(Marina Shimadina’s article appeared in Russia Beyond the Headlines.)

The Theater of Nations is the only theater in Russia to have staged productions by leading western directors such as Robert Lepage and Thomas Ostermeier, Alvis Hermanis and Eimuntas Nekrošius. Now this elite group has been further enriched by a true rarity – a production by the world’s most expensive stage director, Robert Wilson. 

HOMAGE TO RUSSIAN CULTURE

Wilson’s first original Russian play is based on several stories by Alexander Pushkin, including The Tale of Tsar Saltan, The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish, fragments from the poem Ruslan and Ludmila, and others.

Pushkin’s Fairy Tales joins a series of productions Wilson has staged in various countries based on their literary classics: Homer in Greece, Brecht in Germany, Strindberg in Sweden and Ibsen in Norway. Working with material like this is always challenging for a foreigner, as people hold their classics dear – they are a kind of national folklore. Directors run the risk of offending locals or staging a piece of kitsch, as was the case with Peter Stein and his Moscow production of Pushkin’s Boris Godunov, where the lavish historical costumes looked out of place in a modern theater.

Failure was never an option for Wilson, however. As with other authors he has adapted, he stages Pushkin in his trademark surrealist world. The set design alludes to famous illustrators of Russian fairy tales, specifically Ivan Bilibin, constructivism, Soviet avant-garde art and agitprop. The Swan Princess is reminiscent of the famous image created by the artist Mikhail Vrubel, while the red-haired Narrator looks like Pushkin himself in his iconic portrait by Orest Kiprensky. All these artistic allusions have been creatively processed to become part of Wilson’s inimitable style.

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