Archive for the ‘Departures’ Category

Give Their Regards to Broadway

Monday, October 1st, 2007

I’m crouched on the stage, watching as three second-year students take their final exam at the Studio School, the acting academy attached to the Moscow Art Theater, which was founded by Konstantin Stanislavsky and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko. Nikita Efremov is performing a scene from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Cancer Ward. I can hardly believe this is the same 18-year-old who, just a year ago, starred in “The Insatiables,” a teen comedy somewhere between Scary Movie and American Pie. “It’s not a work of art,” Nikita said sheepishly when I asked him about it. “I had fun making it, but I didn’t know how to act then.”

Nikita comes from theater royalty. His father, Mikhail Efremov, is a well-known actor and director. His grandfather, the actor Oleg Efremov, ran the Moscow Art Theater for 30 years, until his death in 2000. Both graduated from the Studio School. In Russia the Efremov name is akin to Coppola or Barrymore in the United States, but Nikita downplays his lineage. Instead he puts in 14-hour days at school, and when he completes the grueling four-year program, which has an attrition rate of almost 50 percent, he will enter a world radically different from that of his forebears.

In the Soviet era generous government subsidies allowed theaters to stage lavish productions and maintain a large troupe of actors. Ticket prices were controlled and affordable, and daily battles with government censors imbued the art with purpose. After communism the economy tanked and theaters began to empty out. Now, thanks to all the new money, the theater is popular again, but not necessarily with, say, Chekhov and Turgenev. Newly arrived musicals suchas as Chicago and Mamma Mia! are hugely popular and almost always sell out. Even the venerable Moscow Art Theater has to resort to slapstick comedies to boost revenue.

The performers feel the play of market forces, too. Although most remain loyal to the theater, they can make far more money in film and television. And rather than wringing their hands over lost traditions, the younger generation of actors sees freedom in this. “I can’t imagine that one place would consistently share my artistic point of view,” Nikita says. “I’m interersted in lots of things: classical theater, experimental theater, film.”

Only certain films, though. “I’ve seen The Insatiables once,” he says. “That’s probably enough.”

A Century Unveiled

Monday, October 1st, 2007

It may look like an airport hangar, but the white block building across from Gorky Park is actually home to the country’s only comprehensive collection of 20th-century Russian art.

The museum is the often-overlooked new branch of the famous State Tretyakov Gallery, which houses older, prerevolutionary art. Open for less than a decade, it has a giant collection — more than 60,000 works, only a fraction of which are on display in 42 rooms — and in May the permanent collection was updated and reoorganized to highlight the various artistic currents of the last century. Starting with avant-garde works from as early as 1906, the exhibit moves into art of the twenties and thirties, where Malevich’s “Black Square” keeps company with pieces by Chagall, Rodchenko, and Petrov-Vodkin. The section of official Socialist Realist paintings from the Stalin era is a reminder of the political shadows in which many Soviet artists worked. After decades of repression, their paintings — the so-called “underground” art of the late fifties, sixties, and seventies — are finally on display. It is the first time they’ve been shown in the country as part of a collection since the infamous 1974 “Bulldozer Show” in Moscow, when an unsanctioned open-air exhibit was met with KGB bulldozers and water cannons.