THEATRE THEATRE

«…"... In a certain sense, I am one of the first directors in this country who consciously began working with what I call “processual” artistic projects. Directing is the art of developing processes. You work with a temporal reality, your material is time itself... This processuality does not want to remain merely as a trace. It wants to co-exist with people’s lives and fates. We might say that I left behind the limits of finite projects and began working with infinite time that manifests itself in finite forms. All my projects have the features of the new processual experience. Theatre Theatre, which I founded back in the mid-1980s, was an undertaking where the possibility of discovering a new kind of art was born ..." (Boris Yukhananov, Russian Reporter, January 25, 2015).

One of the foundations of the concept of “new processual” art, which Boris Yukhananov has developed throughout his artistic life, is that the ultimate goal of theatre is not to create a performance as such. In this concept an ending does not involve a limitation but merely determines a stage of development. The completeness or "readiness" of a production are not subject to the logic of a dress rehearsal or a premiere, they differ in gradations. The stage performance transforms from stage to stage of development, implying it should be perceived as an evolutionary project, as a journey, as the absolute status of theatre as such, with shimmering boundaries of spontaneity and repetition, of reality and art. The performance is revealed to be a multidimensional canvas stretched over time, colored by different moods and experiences, by inter-textual meanings brought to the surface and by potentialities hidden in what cannot be brought to the surface.

Yukhananov - a pupil of Anatoly Efros and Anatoly Vasilyev - speaks about his universities in a small autobiographical text titled "The Unique Course." In it he also mentions his early exploits, performances, and student productions. In fact, Yukhananov’s arrival at GITIS might be considered one of his exploits. Having received a diploma in acting from the Voronezh Institute of Arts, having served in the army, and having overcome inclinations to emigrate, he became a recluse and ceased speaking in order to enter what he called a "unique course." Yukhananov describes the initial version of one of his first productions as a "mechanical performance." This was The Versailles Impromptu (based on Moliere’s play), which he began working on at GITIS in 1982.

THE MISANTHROPE

The official christening of Theatre Theatre, the first independent theatre group in Russia, took place on April 1, 1986. Teetering on the verge of disaster, this loose, relaxed production of The Misanthrope premiered in one of the courtyards of the always-noisy Arbat in Moscow. The manifesto for it - "Thirty-Three Theses for a Theatre of Mobile Structures" - was written back in 1984. Yukhananov’s idea was to form a theatre of mobile structures, a changeable theatre, where several versions of, or approaches to, a dramatic text would be proposed. The next step is the actor who draws his or her performance and his or her control of the action from a number of possibilities. This is a kind of contract without a contract, in fact, a "stunt theatre" in which everything can collapse if, for example, one partner fails to pick up on what is happening, fails to distinguish the chosen opportunities, or, on the contrary, perhaps unknown potentials of an actor's individuality might awaken, as might the text entrusted to him. The actor here is the author of his or her role. One senses parallels with Vasilyev in this proposition of free movement, but, in general, the “Theses” also anticipated a future parting with that directorial method. In the theatre of mobile structures, the mise-en-scene, which is provided by variations within the analysis, is also mobile. The performance can absorb mixtures of different kinds of texts, all of which will be structured as a continuous line with a multitude of offshoots and interlacings - a theatrical ornament, a unity written down as a multitude.

In his manifesto, Yukhananov classifies ways of interacting with the mask, strengthening and supplementing Jung’s concept of the archetype, adapting it to theatre. He defines the mask as the ultimate existence of the actor in the moment of performance. What kind of existence this will be depends on how one interacts with it, whether it will be a traditional mask, a social mask, a reflecting mask, or "a mask that makes it possible to overcome individuality." In these theses, Yukhananov reinterprets and "theatricalizes" the Jungian theory of innate psychic structures, the archaic nature of the human subconscious, which responds to the symbolism of folkloric rites, myths, and rituals. Hence a mask that is defined as an "attempt at eternity," one that "exports itself into the future." The way of Theatre Theatre was to discover identity in a mask.


"[Theatre Theatre] is the clutch, the transmission system that is envisioned here in this manner of art; the kind of cooperation between artist and viewer that destroys a passive, consumer-oriented approach. Theatre tosses something to you, develop it. This used to be understood as involving the viewer in action in a simplified way: draw him into the game, into the plot, to participate in the situation itself, to communicate with the characters of a play, etc. But now (here, today) you are no longer drawn in to empathize with a plot, but are brought to creativity itself, to the author's (co-author’s) vision of the main theme, to communal contemplation on the basis of images, to joint improvisation on a declared topic." (Valentin German, writer, translator, notes on rehearsals of Theatre Theatre in Nemchinovka and on the performance of Vertical Takeoff, 1987).

Yukhananov in this period rejected the classic devices of stabilizing or repeating [a performance]. His "theatre of mobile structures" posited the search for a new style of rehearsal and testing a role, ignoring imperfections and "impending failure." This provocative position harbored two principles that, at a later date, would become crucial in the practice of Yukhananov’s new processual theatre: the denial of the director as a totalitarian figure, and the prevailing role of the difficulties of the staging process in shaping the image of the future performance. The 31st article in Theatre Theatre’s manifesto declares that, "The work embodies the process of its creation." It defines the admiration of the taboo in theatre as legitimate, trusting that this admiration shall be manifest.

Yukhananov tied the unofficial birth of Theatre Theatre to the writing of the manifesto “Thirty-three Theses on the Theatre of Mobile Structures." The rehearsal diaries of The Misanthrope contain different ideas of "mobile mises-en-scène," into which variations of these scenes return back in on themselves as, for example, musical interludes. In an early variant of The Misanthrope that preceded the Arbat variation, Theatre Theatre showed the performance to Anatoly Efros at the Taganka Theatre (1985). This version included a scene with Mozart and Salieri, played by Konstantin Kinchev and Yury Naumov. Moliere's text was interpreted as an allusion to that generation, to which the creators of the production belonged. The tale of a crumbling empire’s final feast and the doom of its last generation were etched in the conflict among French aristocrats. "It is impossible for us to escape the confusion in which we are trapped; we must dive deeper into confusion!" (Boris Yukhananov, “The Misanthrope. Rehearsal diary.” Unpublished archive.)

The Misanthrope never quite found its legs. First of all, Efros did not like it. Yukhananov subsequently continued working on it in the format of open rehearsals in St. Petersburg and Moscow. The last full performance took place on the Arbat in the spring of 1986. We can say that it existed in three variations: the one shown to Efros as a student demonstration; the Arbat variant which Yukhananov created with the participation of fellow students; and the St. Petersburg version, performed by actors of Theatre Theatre. In the summer of 1986, the company of Theatre Theatre (Nikita Mikhailovsky, Boris Yukhananov, Yevgeny Kalachyov, Andrzej Zakharishchev von Braush, and Ivan Kochkaryov) adopted a resolution declaring the birth of the theatre. At the same time, they founded Journal-Journal, a publication whose purpose was to provide the theoretical basis for Theatre Theatre’s activities that unfolded primarily in Leningrad.

This first independent theatre group [in Russia] instantly became a center of gravity for underground culture. Musicians, artists, poets, and art historians participated in Theatre Theatre’s activities throughout the second half of the 1980s. One of the group’s refuges was the recreation center at the rest home for veterans of the Communist Party on Kamenny Island in Leningrad. Here they not only rehearsed, but organized, actions, happenings and performances in tandem with well-known representatives of the artistic underground. Here they formulated the aesthetic concepts of the "new eroticism" movement, organized new aristocratic balls, and conclusively broke ties with the ways of the moribund Soviet empire. Here Anton Adasinsky conducted actor training, Timur Novikov exhibited his paintings, and rocker Viktor Tsoi dropped by to visit.

Theatre Theatre spontaneously invaded the city’s existential trends. One of the independent group’s artistic relatives – The Quartet of Spontaneous Poetry - organized actions of "spontaneous poetry." Performers spouting improvised or rehearsed poetic texts descended upon unsuspecting people in public transport, in skating rink dressing rooms, or simply on the street. The Doors Theatre of Horrors was a separate division of Theatre Theatre. With the same element of surprise, it too could startle passersby with interludes in the spirit of a thriller or horror film. The Theatre of Horrors was especially effective when performing in the spaces of private Leningrad apartments (hence its second name, the Apartment Theatre), where any doorway became a "stage" for a rapidly evolving, improvised horror story involving zombie monsters.

The Theatre Theatre company organized the Academy of Blatherology where they studied the technology of blatherological speech, a speech that lacked any logical connections, except, perhaps, that of syntax. This was not akynstvo, a special kind of improvised poetry, nor was it even stream of consciousness. It was a manner of speech that eluded meaning, and was not intended to produce ideas, but rather to reveal them inductively. The academy accepted anyone who could carry on a blatherological speech over the course of an hour, that is, who managed to "ride the cart for an hour." The "academicians" organized special evenings for their studies. The linguistic games of the Theatre Theatre master reflected the mood of the 1980s, so influenced by fatigue caused by the ideologies that had seized control of culture, theatre, the individual, and the language that everyone spoke. The Academy of Blatherology pronounced the death of the enslaved word, and the death of un-liberated language.

The spontaneous actions of Theatre Theatre tore back the facade of reality, of space, of life in a trolley car or a dead-end street. Theatre Theatre altered them, re-coded them and, indisputably, left traces on the harsh faces of the city’s people at that uneasy time (individual fragments of these actions and reactions to them can be seen in the Mad Prince video film). Spontaneity and representation were not merely present in these endeavors; they literally formed blast waves that burst upon the intimate zones of anyone who happened to be sleepwalking by. Theatre Theatre consciously remained outside the theatre building, preferring places where random people unexpectedly became spectators. By employing "unpremeditated" spaces, it inculcated the artificial into the natural. The linguistic games of the Academy of Blatherology, in a sense, also originated in spontaneity, the impossibility of predetermining what comes next. At this time, Yukhananov was developing his strategy of inductive games wherein the rules are invented during the playing of the game. If you stretch it some, this is when the spontaneous transforms into the representative in the process of game-playing, experimentation and, rehearsal. The random can become a ritual, a system, or a law, according to which the theme or action will continue to evolve. That which is not planned becomes a part of the process, emerges as a part of a distinctly developed structure. In the same way, the "mobile" mise-en-scene may consist of various etudes, scenes, and improvisations, but everything in it will be subordinated to a single structure, the harmony of meaning, and the actor's existence, which is identified with it.

MONREPOS

In the fall of 1986, as they continued to blur the boundaries between life and art, Yukhananov and Theatre Theatre began open public rehearsals of Monrepos, which consisted of a collage of scenes from texts by Nabokov, Brodsky, and fragments from Moliere's The Misanthrope, which Theatre Theatre continued working on. Essentially, Monrepos was the first immersive performance in Russia, one that involved spectators in a theatrical adventure. In addition to literary texts, it included scenes based on genuine stories from life. Those 1986 audiences found themselves in the position of taking a journey inside the performance. They were met by a guide (played by Yukhananov himself) who led them to an abandoned house, a mansion. From there the guide accompanied the spectators as they wandered through rooms, in each of which a scene was continuously being played out. The guide lit the room with a flashlight, capturing snatches of what was happening in the darkness. Sometimes groups of spectators crossed paths, doubling the effect of presence, and destroying the usual boundaries of perceiving a performance.

In the finale of Monrepos the guide escorted "guests" of the mansion to a tower, where part of the roof could be seen through a window. Nikita Mikhailovsky, dressed in a white cloak, read Brodsky's “Christmas Romance” while standing on the roof before appearing to throw himself downward. When the audience, stunned by what appeared to be a tragic accident, looked out the window, they saw a man in the same white cloak making an escape through the alleyways. Naturally, the "suicide" was a planned trick. The guide abandoned the spectators, and they had to find their way back out onto the street through the empty, freezing house. Sometimes actors waited for them in the courtyard, sitting by a fire with guitars and mulled wine. In this finale, the spectator passed through the empty building, moving along a neutralized territory, bland and uncomfortable. And here again two realities ran up against each other – one that existed previously, the real living one, and one that came after and transformed the whole journey into a mirage.

Monrepos was born of a legend connected with a famous landscape park in Vyborg. Yukhananov saw in it the image of theatre as a landscape. Behind the beauties of the artificially created space, the life of the man who once had created it appeared. A walk through the park transformed into a journey through another’s life. Together Yukhananov and Yury Kharikov created a whole myth about a Prince and his sanctuary-like "country" of Monrepos, which served not only as an image for a performance, but also a plot for a film script and a short novel.

In Monrepos Russia for the first time encountered an architectonic idea of theatre as a territory of diverse landscape projects, located in an integral process, a single body stretched out over time. As an alternative to the theatre-home or the theatre school, Yukhananov offered a theatre of architectonics, whereby each new figure of the composition manifests itself gradually. A "Park" opens up and a Prince walks through it; a brief time later (in 1987) he becomes the Black Fox, enticing us into a new, even more complicated journey through the "Labyrinth." In the early 1990's he transformed into the Humanoid Ivanov who cultivated a mysterious Garden of otherworldly, indestructible creatures. During the work on Monrepos he began to develop another crucial concept, that of the world myth, the mythologization of the main plot for a future narrative project, or more precisely, the ritualization of the staging process. In full, this new processual strategy will manifest itself in the Garden project. Yukhananov discovered it while working on Monrepos, though he did not yet formulate it fully.

HA-HA-FUNERALS (KHOKHORONY)

The next performance of Theatre Theatre’s Leningrad period was Ha-Ha-Funerals (Khokhorony, December 1986). It was based on Tennessee Williams' play Talk to Me like the Rain and Let Me Listen and Viktor Slavkin's The Picture, with improvisations on the theme of the character Alcestis from The Misanthrope tossed in for good measure. Here, necrorealists, led by Yevgeny Yufit, created a performance called "Self-Hanging" and showed their films. The performance included two striking women’s monologues – one by Masha-Larisa Borodina about deathly loneliness from Williams, and another by Ada Bulgakova about surviving violence, in which she used her personal photos. Ha-Ha-Funerals was performed in the Leningrad Palace of Youth.

The performance included scenes created in the genre of verbatim, a style that many began to madly adore in the first decade of the 2000s. Yukhananov continued to explore the boundaries between art and life, disguising them carefully among almost cinematic tricks with suicide and mini tragedies. Personal photos "documented" Moliere's text, thus combining stories of personal catastrophe with classical drama. The theatre found itself on a shimmering borderline between life and representation, where it was impossible to distinguish what belonged to game-playing, and what involved an actor’s real experiences, whether or not a certain gesture was planned in advance, or it arose instantaneously. Several scenes from Ha-Ha-Funerals were preserved in the video film The Mansion.

Monrepos was performed three times – Ha-Ha-Funerals just one. As soon as Theatre Theatre would take over some forgotten, crumbling building and breathe new life into it, the authorities would take them away.

THE WORLDWIDE THEATRE THEATRE OF VIDEO

In the Theatre Theatre era, at the turn from 1986 to 1987, another important project for the future of new processual art was launched. This was called VTTV, or, World Theatre Theatre Video. In the VTTV films, staged, rehearsed scenes appeared on video alongside real-life images. The video footage exists in its entirely in the form of so-called "matrices." Over a period of years Yukhananov created the Mad prince video film of a thousand cassettes in the VTTV laboratories. In the early 1980s, while serving in the army, Yukhananov wrote a novel, The Fleeting Notes of a Sentimental Soldier (Boris Yukhananov, The Fleeting Notes of a Sentimental Soldier, or, A Novel about a Righteous Young Man, Moscow, BMM, 2015). Lacking reflection, quite pragmatic in its fixation of life events, it was a kind of game with genres, in which life itself wrote the literary text. We gradually begin to distinguish composition, narrative, and plot twists in the whole. In a certain sense, the videos that Yukhananov created as part of VTTV's Mad Prince project developed this text-based reality technique. It is no coincidence that one of the chapters of the video was devoted to Rainer Werner Fassbinder, a filmmaker who wanted to portray human life in its extremes.

Сумасшедший принц: Фассбиндер. 40:37
Режиссер Борис Юхананов
Сумасшедший принц: Игра в ХО. 1:02:51
Режиссер Борис Юхананов
Сумасшедший принц: Японец. 1:21:52
Режиссер Борис Юхананов

Each film of the Mad Prince video-novel reflects in one way or another a special kind of existence in which real reality, and a distancing from it, are represented in the actor's performance, and are discernible in that which the camera takes into view. Reality here is perceived as an unbroken line, life as text, as inspired speech. When captured by a camera, reality is transformed into art.

The concept of theatre-speech, with its heuristic foundations, arose, perhaps, thanks to Yukhananov’s unending games of textualizing life. The director here is a supervising, guiding figure who organizes the environment for the actor’s performance, and who, together with the actor, participates in the development of the performance’s properties. This spontaneity, when taken under control and subject to a structure and a theme, nonetheless develops freely, sometimes intuitively.

THE OBSERVER

An organized environment where both the properties of play-acting and the creation of atmosphere were made evident, played a significant role in the production of Alexei Shipenko’s The Observer. Work on it began in 1985 in Moscow, placing it squarely in Theatre Theatre’s Moscow period. The actors joined rehearsals in what was already the production’s second edition. In parallel with this work in Moscow, Theatre Theatre undertook numerous spontaneous art events in tandem with a variety of art groups.

Originally, The Observer was rehearsed with actors of the Mossovet Theatre. In order to stage this play about rock music, which eventually became a hymn to a whole generation, Yukhananov created an artificial rock band. Actors had to learn to play musical instruments, and to learn the mannerisms of rock idols. The Mossovet Theatre management refused at a certain point to buy the necessary equipment, so that, after a series of rehearsals in Leningrad and Moscow, Anatoly Vasilyev suggested Yukhananov resume work on the The Observer at the newly opened School of Dramatic Art. At the end of February 1987 the greater part of the Theatre Theatre troupe, along with some actors from the Mossovet Theatre, began rehearsals of The Observer in Moscow in the Apartment № 4 space of the School of Dramatic Art.

Observer. Part 1. 3:04:55
Observer. Part 1. 1:42:02

This production was a kind of reconstruction of a special environment, a whole way of life, so that the extant video recording of it constantly seems to twinkle with real energy: some scenes were performed as blues compositions. Actors within monologues written by the playwright shared their own memories of rock music that had come up in discussions during rehearsals. A joke about the "Chukchi" who attended a few concerts of the popular group Aquarium, and then organized his own new band called Kino, stood alongside a supposedly true story about a drug addict who hired an artist to draw a portrait of Jimmy Hendrix on his apartment wall and placed "an icon lamp with a carnation" next to it. The inductive games of “repeat!” and “freeze!” that the Theatre Theatre company members loved to play showed up periodically in the mises-en-scene. One performer could force another (because the rules of the game forbid refusal) to repeat something or to stand still until he heard the words "melt!" The theatre’s semiotics were constantly attacked by phenomenological reality. And, yes, the actors themselves performed in the scenes where rock hits were played.

The Leningrad adventures of Theatre Theatre and its allies in the underground, representatives of the new culture, became part of the historical context for The Observer. The performance resembled a genuine house concert, over which impending generational catastrophe lurked. It presented a whole realm of music from the 1960s to the 1980s, demonstrating the destinies and aspirations of young people who were not yet jaded, glorifying their tragic and, in some way, victimized perception of the world, and, towards the end of the 80s, approaching a dead-end and transformation that was followed by the total commercialization of idealistic struggle and protest.

Musical culture personified the destiny of a generation in The Observer. This performance, more than anything else in the Theatre Theatre era, demonstrated the strategy of image that was put forth in the "Thirty-three Theses" manifesto. “Image is king in the environment of rock," where image is a changeable mask, a myth, destiny, the starting point for improvisation. Image here is understood as a kind of basis and a singularity that can affect acting more than text or rehearsal work. Some of those participating in Theatre Theatre projects were actual celebrities, true "idols" in music, art, and the pop culture of that era.

The premiere of The Observer took place in 1988 in West Berlin as part of the School of Dramatic Art theatre program ("A Portrait of Anatoly Vasilyev") at the Berlin Festspiele. While there, Yukhananov also screened the films The Mad Prince. Playing X’s and O’s and The Mad Prince. Fassbinder at the Arsenal cinema house. Later, after quarrelling with Vasilyev, he again lost a space for his theatre, although he was already beginning to rehearse his repertoire: Shakespeare's Hamlet, A School for Fools based on the novel by Sasha Sokolov, and Shipenko's new play, The Death of Van Halen.


«In essence, Yukhananov argues with Pushkin. He takes on the artist in that state where ‘the soul luxuriates in a cold dream,’ and offers a more or less organized environment where ‘the artist as partygoer’ can be an art-making factor. In The Observer, Ha-Ha-Funerals, The Principle of Chuchkhe, and Octavia, a weightless and remorseless ‘game of life’ sought to be a ‘game of play.’ These days Yukhananov cleverly and proudly calls it ‘the strategy of fundamental infantilism.’ It goes without saying that it was impossible to achieve that fully or sustain it for long. But Theatre Theatre’s multi-hour performances offered up blissful moments of idle freedom, the shameless joy of a holistic and utterly independent existence – all without relying on a lifelike deed or an act of art. Octavia – to my taste, Yukhananov’s best work – bore witness to the breakup of the party-going world. Next came the period of The Cherry Orchard – a giant in size and even less distinct in its parameters of life-games.»
(Alexander Sokolyansky, theatre critic,
Literaturnaya gazeta, No. 36, 1991).

The Observer was the last performance in the “Park” landscape spaces, the others including The Misanthrope, Monrepos, and Ha-Ha-Funerals. Youthful games of playing at aristocracy, new aestheticism, and coquettish, sarcastic flirtations with attributes of the Soviet empire had exhausted themselves. “Park,” the territory of youth, full of energy and ideas, was abandoned.

By this time Yukhananov has already gained fame as a director-theorist. Growing accustomed to producing himself, the Black Fox, as he was called, had accumulated good experience in the sphere of happenings, performance, video production, and theatre, since his Theatre Theatre in one way or another interacted with all these practices. In December 1989 Theatre Life magazine, under the control of the youth editorial board, was turned over to the Black Fox (as chief editor of the issue) and Theatre Theatre’s company. The issue was a so-called "di-version in 12 monologues." The monologues belonged to six theatre critics, one director (Yukhananov, naturally), a poet (Tatyana Shcherbina), a choreographer (Andrei Kuznetsov-Vecheslov), and a photographer (Andrei Bezukladnikov, the precise and loyal eye on Yukhananov's productions). The genre of "di-version" was defined as " a comedy of sentences."

Progressive and liberated in its manner of self-expression, Theatre Life sought to reflect accurately everything that happened in Russian culture in the late 1980's and early 1990's. It looked for, and found, a language that even 30 years later resounds loud and clear. It managed to verbalize art and the philosophy of new forms and lexicon. The Leningrad professional community continued to be interested in conservative art. For them the exuberant Yukhananov and Theatre Theatre were not the only ones who “did not exist,” but also the St. Petersburg rock crowd, and the basement theatre laboratories and workshops of the whole new culture. At some point the rest of the critics withdrew from them, and from the "idols" of the underground, dooming Yukhananov to testify about his existence on his own. His directorial work in video was occasionally reviewed, but his theatre works and open rehearsals were the source of lazy, contradictory rumors and legends. The underground, experimental aesthetic theatre of the 1980s to 1990s is reflected poorly in theatre criticism and journalism. The most fortunate of all was Klim. Several years ago, a collection of his plays was published, and in 2015 art critic Igor Vdovenko published a monograph titled Klim. An Experiment in Through-line Biography. Part One: A Portrait on the Backdrop of a Outgoing Era, wherein the author refers on occasion to the context of that time which gave rise to independent theatrical movements.

MIR-1

In 1988 Yukhananov completed his last stage of apprenticeship, but again found himself without a space for his theatre. He returned to Leningrad upon the invitation of the Goroshevsky brothers to take one of the chairs in the Free University that they were in the process of creating. At the same time and place MIR-1’s "universal self-developing structure" was unveiled. Yukhananov organized it together with the Aleinikov brothers, critic Olga Khrustalyova, choreographer Andrei Kuznetsov-Vecheslov, and designer Yury Kharikov. MIR-1 counted 30 students, some of whom were members of Theatre Theatre. The main pedagogical innovation in Yukhananov’s studio was that hands-on practice was given a prevalent role in the teaching. It was through practical work that theory was studied. From the very first days of MIR’s existence, it stood opposed to the academic system of art education. The studio was created in order to produce universal talents. Directing was defined as a fundamental territory, as an art form, while the director was posited as a harmonizing figure who is in a position to "generate an individual vocabulary" and help students discover themselves in any sphere of activity, be it mass media, theatre, cinema or art. MIR’s educational process proceeded intensively. It involved not only etudes and rehearsal work in the theatre, but also producing, mounting actions and performances, mastering video production and multimedia. As previously, students now were challenged to master all the professions related to directing: camera skills, interaction with the shops, painting, drawing, and design.

With MIR-1 Yukhananov began to master the new landscape of his architectonic theatre – the "Labyrinth." The studio’s first work was Borges in 1989, in which a single structure comprised actions, performances and dramatic action. It was based on stories by Jorge Luis Borges. Yukhananov used the complex prose fantasies in order to seek out simple, vital, human stories, without delving into the author's own labyrinthine enciphering of culture. The performance took place in the yard of the Znanie Society house, and even employed underground spaces beneath sewer hatches and a truck that was driven up at a key moment. The performance was accompanied by live music, which was performed simultaneously with scenes that, by the method of "mobile mise-en-scene," could be played simultaneously or consecutively. At a certain point the action and the actors moved from the yard to the street, bursting out into the city, bumping into passers-by, before returning to the original space again. Borges, like the Theatre of Terror, and other spontaneous poetic outings and actions created by Theatre Theatre, subjugated reality, transforming it into an artificial environment. Later, Yukhananov would call these kinds of actions "art-terrorism," and would use them somewhat differently, though no less radically, in his more traditional stagings of work.

In the years 1988 and 1989 a new culture sought every possible way to manifest itself in the media. Recognized and unrecognized personalities, along with luminaries of the Moscow underground, attended the Night of Unions action, which offered up "parallel culture" events. In Leningrad there was the Conference on "young culture" and the Sergei Dobrotvorsky-organized All-Union Festival of Parallel Cinema. Independent artists and their communities were fully aware of the borderline status of their existence, which, in plain words, meant that "official culture" in the Soviet Union regarded them as virtually non-existent. At this time the underground matured and attempted to break through to light, to escape the underground and the tiny, isolated groups in which it existed. Naturally, this kicked off a wave of interest, especially in Leningrad, although it’s true that this interest came primarily from the unofficial critics. Samizdat criticism, more than any other sphere, reflected the theoretical generalizations, and the realities of independent culture in the 1980s. This included Cine Fantom (edited to this day by Igor Aleinikov), Third Modernization, Spring (Andrei Leukkin), Mitya’s Magazine (Dmitry Volchek). The latter, incidentally, published the “young culture” conference materials, in particular, fragments of Yukhananov's lecture, "A Theory of Video Directing,", and an article by Theatre Theatre company member Yevgeny Chorba, “Boris Yukhananov’s Slow Video.” Later, in the 1990s, all the ideas and artistic manifestations of the new culture would be passed on in a form diluted by other meanings. The new culture would close down after a series of deaths, and denials of past experiences and ways of life.

OCTAVIA

Yukhananov would devote his next production, Octavia, to his parting with the underground. A new corner of the Labyrinth would symbolize a whole knot of topics related to the new culture. One of the through lines of Seneca’s tragedy was the impending doom of an aged empire: A disciple (Nero) executes his teacher (Seneca). In rehearsal diaries, Yukhananov wrote that "Octavia is the image of a ‘party’ generation. It takes on the ‘partying crowd’ just as Nero does. We are bound up in the history of our fathers and mothers, and of our Fatherland, in whose life we never participated. We participated in its death." (Boris Yukhananov, “Octavia. Commentary on the Composition.” Unpublished archive.) He suggested "rehearsing the catastrophe of children." To the text of Seneca’s tragedy Yukhananov added Trotsky's essay on Lenin. On one hand this updated the theme of the generation gap, on the other it revealed "the mechanism of counting heinous deeds." "The Soviet empire" began with bloody revolutions and it would end with them, too.

The company rehearsed Octavia in the tiny space of a Moscow housing office, and there it performed the first version in the summer of 1989. Octavia was Theatre Theatre’s last production. The role of Lenin was played by two actors, Nikita Mikhailovsky and Yevgeny Chorba, who once played Mad Princes in two different chapters of Yukhananov’s video film. The music was written by Kamil Chalaev, and Yury Kharikov designed the set as an inverted Roman she-wolf, whose silhouette resembled the contour of the Kremlin with its towers and spires. True, no money was ever found to build the set as conceived. 

Октавия. Москва, 1988

In the process of rehearsals the performance began pointing toward the future as if its purpose was not to tell about current events, but rather about what was to come. Paraphrasing the image of Lenin in Soviet theatre, Octavia played with the forces of underground culture, as evidenced by the performance program that is published in this book. The production seemed to predict the "death" of this culture, as well as the bloody revolutions of the 1990s.

Although the dramatic action in Octavia had a precise structure, Yukhananov characterized this piece as a performative act. He did so, perhaps, because of the extreme ideological heat emanating from current events, all of which was reflected in the ritualized action. There arose a very rich environment, framed by ritual performances, with which the mises-en-scene seemed to intertwine. When the performance was shown to spectators, allusions to gladiatorial fights were performed in the improvised "foyer." The costumes for Octavia were created anew for every show by two designers. Iren Burmistrova worked in a style that mixed the Soviet avant-garde with the experiments of the underground. These costumes were primary in the dramatic aspects of the play. Yekaterina Ryzhikova, who was a performer in the ritualized actions interwoven into the dramatic action, created costumes with elements of pagan ritual vestments for these segments. In one scene, the future popular filmmaker among St. Petersburg intellectuals, Avdotya Smirnova, delivered a monologue that seemed to be generated by the chaos of a wild party. She periodically spat out her words, as if conjuring demons from the underground. In the finale, the performance moved into a courtyard, turning into a kind of improv, where Chorba’s Seneca turned into King Kong, while the costumes in which the actors had just performed were burned. There was in this an allusion to a ritual suicide, self-immolation, and self-destruction as a generational gesture.

Yukhananov identified the idea of the world-myth as a strategy that develops an entire project at the time of Monrepos and the “Park” legend. It received a more concrete, methodological application in Octavia. The actors tried to reconstruct a certain reality within themselves, in their play-acting, in the rehearsal environment where they interacted with each other. In Yukhananov’s unpublished archives there are records of plans to organize classes in Latin and Roman culture for his actors.

Octavia was Theatre Theatre’s last production. The theatre ceased to exist in 1990.

By Leda Timofeeva