The Cinema of Boris Yukhananov: We Gaze into the Past as if it Were the Present
28 April 2020
Photo by Sergei Borisov

This is a collection of productions on video that originated in numerous past eras of Russian culture. Some of them capture projects of the 1980s and 1990s, when several hotbeds of underground art arose inside the Soviet Union. Others are laboratory projects exploring all sorts of texts, as well as the nature of the actor/amateur in a performance. Finally, the third part offers completed productions that were performed at various theatre venues in the 2000s. Filmed as cinema, not as theatre, these works are a snapshot of Boris Yukhananov's oeuvre, which anticipated many trends in contemporary theatre and performance art.

Streams will take place on the Seance website and on the Electrotheatre page in Vkontakte.


May 12, 4 p.m. The Mansion, 1986; a film about Theatre Theatre, 1989

The Mansion (1986) is the first film of the 1,000-cassette Mad Prince video novel. Most of the videos show rehearsals of a site-specific project that Boris Yukhananov created after visiting the Monrepos Park in Vyborg. “The performance was based on a simple idea: an episode was played out in each room, played out endlessly. And as if in a living sculpture of what was happening, spectators walked around it. The rehearsals of this spectacle seemed like a performance — at some point we just opened it up to audiences.” (Boris Yukhananov)

The film Theatre Theatre (1989) is made of unique video materials filmed while working on Yukhananov's most important theatre projects of the 1980s and 1990s: Monrepos (1986), The Misanthrope (1986), The Observer (1988) and Octavia (1989).


May 13, 4 p.m. The Observer, a filmed theatre piece, 1988

This production combined the twentieth anniversary of Soviet music and rock culture of the 1980s. The Observer, based on a play by Alexei Shipenko, one of the most important theatre figures after the collapse of the U.S.S.R., included music by Boris Grebenshchikov, Zoo, Kino and other rock stars of that time. It was a romance about the “thirty-somethings,” and about how "rock, like Atlas, raised youth culture on its shoulders, and created a new faith." (Boris Yukhananov)


May 14, 4 p.m.. Sphere, 2017; Genre, 2017, two films directed by Klim Kozinsky

The film Sphere was shot by Klim Kozinsky, based on the legendary Kratovo Mystery, which was the beginning point of The Garden project. A summer house and its surroundings in Kratovo near Moscow were turned into a territory the supported the emergence of The Garden — one of Boris Yukhananov's most important new-processual projects, which underwent eight regenerations from 1990 to 2000.

The time-frame of the film Genre falls on the events of the August coup of 1991. Rehearsals and auditions for the dramatic game Genre are held against the background of actual radio transmissions of people standing by the Russian White House. Klim Kozinsky created this film from video documentary materials from the Boris Yukhananov archive. The world premiere of the film took place in 2017 at the Doclisboa Festival in Lisbon.


May 16, 4 p.m. The Garden. The 5th Regeneration, 1996

With English subtitles


May 18, 4 p.m. The Downs Comment on the World project: Uncontrollable for Everyone, 1995; Yes! Downs...or the Hunt for the Golden Birds, 1997 (with English subtitles)

The Downs Comment on the World project was carried out by Boris Yukhananov between 1994 and 1997, and was an action that allows us to see the world through the consciousness of those who are “different” from us. In fact, this is the first theatre project of this type in Russian practice. In the theatrical part of the project, actors with Down syndrome become "garden creatures," and participate in the creation of The Garden (5th Regeneration). In Uncontrollable for Everyone, the same actors comment on the gospel. In Yes! Downs... they reflect on television, interview each other and record journalistic reports, which, in the course of time, turn into confessions. “These individuals exude love and joy. If the human community leaves them alone, does not try to educate them and turn them into bad people, then practically right there — inside of them — the evolution of man has already been completed. (Boris Yukhananov)


May 20, 2 p.m. The Garden. The 8th Regeneration, Day One, 2001
May 20, 7 p.m. The Garden. The 8th Regeneration, Day Two, 2001

The final regeneration of the The Garden project, which lasted over a decade. The performance took place in the summer of 2001 as part of the III International Theatre Olympiad on the stage of the Meyerhold Center.


May 22, 4 p.m. The Minor project: TV program, interviews, and filmed performance, 1999–2001

Boris Yukhananov's The Minor, staged in 1999 at the Vilnius Russian Drama Theatre, which was then run by jazz musician Vladimir Tarasov. Together with designer Yuri Kharikov, choreographer Andrei Kuznetsov-Vecheslov, and actors of the theatre, Yukhananov set out to “reconstruct a reconstruction.” The work is based on a reconstruction of Denis Fonvizin's classic play directed by Yury Ozarovsky in 1911. It brought together architects, designers, makeup artists and wigmakers to collaborate. On paper, it looked like a dotted and numbered layout of actors moving about the stage. The Vilnius production brought together Russian classicism, the Silver Age, and the reality of the political climate of the late 1990s. The film consists of fragments of rehearsals, interviews with the director and a television program, whose freewheeling nature is characteristic of that time. Together, this turns out to be a journey not only toward theatre, but also to a transitional period in the life of the Soviet Union.


May 24, 4 p.m. Sunflowers, 2002 

Boris Yukhananov's production of Sunflowers, based on one of Tennessee Williams’s later plays and starring Leah Akhedzhakova and Viktor Gvozditsky, unique individuals and stars in Russian theatre, was a performance about the boundaries between life and role-playing. “A stranger and more sophisticated duet is hard to imagine. He and she look like unexpectedly matured children — like Gaev and Ranevskaya, or Tyltil and Mytil. They cherish their childhood filled with hidden horror as if it were a safety boat, the laconic image of which was created by Yuri Kharikov. Their boat is a huge chair, as if seen through the eyes of a child. It looks like a bright, sunny staircase, “a ladder,” as the Bible says. A ladder of faith, of which there is but one, and which saves these lost children actors from spiritual death in the 'adult' world'.” (Alyona Karas)


May 26, 4 p.m. The Tale of an Upright Man, a filmed performance, 2004

The Tale of an Upright Man was staged by Boris Yukhananov at the School of Dramatic Art with participants of the Laboratory of Angelic Direction, and with the participation of Oksana Velikolug, a girl in a wheelchair who calls herself an apprentice of the Studio of Individual Directing. The actors in this performance studied Bothmer gymnastics — a set of eurhythmic exercises developed by Fritz Von Bothmer, a student of Rudolf Steiner, the famous founder of the anthroposophical school. Velikolug sat at a laptop and typed texts on the keyboard with her finger — manifestos of the future "Theatre of Joy," the search for which turned out to be The Tale of an Upright Man. “In Yukhananov's production beautiful metaphors of creativity and freedom arise alongside a mysterious plot quite naturally, even as the actors play with radio-controlled cars and self-propelled dinosaurs.” (Oleg Zintsov)


May 28, 4 p.m. Faust. 6th Regeneration, a filmed performance, 2009

This film captures Boris Yukhananov's production of Faust that ran from 1999 to 2008, and  was the result of the work of the Laboratory of Playful Structures (run by Yukhananov and actor Igor Yatsko). The premiere of the six-hour Faust by Goethe, translated by Pasternak, took place in 1999. With each new metamorphosis of the performance, not only the cast of actors changed, but everything else did, too, including the set design by Yuri Kharikov, the timing (starting in the second edition, the director reduced the action from six hours to three), and the look of the central images, which was suggested by the change of performers and the change of whole historical eras. “One of the most important themes of the play is the nodal divine paradox of the universe — the correlation of the Lord’s plan with Creation, the image and the prototypical image, earthly cataclysms and humanitarian disasters juxtaposed with the Christian doctrine of salvation.” (Marina Maximik)


May 29, 4 p.m. Journey through the Apocalypse, a documentary film, 2013. Directed by Yevgeny Pokhis. Spiritual Instinct, a documentary film, 2008 – 2013. Directed by Yevgeny Pokhis.

Two films in a director's duology, describing the mysterious trials and tribulations of a Master and his companions in search of an image for a performance. The material for Spiritual Instinct was created in 2002 by Boris Yukhananov and Grigory Zeltser's LaboraTORiAH — a project that explored the relationship between playfulness and sacred principles using the texts of the Torah. The production called LaboraTORiAH. The Golem was first shown at the Tikun Olam festival of Jewish theatres in Vienna in 2007, then played at the School of Dramatic Art.

Journey through the Apocalypse reflects the work of Boris Yukhananov and Igor Yatsko's Laboratory of Playful Structures leading toward the premiere of the sixth edition of Faust. Based on the famous Goethe tragedy, this Faust was both an attraction and a mystery. Yury Kuklachyov's famous acting cats participated in interludes and, as Yelena Kovalskaya wrote, “it seemed that Goethe and Yukhananov's cats tried to create a new mystery — a religious theatre and, at the same time, a public, mass theatre.” The premiere took place in 2009 on the stage of the School of Dramatic Art.


May 30, 4 p.m. The Golem, a filmed performance, 2007. Film directed by Alexander Belousov.

This film captures the process of creating the production, The Golem, which is an example of a play that was expected to evolve. In 2007, Boris Yukhananov and Grigory Zeltser's LaboraTORiAH project focused on the study of sacred biblical texts, and participated in the Tikun Olam international festival of Jewish theatres (Vienna). One of the results of this participation was the premiere of a production called The Golem. The Vienna Rehearsal at the School of Dramatic Art. The performance was arranged as a series of independent works conducted by participants on the material of scenes from H. Leivik’s play The Golem, permeated by Megamagaral’s performances (Yukhananov’s “life-creating hypostasis” in the project).