After being stranded in Russia, Kirill Serebrennikov directs a play in Germany

HAMBURG, Germany – At first glance, a recent rehearsal at the Thalia Theater here looks like any other. On stage, the actors ran through the final scene of the play called “The Black Monk” Try to moderate the flow.

“Stop, stop, stop,” the director, Kirill Serebrennikov, cried from the center of the auditorium. He was not satisfied with the projections of the moon hovering over the performers, and began to troubleshoot.

It was normal business in the theatre, but for Serebrennikov – one of Russia’s most famous directors, whose theatrical productions are produced all over Europe – the opportunity to directly supervise was too The production process was a surprise. This is the first time in more than 4 years that he can set foot outside of his hometown.

Serebrennikov’s provocative theatrical work, which often deals with topics considered taboo in Russia, such as homosexuality, has been seen as a critique of life under President Vladimir V. Putin. Perhaps too much to criticize, since for the past four and a half years, Serebrennikov has been embroiled in a financial fraud seen by the Russian intelligentsia as part of a crackdown on artistic freedom.

Starting in August 2017, Serebrennikov spent almost 20 months house arrest in Moscow, and then sentenced embezzled some 133 million rubles, or about $2 million, in government funds allocated to a festival held at the Gogol Center, the avant-garde theater that Serebrennikov once ran. The high-profile case resulted in a suspended sentence for the director in June 2020, as well as a three-year ban on him from traveling outside Russia.

So when the director arrived at Hamburg airport on January 8, Joachim Lux, Thalia’s artistic director, greeted him with a surprise.

In a statement released by his theater, Lux appeared relieved, noting that his theater overcame “all political and pandemic obstacles” to bring the director to Hamburg. He called the director’s safe arrival “a wonderful miracle of strength in difficult times!”

Among the most surprising was Serebrennikov himself.

The director explained that his request to leave Russia so he could direct a production based on a little-known story by Anton Chekhov was granted unexpectedly and for a short time.

“Please allow me to come to Hamburg to work,” the director asked Russian officials, he said at a recent press conference in Thalia’s lobby. It is the same standard request that the authorities have refused many times before. However, earlier this month, “they just granted permission for this project,” said Serebrennikov, adding that the travel permission was granted at the last minute.

“They just signed the papers right after the New Year holidays,” said the 52-year-old executive, dressed in black, light sunglasses and a cap. “Maybe I’m a nice guy, my behavior is good and that’s why they say OK,” he added.

In an interview after the press conference, Serebrennikov said he gave up trying to figure out exactly why he was allowed to leave Russia to direct “The Black Monk”.

“Here I am. I’m in Hamburg,” he said, shrugging. “We’re creating theater together with a lot of very talented people in one of the best theaters in the world.”

Unable to leave Russia, Serebrennikov sought resourceful ways to maintain his work abroad. In November 2018, while still under house arrest and banned from using the internet, he directed a production of Mozart’s “Così Fan Tutte” at the Zurich Opera using a system that forwarded the video files associated with a USB that was hand-delivered to him by his lawyer in Moscow.

The same technological workarounds have allowed him to maintain high fertility in captivity in one way or another. Since Zurich “Così”, he has also given artistic control to theatrical productions in Germany and Austria and completed two well-received films, “Leto” in 2018 and “Petrov’s Flu” in 2018. 2021, both premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, in the director’s absence.

In most of Serebrennikov’s recent theatrical productions, confinement has emerged as a central theme, including in the production.Outside” Played in Avignon and Berlin, and his 2021 staging on “Parsifal” by Richard Wagner at the Vienna State Opera, partly housed in a prison. The production of the film “The Nose” by Dmitri Shostakovich, has opened Current season at Bavarian State Operathere are scenes of violence and state repression in a backward but quirky contemporary Russia.

Serebrennikov speculates that being forced to practice his craft remotely during his months under house arrest gave him an advantage when the pandemic began. “It was my personal rehearsal for Corona,” he said with a wry smile.

Since his legal troubles began in 2017, Serebrennikov has become a symbol of artistic freedom in the face of government repression. But the director said he was not comfortable with the role. “I am a working animal,” he said. “I don’t want to be an icon.”

Even by the director’s standards, “The Black Monk” is a challenging work. The film features a large number of Russian, German, American, Armenian and Latvian actors, dancers and singers, dialogues in three languages ​​and incorporates music by Latvian composer Jekabs Nimanis.

“We didn’t have too much time,” Serebrennikov said of the two weeks he had in Hamburg to finish production. And while he seems excited to be returning to directing “in person,” he says working remotely is an artistically viable alternative.

“We are used to having a lot of digital lives around us,” he said. “Of course, I prefer a personal presence much more, but Zoom is okay,” he added.

After “The Black Monk,” Serebrennikov has several other international works in the works, including an opera this summer. Dutch Festival in Amsterdam, and maybe tour “The Black Monk.” Whether he will be allowed to travel remains unclear.

“It could happen, but no one knows,” he said. “I like to be in the moment and not expect too much,” he added, alluding to his own legal predicament and the wider world ravaged by the pandemic.

As a condition of his travel permit, Serebrennikov had to return to Russia on January 22, the day after “The Black Monk” premiered. The director said he once intended to return to Moscow, where he would begin making his film debut in English.

“I’m a reliable person,” he said, adding that “people who let me leave are probably also at risk.” After being stranded in Russia, Kirill Serebrennikov directs a play in Germany

Fry Electronics Team

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