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© RIA Novosti. Vladimir Fedorenko

Drama at Kievsky station

by at 14/03/2011 16:03

In recent weeks Moscow’s stations and transport hubs have been nervous places, with increased security and assorted cops making themselves busy as part of a crackdown on terrorism.

So Kievsky railway station – recently singled out by the president for lax security – was an unlikely place to stage a piece of experimental theatre.

But, as part of the on-going Zolotaya Maska (Golden Mask) drama festival, the terminal became the stage for a site-specific three-act “Railway Opera” performed by artists from Poland and Chelyabinsk.

Admittedly, there were some teething problems: demand for headphones outstripped supply, meaning many of the intended audience were left to make the best of the opening sequence, performed largely in silence in front of a video screen in the station’s entrance.

And those without audio assistance only got half the picture of the second act, which most effectively exploited the station’s role as public space rather than private stage.

As a result the audience was divided into three groups: those with headphones, fully in the know; those without, gamely trying to keep up; and ordinary rail passengers, looking on in bemusement as a group of people suddenly started prancing around the waiting rooms.

It was that third group which, perhaps unwittingly, illustrated the gap between the art and the public.

If the intention of the performance was a laudable attempt to enable a new audience to confront and engage with the rarified world of contemporary physical theatre, it would be impossible to conclude that the average Oxana, waiting for her train to Kiev, got a great deal from the experience.

Among those who hadn’t come specifically for the performance, there was a mixture of bafflement and open mockery written across their faces; a trio of cops watched impassively for a few minutes before shrugging at one another and wondering aloud why anyone would bother with this sort of thing.

Lacking both the spontaneous public involvement of a genuine flashmob, the performance – a co-production with Chelyabinsk’s Liquid Dance theatre and Poland’s Adam Mickiewicz Institute – was often interesting, but rarely got to grips with its venue.

Instead its attempt to explore how travel fragments our relationship with time could have been staged almost anywhere; perhaps underlining the point that stations and airports are almost non-places, but not exactly binding the action to the specific venue selected for the performances.

The most impressive segments, musically and dramatically, evoked Steve Reich’s celebrated “Different Trains”, but seemed firmly rooted in a performance tradition which stays behind the proscenium arch. It was good, but it didn’t gain from being transplanted to a chilly platform and interrupted by station announcements.

Perhaps the most intriguing feature of the evening, as dancers twirled away beneath and MChS video advising passengers how to respond to a terrorist attack, was the sense that somehow a place recently associated, however obliquely, with violence and danger was being reclaimed into a public space once again.


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