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http://www.worldfestival.gov.hk/2013/fb/redirect.html World Cultures Festival 2013 – Lasting Legacies of Eastern Europe: Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya by Maly Drama Theatre of St. Petersburg – Theatre of Europe (Russia) Legendary Europe Theatre Price-winning director Lev Dodin with his dream team of virtuoso performers deliver a brilliantly “natural” rendition of the realist classic, 1-3.11 Kwai Tsing Theatre Auditorium http://www.worldfestival.gov.hk/2013/images/theatre_02.jpg

Chekhov's Uncle Vanya

Maly Drama Theatre of St. Petersburg – Theatre of Europe (Russia)

The Maly Drama Theatre of St. Petersburg logo

Best Foreign Production, Prize of Italian Critics
Best Director & Best Actor, Golden Mask Award of Russia


Artistic Director / Director:  Lev Dodin
Winner of the Europe Theatre Prize,
Laurence Olivier Award & Stanislavski Award

Sergey Kuryshev as Voinitsky Ivan (Uncle Vanya)
Honoured Artist of Russia
Golden Mask & Golden Soffit Awards Winner

Irina Tychinina as Elena
Honoured Artist of Russia
Golden Soffit Award Winner

Igor Ivanov as Professor Serebriakov
People’s Artist of Russia

Elena Kalinina as Sonia
Golden Soffit Award Winner

At the turn of the 20th century, actor, director and theorist Constantin Stanislavski met with huge success in directing Anton Chekhov’s plays as both creative geniuses helped to propel forward dramatic realism. A century on, Russian theatrical master Lev Dodin has shown himself to be a remarkable successor to Stanislavski and his method acting system, taking the portrayal of life on stage to a new level. Widely known for his rigorous training regimen, Dodin demands that each of his productions be rehearsed for at least two years to give actors the time to immerse themselves in their characters. With every expression and gesture, his performers breathe and live as real people, directly and effectively engaging with the audience.

Since its première, Maly Drama Theatre of St. Petersburg’s production of Uncle Vanya has toured the world, receiving numerous awards and great critical acclaim. Through continuous staging over the past decade, the actors have built up a tremendous emotional rapport, delivering a superbly attuned collaborative performance. One of Chekhov’s most famous works, this classic play distils the eternal themes of joy and sorrow through bitter-sweet moments in ordinary life. Exploring the glowering landscape of frustrated hopes, a meaningless job and a wasted life, the play echoes the sentiments of many people today. Vanya’s outburst, “I have never lived!”, has proved revelatory across a century.


Kwai Tsing Theatre
7:30pm $480 $380 $280 $180*
Vanya seat plan
2:30pm $440 $340 $240 $140*
Vanya seat plan

*Some seats may have restricted view

Friendly Reminder

  • Approx 3 hrs with an intermission of 20 mins
  • In Russian with Chinese and English surtitles
  • This programme contains smoking scenes and loud sounds


Photo: Viktor Vassiliev


Europe Theatre Prize
The Europe Theatre Prize was established by the European Commission in 1986 and has become one of the most distinguished accolades in the arts field. The prize is awarded to individuals or theatrical institutions that “have contributed to the realisation of cultural events that promote understanding and the exchange of knowledge between peoples”. Among the leading international theatre directors, choreographers and playwrights to receive the prize in the 14 “editions” held since its launch are Peter Brook, Robert Wilson, Pina Bausch, Harold Pinter, Robert Lepage, Lev Dodin, Krystian Lupa and Václav Havel (special prize). Works of the last three winners mentioned are featured in this festival.

Sharing Session

Chekhov and Dodin: An Actor’s Perspective

Actor Sergey Kuryshev has received Russia’s Golden Mask Award for his performance as Uncle Vanya. In this question-and-answer session, the renowned artist will share his experience of working with director Lev Dodin and his rigorous training methods. Kuryshev will also discuss how he uses his own life experience to get under the skin of his character and successfully enter Chekhov’s dramatic world.

Speaker: Sergey Kuryshev (Lead actor, Uncle Vanya)

Moderator: Bonni Chan

Hong Kong Cultural Centre
Administration Building Level 4 AC 1
11:30am Free Admission

Friendly Reminder

  • In Russian with English and Cantonese interpretation
  • Limited seats available on a first-come-first-served basis

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Russian Theatre and Anton Chekhov: Eternal Values

British scholar Professor Maria Shevtsova, a specialist in international and interdisciplinary theatre studies, has done extensive research on Lev Dodin and the Maly Drama Theatre of St. Petersburg, attending company rehearsals and interviewing the director and actors over many years. This has resulted in her book Dodin and the Maly Drama Theatre: Process to Performance (London: Routledge, 2004) as well as numerous articles. Apart from productions of plays, Dodin’s work includes “a theatre of prose”, which are productions that are devised from epic Russian novels and have their scope, magnitude and texture.
In this talk, Shevtsova engages Dodin in conversation on directing Uncle Vanya and other plays by Anton Chekhov. They analyse the playwright’s inspiring repertoire and how Dodin’s unique direction and training methods successfully distil the essence of Chekhov’s work. Both also share their views on theatre’s on-going appeal. Questions from members of the audience welcome.

Speakers:  Lev Dodin (Artistic Director)
Maria Shevtsova (Chair Professor of Drama and Theatre Arts, Goldsmiths College, University of London; Co-editor of New Theatre Quarterly)
Kwai Tsing Theatre
Lecture Room
4:30pm Free Admission

Friendly Reminder

  • In Russian and English
  • Limited seats available on a first-come-first-served basis

The Maly Drama Theatre of St. Petersburg, Chekhov and Uncle Vanya

By Maria Shevtsova

Maria Shevtsova
Professor of Drama and Theatre Arts at Goldsmiths, University of London. She is the author of Dodin and the Maly Drama Theatre: Process to Performance (2004), Robert Wilson (2007, Chinese version was published in 2013), The Cambridge Introduction to Theatre Directing (2013).

Anton Chekhov was already at the heart of Russian culture as a writer of short stories when he gave Konstantin Stanislavsky the permission to direct The Seagull at the Moscow Art Theatre (MAT) in 1898. His decision precipitated one of those rare symbiotic relationships where an author, director and theatre company find each other and value each other fully. Chekhov’s fame grew exponentially when Stanislavsky directed Uncle Vanya in 1899, followed by Three Sisters in 1901 and The Cherry Orchard in 1904; and the MAT grew in stature as it came to be known as the theatre where Chekhov had found his home.

The names of Chekhov, Stanislavsky and the MAT have been intertwined ever since these early years of the twentieth century, providing a model of theatrical unity as well as of innovation not only for Russia, but also for the rest of Eastern Europe. Indeed, the same blueprint served elsewhere in the world, going from the Americas, on the one hand, and China, on the other.

The unity of the MAT developed from ensemble principles, which among many factors, called for actors to work closely and continually together not as competitive, gifted individuals, but as an integrated team. Further, these actors were not simply to execute the will of a director but to participate actively and imaginatively in the creative process of making a production. Unity involved, as well, acute sensitivity to a playwright’s words on the page without being dominated by them. As Stanislavsky insisted: playwrights write with words, but actors ‘write’ with their bodies, making theatre different from literature and a distinctive art in its own right.

It is this legacy that Russian theatre has inherited, as have those theatres in Eastern Europe whose practitioners were directly trained by Stanislavsky. Then, too, there are the practitioners today whose teachers and their teachers, and the teachers before them, had been formed by the MAT artists in a chain of embodied transmission, person to person. Dodin himself had studied with one of Stanislavsky’s last pupils of the mid-1930s, and he, in turn, has trained several generations of actors who compose the Maly Drama Theatre (MDT). The MDT comprises 65 actors.

This technical, emotional and spiritual training – indeed, an all encompassing training – starts at the Academy in St. Petersburg where Dodin teaches. It continues after his student actors have joined the company. Younger and older actors learn from working with each other in what, for Dodin, is a training ‘without an end’. Such ongoing development is made possible by the fact that the MDT is a repertory company whose productions are performed over many years. Thus, for example, the MDT’s second Chekhov production, A Play Without a Title (otherwise know as Platonov), was premiered in 1997. (The first was The Cherry Orchard in 1994.) Yet, although it is now sixteen years old, it is still performed with the freshness and vitality that had marked it at the very beginning. This is so because the actors keep re-discovering how to play their roles from new perspectives.

The tone of the actors’ playing also changes. Something that they played in one way sixteen years ago will have a different resonance in 2013 because of changing social and cultural circumstances and how spectators see and hear differently in them. Uncle Vanya, which was premiered in 2003 and is the company’s third Chekhov production, follows this rule. Three Sisters, the company’s fourth Chekhov production, which Dodin directed in 2010, has already begun to show, in its relatively short life, how it is maturing without growing tired and old. Like Uncle Vanya, it is concerned with the difficulties people undergo in their daily life and the courage they gather up as they seek happiness but do not always recognize it, or know how to achieve it.

Uncle Vanya is particularly concerned with lost opportunities for fulfillment, whether personal or professional, or both. Vanya is an example of the latter, Astrov of the first. Astrov, while remarkable in his work as a doctor and an ecologist, is a man alone, unable to persuade Yelena to stay with him. Yelena, meanwhile is, a faithful wife, who cannot accept the love he offers. Nothing happens for anyone in Chekhov’s play at the right time in the right place, and Dodin’s production pursues this insight with a depth of understanding typical of his work as a whole. Uncle Vanya is also very much focused on the actors’ depth combined with finesse, which, while delineating Chekhov’s characters, manages to transcend them to suggest how they could be you and me, in another time and place.

The process of maturation of the MDT’s Chekhov productions has to do with the immense amount of work put into rehearsals. A Play Without a Title took five years of rehearsals, on and off, while the actors performed other productions in the repertoire. This allowed them to think with their bodies across productions, which apart from Chekhov, included Shakespeare and productions devised from novels, and to incorporate something newly perceived about one into another, according to the principle of training ‘without an end’. Uncle Vanya only took two years of rehearsals, intense work on the earlier Chekhov productions having given Dodin and the actors accumulated experience of Chekhov’s universe. Their profound knowledge of this universe meant that Three Sisters could be prepared quickly (by the MDT’s standards) in under a year. In addition, the actors were by now so finely tuned into playing as an ensemble that they could act as if they were not acting at all. This unstrained, unforced type of acting was one of Stanislavsky’s main goals.

More and more, Uncle Vanya shows how simple acting comes from deeply embedded psycho-emotional and physical skills. Moreover, maturation in the case of Uncle Vanya has brought out the production’s tragic undertow. Glimpses of its potentially tragic power appeared during rehearsals, which were based, as always at the MDT, on études, that is, on the process of structured collective devising first elaborated by Stanislavsky.

Dodin did not push this tragic dimension out into the open, but, with time, it emerged very clearly. In its early years, a scene involving Vanya, Yelena and Astrov was one of the funniest in the production. Spectators in Hong Kong will still laugh seeing it. However, five years into the production’s life and consistently until now, ten years after its premiere and after countless performances, the same scene fully delivers the potential that had been slowly building up in it. This scene now shows the terrible anguish that human beings can feel when they realize that their lives are not as they had wished them to be. Loss, pain, a sense of waste: these come forward in Uncle Vanya, even as they show, at exactly the same time, the comic side of momentous personal events. They show, as well, the tremendous strength and faith that it takes to continue living with some sense of purpose and hope, against the odds. Spectators will leave the closing scene of Uncle Vanya, taking this sense away with them.

This article does not represent the view of the International Association of Theatre Critics (Hong Kong).
©All rights reserved by the IATC(HK). No part of this article may be reproduced without the prior permission of the IATC(HK) and/ or the author.

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