The Empire Strikes Back
8 November 2022

We have received the first reviews of THE WORLD OF ROME. “Theater experts of the future will study the archives of the ROME streams — and this is an archive worth many theatrical seasons.,” writes critic Vadim Rutkovsky. Join the viewing in the Electrotheatre VK group tonight. In the meantime, read why Vadim Rutkovsky thinks it is worth watching WORLD OF ROME.


THE WORLD OF ROME is now playing on the Small stage of the Stanislavsky Electrotheater. It is an unprecedented project by Boris Yukhananov, created with students of the MIR-6 Studio of Individual Directing.

Twenty-one evenings, 46 compositions – in fact, 46 full-fledged productions, the starting points of which are William Shakespeare's Roman Tragedies cycle, and Yevgeny Zamyatin's dystopia We. No director in our universe has ever created a spectacle of this scale. But Yukhananov possesses his own universe.

It is impossible adequately to describe THE WORLD OF ROME for objective reasons. Because of the scale of the event (each composition is an occasion not just for review, but for voluminous study). Because of the rhythm with which the performances are played (almost daily, from October 22 to November 19 with rare days off, which practically mutes the possibility of reflection; there is no time for that). The second stage of THE WORLD OF ROME begins today, November 7, once a special day in the old Soviet calendar. It consists of four evenings of The Road. The final part of Elysium, running six evenings, is launched November 13. The running time (not counting intermissions) of the first series of THE WORLD OF ROME (called The Stage which runs 11 evenings) consumes 24 and a half hours.

Now you understand the scope.

Each composition is unique. The same episodes of Shakespeare's plays may reoccur in different fragments (partly resembling the principle of Orphic Games, which endlessly intertwined the history of Orpheus and Eurydice), but there are no verbatim repetitions. But why do I tell you this? You can see THE WORLD OF ROME yourself without leaving home: every evening performance is filmed in the morning for TV cameras, and at 8 p.m. Moscow time, the recording is uploaded to the internet. The video makes it possible to have clearer looks at details, allows you to concentrate on them thanks to camera angles and editing.

Theater experts of the future will study the archives of the ROME streams – and this is an archive worth many theatrical seasons.

It contains everything. I'll try to outline the structure of The Stage; giving you something of a pocket guide, an introduction to this big World.

The howl of the Capitalist she–wolf, the foremother of Romulus and Remus who founded Rome, replaces the theatrical bells. A transformable element of the scenery represents the skull of the she-wolf with four collapsible crocodiles-croco-idols.

Everything happens in a parallel universe. Yukhananov calls it a "pataverse," referring to the terminology invented by Alfred Jarry. As such, the pataverse is a relative of pataphysics, a hybrid of science and poetry. In this other world, everything is run by a higher mind, an Integral (as Zamyatin called a spaceship designed to carry the impersonal absolute of the earthly Unified State to the inhabitants of distant planets), where all people are participants in a global experiment. They are a biomass capable of taking the form of prehistoric savages and patricians, Anthony and Cleopatra, a Chinese dummy and a dragon–topped jukebox, hetaerae, and residents of the bedroom communities of Moscow, samurai from a story of Akutagawa, or, for example, Sergei Dovlatov.

I have no doubt that fate threw me the epigraph to THE WORLD OF ROME in September, when I still had no idea about this enterprise of Yukhananov and MIR-6. It came in the form of a collection of science fiction, The Third Generation, published by the Khabarovsk Club of Science Fiction Lovers in 1990. A crumpled paperback that I picked up in a park in the city of Blagoveshchensk (the channels through which the gods communicate with us are inscrutable!) opens with Mikhail Korchmarev's story "Hear Me, Socrates..." In it, the Research Institute of Pre–Evolutionary Civilizations launches from the unthinkable year 2359 an experiment on the artificial foundation of the city of Stellamaris on the territory of ancient Ellada. It's purpose is "to form the ruling elite, military aristocracy and the highest merchant circles of the newly formed Eastern kingdom from specially trained scientists - specialists in the field of ancient history, archeology, ethnography, paleogeography..."

In Yukhananov's vision these specialists are graduates of the sixth group of the Studio of Individual Directing. They have been engaged in Shakespeare's Roman world for two-and-a-half years; their sketches are the basis of each composition, modified and melted down.

Violence and murder, mass destruction, duels, battles, orgies – alongside tender confessions, small joys, and everyday life comical in its taste unpretentiousness.

Shakespearean eloquence and the squeal of pigs; lyricism and sarcasm. Shakespeare's four tragedies – Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, Titus Andronicus and Julius Caesar – are the basis, but Yukhananov's Rome is an open city. It is a garden city of diverging paths that lead everywhere. In recognizable modernity, the locations may be Roman squares, the Roman Senate, Caesar's office, modern high–rise buildings, restaurants, nightclubs or the office of “Gibberish FM radio” which broadcasts nonsense around the clock. (An ad for condoms, for example, sounds like this: "It's better to put on one of these than to dress someone else later"). The pataverse equalizes the rights of pop and classics, elites and the rabble, Godard, Che Guevara and the rollicking songstress Yekaterina; this is really an all-encompassing space. In the alloy of THE WORLD OF ROME you may meet Camus – which is predictable, since he wrote about the odious emperor Caligula. Likewise for the "dog" stories of Kafka and Thomas Mann. And Dante, and de Sade, and Cavafy, and Maximilian Voloshin, and, quite unpredictably, because there is no author more distant from the labyrinths of Yukhananov, Dovlatov, with his doomed nostalgia. And all kinds of theater – from the areal to the psychological.

What is THE WORLD OF ROME? Opera, cabaret, tragedy, farce, children's matinee, skit, comedy? Yes, and yes, and yes. As I already said, there is everything here. And in bringing up opera and musicals, I did not mean at all that you'll find Purcell or Mozart here, or All that Jazz or The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. This is opera in a global sense - but it's also "new drama," and burlesque, and scientific research. The first and second compositions of THE WORLD OF ROME are like strange and wonderful visions – just don't think that Yukhananov replicates his dreams (although that's no always true). Wherever the visionary is found, there are pamphlets and treatises. A ritual turned into a carnival. Doors of perception suddenly opening into the backstage theatre kitchen.

Eternity reacting to our present world.

Truly, I do not know what could not be in this gigantic structure, this new Tower of Babel, reconciling all artistic languages in the world. It would be both relevant and timeless.

Shakespeare's vocabulary – wars, conspiracies, the state, the people – is familiar firsthand to anyone living in 2022. Yukhananov, however, even when the poetry of his performances correspond to the news in the newspapers, is not an author chasing an agenda.

The Golden Ass was an "open-circuited workspace.” Orphic Games were "the open space of myth." Among this series, THE WORLD OF ROME is an open space of history, its macro–mechanisms triggered by micro-movements. Micro – in the sense of working ants; people; vulnerable creatures of flesh-and-blood with their passions and petty lusts, their deeds and petty deeds. All of them – great and funny, insignificant and fateful – have their own stage moment in THE WORLD OF ROME. The horror of reality, which manifests itself not only in a direct, bloody, murderous sense, but also in over-the-top cheerfulness, in the carbon monoxide imposition of "Russophilic" shackles (the line between wedding and funeral ceremonies is erased in a miniatures following the mapping of demons that Ukrainian artist Yan Yushin coaxed from the patterns of a Soviet carpet), and in nervous escapism.

The enjoyment of play-acting, theatre, and life.

I spoke a banality. Well, I'm not a director, nor a demiurge, nor an Integral. Yukhananov gets to the essence – just not in words. Watch it.

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