Set Designer Ivan Kochkaryov
Kristina Matvienko, Irina Tokareva | July 2018 | интервью

How did you end up in this story? Didn’t you work with Boris Yukhananov before Orphic Games?

That’s how life arranged it. I recall when we were finishing up The Golden Ass, it was October 2016, and I realized that exactly 30 years before we had been sitting in the Mansion on Kammeny Ostrov [in St. Petersburg], drinking the same cognac with the same rain falling. So ours is a fairly long story.

What is your long-term relationship based on?

What else? There was a group...

Of underground artists?

No, it was called Theatre Theatre. What it was based on, I don’t know – I guess a riddle. Why does one group come together but another doesn’t? Nobody knows. It’s probably fate.

How did you become an artist yourself?

I grew up in Riga. I lived on one end of Albert Street until I was five, and after I was five I lived on the other end.

You mean where Eisenstein’s father built some houses?

Yes, where Mikhail Eisenstein built 13 houses, I think. All those images of jugendstil became stuck in my consciousness.

Who was your family, since you lived in such a spectacular place?

It’s embassy row now. At that time it was the Soviet Union and there were lots of communal apartments.

Did you study in Riga?

I attended the Academy of Arts but didn’t graduate. I had my own artistic education. I basically grew up on the scenography of Andris Freibergs — he was my idol.

His set designs are beautiful!

Yes, my impressions from childhood are fantastic.  Of course, the technological possibilities were different then, everything squeaked and you used nails instead of self-driving screws.

How did your artistic tastes take shape, especially in theatre?

In Riga I went to the Young Spectator Theatre every week. In fact, I went to the same kindergarten with Tanya Bondareva, who was an actress at the Young Spectator Theatre and is now in the company of the Stanislavsky Electrotheatre. Many of my parents’ friends were artists, I loved visiting their studios.

Do you remember how you met Yukhananov?

I remember very well, it was on the corner of Nevsky Prospect and Vladimirsky Prospect. Zhenya and Andrzej from the group Obermaneken, as well as [actor] Nikita Mikhailovsky introduced us.  We immediately began discussing a production of Moliere’s The Misanthrope.

Had you done any work in theatre before meeting Yukhananov?

No, I did paintings and graphics. But apparently that was enough for Boris.

Then came the story with Theatre Theatre where you collaborated with Yukhananov. What did he want from you as a designer?

Basically nothing. We simply talked, and we clicked. In the end we did Ha-Ha Funerals and The Observer together.

How did you end up working in Orphic Games?

I didn’t work on it at first, but at a certain point I visited the stage at Belorusskaya and saw the raw space.  With hindsight now about what was going on, I think that all these Orphic games developed as an alchemical process. I would say things were then in the Nigredo stage (the stage of blackness, the first stage of great work). It was a kind of compost pile where everyone rejects everything. It was like this visually: in alchemy sometimes black is replaced by dark green, and the walls at the Belorusskaya stage are precisely dark green. Everything was in a dim light, people constantly smoked and suffered from colds and all of this existed in an amorphous state.  By the way, the blackness stage assumes the knowledge of what everything will become later.  I understood that later, when the white swans appeared. They signify “white” (albedo) and the exit from the first stage. If you read any book about great work, that is, the extraction of the philosopher’s stone from gold, and you apply it to a theatre production, you will clearly see all the stages. The next secret stage is citrinitas, yellow, when internal lunar light changes into external sun light.  I think that’s the stage we arrived at. We haven’t yet achieved the last stage, rubedo.

Do you know that yourself or is that something that was discussed?

No, it was all spoken out loud: the spirit of Orpheus was clearly present in this. Orpheus is the god of order and harmony, that is, he brought music and order.  Later, in making sense of things that happened and can’t be considered random, aside from the artistic constituent, I realized I was curious to be inside this and watch what was happening.

In other words, behind the production’s facade there stands an ingrained, very complexly constructed substance that we don’t know as spectators, but which is worth knowing?

Of course. But I think it will be discovered by someone – it’s no coincidence that Boris Yuryevich filmed all that in order to make a film of it.

So the project will become clearer by way of film?

Well, I have one point of view, someone else thinks something else altogether. I found it interesting to be in this group, which is not at all characteristic of me.

Were the students involved in the preparation of the set and costumes?

My entire set was a response to their work. Naturally, there was an impulse to normalize everything in an Orphic sense. By the way, the word “orthography” is also connected to Orpheus. It’s not scenography, but “scenorphography,” I would say, or “orphoscenography.” There had to be a structuring aspect, and I chose a cliff. It was important to create a space where actors and sounds would feel comfortable. Then I understood that we needed two cliffs, because they form the passage between worlds. The two cliffs are Scylla and Charybdis, and Twin Peaks and so on. Then it turned out, for example, that Agent Cooper constantly goes through catabasis. In essence, he and Laura Palmer are Orpheus and Eurydice, who constantly travel among worlds.

Is that Lynch’s idea or did you come up with that?

I think I came up with what Lynch intended. Further, I constantly found justification that I was right – especially in the visual aspect, which is important for me, not for the realm of meaning.

Other sources of inspiration were Böcklin’s painting “Isle of the Dead,” and, aside from the cliffs, we added a river, a watery surface – the black ice of frozen Styx.

Still another source of inspiration was Rilke’s poem, “Orpheus, Eurydice, Hermes,” and Brodsky’s response to it.

What path did your thoughts follow in regards to the visual structuring of this world?

Initially, there were many different substances at the rehearsals at Belorusskaya. Some things we preserved and developed; for example, the curtains and screen. As I said, my set design was a response to the students’ work, while their further work was a response to my set design. What occurred was a system of positive resonance, where each supports the other. I think that’s why this space blossomed. It was always productive. There are two types of scenography: one where the artist or director acts as a mason building a tower, and the second where they act as a gardener planting a tree. This is more like a tree, and all we had to do was to take care of it, trim the dry branches, water it, and so on.

Do you work with meaning as a designer?

With meaning too. But what is more important in a cliff — the meaning or just the cliff? It’s unclear. Its texture, or color? Let them all be there together. Anyway, I cannot give more than is inside the spectator. All spectators will see what they have inside themselves. What’s most important is for them to have the opportunity and the potential to see.

How did the idea come about to break the cliffs into pieces?

That came about immediately, because it was necessary technologically: otherwise the cliffs could not have been brought in the door. The way they are broken down did not come about immediately because we had to consider geometry, alignment, and foundations. In some sense this develops the ideas of The Golden Ass.

How did you work with the other designers — lighting and costumes?

Completely individually and with respect. I see in this a certain artistic principle. Then everything came together and took off.

Where did you shoot the “video at the station” that we see in the performance?

At Paddington Station in London.

Many think those are actors performing in the video.

Absolutely not. No actor could ever perform so well, those are common passengers.

How difficult is this show technologically?

It’s hard for me to say, but I strove for maximum simplicity.

When you see the ready performance are you bothered by anything that didn’t work or “looks bad”?

No, I must note that I leave extra space for myself in the design. For example, if I look at two clouds and compare which one is better - that would be strange. The situation in the theatre can sometimes be like one cloud, and sometimes like another, so I appreciate all these fluctuations in set design, in meaning and in behavior. In this regard, I'm not a perfectionist: on the contrary, I like waste scraps, and when performances differ from each other. I mean, the “macrame” [in the title] is no accident. There are some knots, and some tied-up ends that I will cling to, but between them there is a changeable pattern.

Are you then, the ideal designer for this project?

There are no ideal designers, that’s obvious. What’s important is that this project’s alchemical process was built on love, not on force, and therefore it was very easy for me.

I tried to be very careful with all those students, I tried to preserve their spirit.

My favorite term is liquid crystal. This project has a mobile crystalline structure, this is a term from The Golden Ass. That is, it’s a structure, but it is of liquid crystal. Although it is, of course, arranged differently in a physical sense, but that is semantically true.

Despite the fact that the space is beautiful, there are people on stage with all their “liquid” flaws. How do you reconcile that?

Keeping hold of flaws is a great art. I can’t tell you what is felicity and what is flaw. Flaws are precious.

 Interviews prepared by Kristina Matvienko, Maria Nikitina and Irina Tokareva.