thanks to the efforts of these garden dwellers, into whom the participants of the project were transformed. Between 1989 and 2001 The Garden experienced eight rebirths. An important part of the afore-mentioned "professional circle" of work in The Garden concerned analysis of the text – Chekhov’s words were carefully considered. The analysis changed in accordance with each new maxim that was proclaimed at one or another stage of work on The Garden. The examination of the "garden analysis" occurred not only with respect to Chekhov's play. During work on the dramatic games of Genre (1993), the students of MIR-2 practiced with various genres - from philosophical dramas to westerns, from thrillers to espionage detectives. (The so-called "garden performances" of Grandfather, A Draftsman’s Youth, Mozart and Salieri, A Feast in Time of Plague, The Mermaid, Cante Hondo, The Minor, The Seagull, and others, grew out of the modules explored in the second regeneration.) The task of the "dramatic games" was to discover new opportunities for a particular genre, conditioned by certain criteria - in part, by destroying these criteria. This kind of "art-terrorism" was built on the intrusion of reality into an artistic text. It is what Yukhananov calls "swings": the rocking of action and its constant transitions from a real zone of being to an artistic zone and back again. Such "intrusions" might affect both casual passersby on the street, or the director interrupting the action with a sudden comment or analysis. Thus did the stormy, intense life of The Garden occasionally emerge into the urban landscape.

The Garden interacted with the city in other ways. Throughout its long life the project absorbed a huge number of works of art of various kinds. Its life was not limited strictly to theatrical experiments: the principle of integrating various arts and a focus on universality presupposed a broad field of activity. For example, the Gallery Greenhouse project (1991) offered up art objects that were born of the imagination of the garden inhabitants: the exhibit included works by Lopakhin, Ranevskaya, Petya Trofimov and others. The second regeneration gave rise to the "garden ballet," two productions of the St. Petersburg Little Ballet on the stage of the Hermitage Theatre, Cicadas (1993) and Three Dreams (1994).

"The production by Andrei Kuznetsov (choreographer), Yury Kharikov (designer) and Boris Yukhananov (director), who brought together ‘all St. Petersburg,’ waged a gallant battle against the architecture of Giacomo Quarenghi, and the valiant, pristine world of Russian classicism, but it did not challenge modern reality in the least. It declared a priori that present-day reality is unworthy of fighting a duel over it." (Alexander Sokolyansky, theatre critic, Ogonek No. 1, 1993).

The Garden went through many transformations. Like a living organism it played a game of death with its inhabitants; it evolved and changed. In practice that was reflected in changes in the analysis of the text, the displacement of climaxes, and the participation of "garden dwellers" in various kinds of games. For example, in a game of reincarnation one character would play another. In fact, it was a double game, for the actor playing Petya played Ranevskaya, etc. At one stage in The Garden was visited by people with Down's syndrome, who had been participants of the Downs Comment on the World project, conducted by Yukhananov between 1994 and 1997. The collaborative experiences of the director and people with Down Syndrome are reflected in the films Unmanageable for Anybody (1995) and Yes, Downs, or, the Search for Golden Birds (1997). The actors with Down’s syndrome participated in projects for MIR-2 and MIR-3, and they performed in the 5th and 6th regenerations of The Garden.

MIR-2 gave birth to a new generation of directors of "parallel cinema": Alexander Dulerain, Inna Dulerain (Kolosova), Sergei Koryagin, Andrei Silvestrov, Olga Stolpovskaya, Dmitry Troitsky, and Oleg Khaibullin.

THE PALACE REPERTOIRE

Auditions for the third class of the Studio of Individual Direction took place during the time of the third regeneration of The Garden, which premiered in London at the Southwark Playhouse. The students of MIR-3 set to work exploring Moliere’s Don Juan. The premiere of Hello and Farewell, Don Juan (1995) was performed in St. Petersburg at the KUKART Festival. Later it was performed on the stage of the School of Dramatic Art.

The development of Moliere’s play paved the way for the next evolutionary project, The Palace, into which the Studio launched itself in 1998. Yukhananov and the students of MIR-3 began creating a number of performances, which, as a whole, were intended to create the impression of a kind of "palace repertoire." Here – unlike in The Garden, which developed in the territory of the mystery play – artists appealed to categories closer to theatre in its most common definition. The repertoire included Moliere’s Don Juan, Calderon’s The Constant Prince, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, My Friend Hitler and The Marquise de Sade by Yukio Mishima, a composition titled Dostoevsky Blues after Dostoevsky’s Devils and Rustem Khamdamov’s screenplay for Anna Karamazoff, Lope de Vega’s Dog in the Manger, and Birthday, based on a play by Yelena Dashunina, a student of MIR. It was crucial in these experiments for the participants to find threads that showed how one "palace" play echoed others.

At the same time, Yukhananov worked on the Crystal project at the DAKh Center for Contemporary Art in Kiev where the unity and interconnections of the texts chosen for work was of fundamental importance. Crystal consisted of four facets: The Book of Job, Calderon’s The Constant Prince, Goethe’s Faust, and Studies about Love (sketches written by the participants themselves about first meetings and last partings, each of which began with the word "hello" and ended with "farewell").

The third generation of MIR produced for Russia and the world numerous theatre, film and television directors, actors, screenwriters, producers and designers, including Marina Andreikina, Andrei Iryshkov, Marina Maximik, Yevgeny Pokhis, Daniil Lebedev and Andrei Yemelyanov (Tsitsernaki).

While creating The Palace with MIR-3, Yukhananov began working on Calderon's The Constant Prince, developing so-called "radial analysis." At that time students were working only with fragments of plays. Several years later, the director would return to Calderon, staging a large three-part production called The Constant Principle (which premiered in 2013 at the School of Dramatic Art).

"The consciousness that interests me is the Free Spirit within a system of connections and relations with the Palace. These connections would reveal or manifest the Free Spirit, as it happens with Hamlet, or Fernando of Portugal, the Constant Prince. In this sense, the Palace provides an opportunity to identify our new Hero. I say new, because he transforms from a Madman into the Constant Prince. An important point, perhaps the most significant: The intertwining of the world, like an embedded jewel, is to be found not only in a thing, but in a person of the Palace. Not only must the best, most beautiful and expensive carpet hang in the Palace, but also a special kind of Spirit must be there. People of the Palace and characters of palace life accumulate time. Their thoughts, actions, and feelings express it in the extreme." (Boris Yukhananov, "The Palace in Time," 1998).

ASSOCIATE PROJECTS OF THE STUDIO

One part of the project (the facets of Crystal) grew into an independent and long journey into the depths of a great European novel, Goethe's Faust. The history of the evolutionary Faust project, in terms of its chronology, intersects with other projects of Yukhananov and MIR. Formally, the first attempts to take on Faust artistically date to 1996. This was the Faust-art endeavor, in which Yukhananov invited various individuals from the artistic community to read Goethe's text before a video camera. At this time, The Garden was still in full swing, and MIR-3 was building its "palace repertoire."

In 1997 Yukhananov recruited an actor-director course at RATI (GITIS), something of a relative to the group studying in the Studio. Throughout the five-year training period, the GITIS course worked on the Theatre and its Diary art project, while students from MIR-2 and MIR-3 participated in the fourth and fifth editions of Faust (performed in six editions through 2009) in the Palace project.

With each new metamorphosis of Faust, not only did the cast, Yury Kharikov’s design, and the performance duration change, but the understanding of the central images changed. This was dictated by the change of performers and the change of historical eras. Students of different generations of "MIR" completed this ten-year journey. As in other evolutionary projects, the Faust performance text was composed and transformed thoroughly over a long period of time. They employed different types of genres – street and buffo theatre, circus and clownery, the mystery play in the spirit of 18th century "school theatre," and musical interludes of diverse styles. They also applied a broad philosophical and culturological context to Goethe's work: from the Russian symbolists and Vladimir Solovyov to biblical texts, from the anthroposophy of Rudolf Steiner to the existential philosophy of Lev Shestov. The final, sixth, edition of Faust was a product of the Laboratory of Play Structures, founded by Yukhananov and Igor Yatsko, an actor from the School of Dramatic Art.

"It's no accident that director Boris Yukhananov and the artistic director of the School of Dramatic Art Igor Yatsko (who also performs the title role) called their preparatory work on Faust the Laboratory of Game Structures. After the premiere the laboratory will continue functioning - inquisitive spectators will see it in the repertoire of the theatre on Sretenka Street.... Even as they tell the tale of the headstrong, jaded Faust as the story of a servant of the Lord (for this is the peak of spiritual development in the Christian tradition), Yukhananov and Yatsko do everything to hide it. Two Prologues – in heaven and in the theatre – appear as an amusement park with trained cat-angels (Dmitry Kuklachyov), live pyrotechnics and other tricks, where the role of the Lord is played by a theatre managing director (Vladimir Petrov).... Yukhananov has long leaned on sacred texts, where, in order to discover a secret, one must not call it by name. That's why Faust, a servant of the Lord, plays the fool, acts the buffoon, spars with the demon (Mephistopheles-Ramil Sabitov), sneers at all saints, seduces a girl surrounded by a host of gold-winged angels scurrying here and there like school kids at recess." (Alyona Karas, theatre critic, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, 2009).

In the years of work on Faust Yukhananov took the core of his GITIS course and created the Laboratory of Angelic Directing (LAR). Continuing the Theatre and its Diary project (in three main vectors: archeology, The Constant Prince, and Bothmer gymnastics), LAR created The Tale of an Upright Man (2004) following deep research in the field of eurythmy. The main performer was Oksana Velikolug, a young woman in a wheel chair, while the action was built on a complex choreographic score based on the decoding of the hieroglyphs of Bothmer gymnastics and a musical score created by composer Sergei Zagny.

Parallel to LAR, another laboratory of an entirely different type emerged from earlier experiments conducted by MIR: Yukhananov and Grigory Zeltser organized the LaboraTORiAH and its main project, The Golem. The Golem was based on the play by H. Leivick and involved the actors increasingly focusing on the “text” of their own performance. It included an encounter with sacred Hebrew texts, a search for ways of dealing with the Torah, and an exploration of the categories of "spontaneity" and "improvisation" in performance. By incorporating the peculiarities of today’s performance in the next, and by establishing live, real-time commentary as an architectonic element of the action, this production pursued deep exploration by means of the same "inductive game" that various generations of MIR had worked out previously. The LaboraTORiAH project lasted nearly a decade, until a new class of students was admitted to the Studio of Individual Direction in 2011.

THE PICARESQUE NOVEL AND THE JOURNEY OF THE ASS

With each new class, MIR became more and more "populated." Fifty students entered MIR-4 after the fourth entrance competition. The study of the picaresque novel, an important cultural phenomenon, opened a new chapter in the biography of the Studio. The fundamental text for the program was Apuleius' novel The Golden Ass, which was not only the first novel written in this genre, but was also important in that it put forth the concept of "initiation." Students read Apuleius’ novel as proof of the Eleusinian mysteries, while the journey of Lucius and his experiences of metamorphosis were posited as the path of initiation. Student directors engaged in a unique experience that was prompted both by the poetics of the material, and by the director’s awareness of his own personal journey: By replicating the complex, convoluted “journey of the Ass,” the students worked their way toward their own productions. The work of MIR-4 on the picaresque genre involved a large number of texts that shared similarities with the inherent narrative peculiarities of this genre. In addition to fragments from The Golden Ass, as translated by Mikhail Kuzmin, the project included excerpts from the works of Ionesco, Ibsen, Cuatier, Dostoevsky, Ostrovsky, Chekhov, Saltykov-Shchedrin, Shakespeare, Moliere, Studenikin, Sorokin, Strinberg, Sacher-Masoch, Williams, Beckett , Bulgakov, Mariengof, Saroyan, Nabokov, Pirandello, Marquez, Mamleev, Bunin, Mukhina, Krasnogorov, Shaw, Kharms, Hemingway, Cocteau, Brodsky, Cain. The students’ work on the picaresque novel was not only conducted in theatre – by the end of the course, each of them had to present his or her own film or video work.

Yukhananov suggested a new form for these explorations and he called it the Open-Circuited Workspace. It was initially conceived as a way for students of MIR-5 to present their work, and it additionally revealed the internal work process to the city’s spectators. Later (when the project was presented on the Electrotheatre main stage), its tasks became more universal. The notion of the "open circuit" was now considered in the broader sense of attempting to shift the boundaries between a play environment and reality, between the performative zone and the dramatic one. The ambivalence about their own existence that the students discovered in Apuleius' text led to a huge number of studies related to the conflict of epic and dramatic forms. The intersection of the lifelike and non-artistic with the artistic determined many mechanisms used in the Open-Circuited Workspace. Instead of attempting to reconstruct or stylize old-style theatre, today one wants to create a separate, reserved theatrical territory with its own inherent laws. Thanks to the fact that the director considered each student's journey with the Golden Ass to be a path of initiation (this is also part of the life-giving game in which Yukhananov takes on the patronizing functions of the goddess Isis), elements of the literary (dramatic) material once again interconnected with real-life circumstances. The student’s work on the novel sought to reflect and reveal the story lines of the novel. Each of the participants in this sense was Lucius.

The Golden Ass project developed a strategy that Yukhananov originally began to advance in The Garden. The concept of the "inductive game," the rules of which are created and changed in the process of the game itself, expanded in the experiments of MIR-4. Live, real-time commentary on stage action continued to be plumbed as a tool for creating stage text (what was developed as an artistic strategy in the time of Theatre Theatre and then took hold as a common practice in the creation of LaboraTORiAH. Golem). This is a distinctive method that paradoxically delegates the function of playwright to the performance itself: "A performance that writes a play for itself."

MIR’S RECENT EXPERIMENTS

Yukhananov admitted a new class, MIR-5, in 2015, and immediately involved his new students in the work on The Golden Ass. That same year, the Studio opened its doors to the public with a session of student productions. The first open session of The Golden Ass was held at the Stanislavsky Electrotheatre in May 2016. Others followed in October and November 2016 (participating in the NET festival), and April 2017. The Golden Ass was the first experience of the Studio encountering the realities of a repertory theatre. Forty young directors worked on Apuleius’ novel with students of MIR as well as with Stanislavsky Electrotheatre company members. Each session lasted five days, ten hours each. As a rule, the first half of the day involved Yukhananov and the public watching so-called “modules” – that is, scenes created by young directors and composers (under project music director Dmitri Kourliandski) around the themes of The Golden Ass. Yukhananov deconstructed every scene, actively involving spectators in the discussion. In the evenings, so-called “compositions,” of which there were three, were shown. Compositions called "Shaggy" and "White" were shown twice, while between them, on the session’s third day, the composition called "City" was shown once. Compositions represent the project’s second stage; unlike modules they are fixed structures, something approximating a finished production.

If you look at the showings of The Golden Ass project as a whole, and consider it a text that is written in the process of work, then you can trace the conflict of the epic and dramatic principles in the body of this text. Dramatic situations are created to a greater extent in the modules and in the discussions of them. This resembles a rehearsal; it is unstable and confrontational. The compositions, on the other hand, are more like a performance; with few exceptions, they are rarely interrupted by spectator’s intrusions or comments from the director. Yukhananov’s formula dating back to The Garden – "a production with an anonymous author" – is applicable to The Golden Ass. This is true primarily to the block of modules. The final "assemblage" (that is, the evening compositions) belongs to the director. Yukhananov adhered to this approach to authorship from the very foundation of MIR. The actor not only performs a role, but is also its author.

"MIR addresses that fundamental territory which is a precursor to the division of art into various forms and specifications. It seeks to overcome the notion of a director as one who serves, and to discover a zone where directing exists as an integral artistic endeavor, to perceive it as a special opportunity for achieving harmony. This fundamental territory, which preceded divisions into cinematic, video, and theatrical direction, requires time and experimentation and time in order to discover and reveal oneself." (Boris Yukhananov, "Theatre as a Territory for Revealing the Universal Potential of the Individual," 1991)

At present, MIR-5 continues its training, relying on the same principle of integration. Students are involved in sessions of The Golden Ass and in the new Orphic Mysteries project. Numerous productions staged by the students of the MIR-4 have debuted on the Small stage of the Stanislavsky Electrotheatre. They include Andromaque by Leisan Faizullina, Faryatyev's Fantasies by Yevgeny Bednyakova, Maria Chirkova's Love Machines, Klim Kozinsky's Idiotology, Polina Fractall's Mark on the Wall, For a Wiseman by Georgy Grishchenkov, A Boring Story by Vasily Skvortsov, The House of Bernard Alba by Alisa Seletskaya, Bunin by Svetlana Prokhorova, Zoika’s Apartment by Olga Lukichyova – all of them in the framework of The Golden Ass project – and the interactive children's show Jumb ... Lee ... Ya directed by Pavel Kravets.

Graduates of MIR-2 have also taken part in the life of the Stanislavsky Electrotheatre as directors: Inna Dulerain staged her own play, Songs from Oblivion, and Oleg Khaibullin directed The Visit, based on the play by Swiss playwright Friedrich Dürrenmatt.

By Anna Pavlenko