“At the turn of the century, caught between the two elements of land and sea, in Yalta, existing between life and death, Anton Pavlovich Chekhov wrote his last play, The Cherry Orchard. It is a play about the glorious past of estates owned by the nobility. It is a play in which a brother and a sister, Gaev and Ranevskaya, forever lose the splendid cherry orchard that they own. Their Orchard, their Garden, is sold to pay off debts. Yermolai Lopakhin, the son of a serf, buys the garden. And the sound of axes soon rise over the hushed estate...The discovery that marked the beginning of our project lay in an unexpected assumption: 'What if the sound of axes chopping does not mean the death of the Garden at all? What if the Garden is impossible to cut down? What if the Garden is utterly indestructible?" ("The Garden Project", an essay by Boris Yukhananov, 1990s)

Yukhananov and the participants of MIR-2 entered the next stage of architectonic theatre, that is, The Garden, in June 1990. Here begins the history and method of new processualism, as well as the related concepts of the performance-project and the theory of project-building, the process of creative exploration and the process of execution, new mysterial art, and the world of myth.

The Garden was a performance project that existed over a ten-year period in eight regenerations, each of which comprised a detailed analysis of the source dramatic text, employing variant set designs, and new performers. It began with a deep analysis of what may be Anton Chekhov's most poetic play, The Cherry Orchard, which Yukhananov proposed to interpret not as the usual elegy to “disappearing beauty,” but as an ode to an alien, indestructible space of happiness, something akin to the Garden of Eden, inhabited by indestructible creatures known as Garden creatures.

The Garden was defined as a “new universal, new mysterial project,” which meant it was created as a certain macrocosm, a mythologized theatrical environment in which a human actor transforms into a character and begins to act, speak and, essentially, live on behalf of the character. The metamorphoses that The Garden set forth were similar to those that a gamer experiences. Gamers take on the persona of the hero of a large, multi-level adventure (a myth-world), first mastering it as their avatar, appropriating its properties, then, as if in reverse, the character takes on the qualities of the gamer (the image of creative exploration), gradually learning the rules and laws developed by the creators of the world of the computer game (or a performance project). At a certain point, the character slips into real life (the vital circle of the process of execution) and begins to determine style of dress and behavior, as if forcing life to act on their own behalf. Of course, gamers' interactive quests occasionally lead to tragedies, so this analogy for the The Garden project is somewhat risky, but it still offers a closely proximate illustration.

For the Garden creatures The Garden was a safe place, an area where participants could escape time and its vicissitudes, while simultaneously the acting and the rules governing it did not merge entirely with the reality of those creating it. It did not subordinate reality to it. The Garden was a way of life, a philosophy conjured up by the games of the Garden creatures playing other characters, a performance in which dramatic action came into contact with the life of the art community. A myth-world did, indeed, arise, and each of the participants experienced it as a passage through the mystery of theatre, so that the project glimmered with mysterial properties.

Spending nearly a decade in studying the new culture – the underground in Leningrad and Moscow – Yukhananov predicted its demise in his productions. As such, the project of an indestructible play and theatre grew out of this encounter with the topic of cataclysm. The artistic territory of The Garden was a sanctuary where the previously named strategies – inductive games, theatre-as-speech, the world as myth – were developed and manifested in full force.


The Garden began its life in the village of Kratovo (the so-called Mystery in Kratovo), where it was shown, performed, grew, and took up existence as a living organism in a tiny, cozy summer house overgrown with nettles and ornamental grapes. Chekhov's scenes were rolled out in the small arena of prickly weeds where the Garden creatures began to take shape and were just beginning to understand their own indestructibility. They, who had long studied and analyzed salon drama as theatrical text at rehearsals in Moscow, now began to create and inhabit a myth-world.

The Garden employed nearly the entire environs of the small house in Kratovo: a glade, a porch covered in grapevines, a small room inside the cottage, a courtyard with a log... Theatre enveloped reality, transformed it, turning a typical cozy Soviet cottage into a noble mansion with a flowering garden/orchard. The coarse, fragile acting was occasionally caught up by the emerging musical environment, which was created by a real violin, a toy piano and a harmonica. Actors drank champagne, lifting glasses off of thin-legged, carved tables. It seemed as though a parallel world had arisen there.

The emerging environment was quite natural, with no declamation, no false voices, no cliched scenes. Spontaneous rituals were born in this environment: thus did the classic Chekhov pause turn into a ceremony of admiring an airplane flying from a nearby airfield, wherein all the actors fell silent, even the ever-active Yukhananov (Humanoid Ivanov), and stared toward the sky, stunned by the roar of aircraft engines.

“...We discovered much during those days and nights in Kratovo, we found the forms that we later developed in installations, actions, performances, ballets, interludes, movies, in dramatic acting itself, and in the video that recorded the whole experience.
It was then that we actually found ourselves in the myth of the Garden, that we began to live in it, dedicating to it not only to the space of our process of creative exploration, but also the space of our process of execution.” ("The Garden Project", an essay by Boris Yukhananov, 1990s



For “forays into the city” The Garden employed the Gallery-Greenhouse project, where the participants of MIR-2, i.e., the Garden creatures, exhibited art objects that they had created. For example, they presented interiors of Lopakhin's shop, Petya Trofimov's desk and window, and other objects necessary for carrying out Garden rituals. Thus did Yukhananov implement his pedagogical strategy for the education of universal artists. Spectators had the opportunity to see fragments of performances or open rehearsals in the installation and exposition space of the Gallery-Greenhouse.

“...On its journey, the myth filled the Gallery up, each of its exhibit elements taking form as objects, simultaneously accompanied by action, revealing itself in the speeches of the actor-characters, and using the Gallery as an instrument of classical communication...” ("The Garden Project", an essay by Boris Yukhananov, 1990s)



Another Garden project addressed to the city was the Genre dramatic game. In it the participants of MIR-2 invented new genres or toyed with ones that already existed, for example, playing a melodramatic sketch as a thriller. The Genre game consolidated the notion of “art terrorism” that had come out of the Theatre Theatre era as a way of structuring dramatic action, only here art encountered reality in a somewhat different manner. During performances, director-teacher Yukhananov might interrupt one or another scene with commentary or analysis of the passage, before it then would continue on.

Here is an example of one of the explications of plot for The Price of Love (directed by Alexander Dulerain, and Mitya Troitsky): “He and she love each other. But, alas, the husband unexpectedly returns from a business trip. The evidence is undeniable. Now a romantic drama is played out where words of love have just been spoken.” One of the constant themes of Genre was people living within a plot. In this way, too, Yukhananov implemented his pedagogical strategy for educating artists of a universal type, in this case – future directors of blockbusters, screenwriters, and the creators of Russia's first reality show. 

Temporality in the Garden project existed in completely different ways, ones that had almost been forgotten by contemporary stage art. The time of the performance was subject to cycles. You can find many allusions in the history of the theatre and put them into a poetic review, but then you arrive at something vague and languid like the official criticism of the 1980s might formulate in speaking about the new culture. As such, The Garden is truly a story apart with a large cast of characters and artistic practices.

In the period from Theatre Theatre to The Garden Yukhananov delineated a whole series of strategies – the theatre of mobile structures, the inductive games, and the manifestation of vague boundaries between life and art, the new mysterial and the new universal – although perhaps none of the performances of this period fully realized his intent. Still, they are present one way or another as specific, self-contained techniques. Only in The Garden project did the theories accumulated and developed during this time begin to manifest themselves in the practice of new processualism, a special type of theatrical production that does not aspire to a final result, but rather sees the status of theatre's existence in absolute terms.

Text by Leda Timofeeva