Boris Yukhananov on pandemic and isolation
2 April 2020
Photo by Olympia Orlova

Your Leisure magazine: The time has come to make sense of ongoing processes on an ideological level. To do that, our editor-in-chief Internal Emigrant reached out to leading directors and artists to find out how they see the changes that are happening to us. Is isolation good or is it punishment? Is the transition to online theatre permanent or temporary? Most importantly what will our life be like after going back offline?

Boris Yukhananov: This frightening new Spectacle has certain properties – for one, it is an anti-world from within the carnival. But where the carnival simply flips the hierarchy, elevating the low to the high, and bringing down those on top, what we are experiencing now defines a completely different type of horizontal development. As such, all those who tout horizontal theatre are now in the forefront. Once, when I was in Armenia at the end of the '80s, I noticed incredible excitement among the Armenian people. I did not understand why, but everyone was going out to protests, shouting about something – it turned out that they foresaw an earthquake. In precisely the same way, the horizontal theatre we now have today emerged in a flash before the Creator, or some strange and unknown force, suddenly declared its newest repertoire with this terrible new Spectacle, this horizontal theatre, in which hierarchy has almost completely been nullified. As it turns out, everyone is now equal to each other. What is even more interesting, the theatre of this Spectacle provided us with new costumes, and it closed our mouths. This is not a performance of or for speech, it made us employ our bodies in completely new ways, and it created new acoustics and new optics. We now see our neighbor as another, a new mise-en-scene arose, this Spectacle suggested special distancing among us. It goes without saying that this is what I call a new-processual performance, for today the rules are such that there is no end in sight. We do not know what the rules will be tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow. There is no deadline set for completing this Spectacle. Unlike, for example, the crowds of the carnival, this current Spectacle is constructed quite paradoxically – we are all put in our separate places, at least one and a half meters from each other. This word “self-isolation,” or, at least, the notion of “self” has come center stage, and in this sense it offers a fundamentally new linguistic reality. It all begins to build up: when we first encountered the notion of “self-employment,” we thought this was a matter of a new way of working, but now it turns out it was preparation for self-isolation. This self-isolation of people seemed to happen by itself, everything seems to happen on its own. We now have the opportunity, in self-isolation, to take stock of our own depth, that is, we turn to something that earlier was hidden beneath the enormous hustle and bustle of this world, with all its apparent necessities and inertia. On the one hand, this is an increased degree of individuation; on the other, the internet has finally begun working as it should have all along – that is, it is a common soul connecting the entire world. Now we connect with each other on this internet, each of us having our own organized distance from the very act of communion. As a result, what arises are not questions of good and evil, or manifestations of free will, or of what makes us the “image and likeness.” It is all a matter of self-choice – we choose how to connect into this common web-soul. Of course, the participation of the Stanislavsky Electrotheatre and all the world's theatres in general – all the performances of the world taking place amidst this terrible new Spectacle – are changing the acoustics, altering the optics of perception of what, in fact, we did when creating these productions. Now people can see this whole huge repertoire in a new way, they can see the accumulated work of the world's theatre, drawing their conclusions based on new criteria – from the point of view of the criterion of self-isolation on the one hand, and familiarization with the web-soul on the other. In this sense, it will be interesting to see what all our productions will look like in the light of this Mega-Meta-Spectacle that is now performing under the name of coronavirus.