Russian Nights Theatre and School

"...Have you ever noticed that long before the sunrise, especially in our northern sky, behind the horizon, behind the farthest clouds, there appears a purple stripe, which does not look like evening glow because the sun at this time is still shining in its full brightness? This is a part of morning sunrise for the people from another hemisphere. Then every minute there is a sunrise on the earth, and stand guard at the so a part of its inhabitants can rise to attention next watch. It is not by chance that Providence arranged it this way..." Vladimir Odoevsky, "Russian Nights”

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bookValentina Kalistratovna Beletskaya

 

The Wandering Voice

 

Compozitor Publishing House • Saint-Petersburg

 

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Vera Filatova

Vera Monotti (Filatova)

 

“I met Valentina Beletskaya and Alexander Markov two years into my acting training, after an English director Cicely Fell recommended them to me. At the time I wasn't confident about my acting and so I went to St.Petersburg with great hope that a bearded man who looks like Dostoevsky and a strict-looking lady with her hair tied in a classical bun will teach me the world-famous Russian craft of acting. During our first 10 day workshop, I became extremely interested in Alexander’s philosophical approach to acting and was greatly challenged by Valentina’s highly energetic approach to voice coaching. We did Nina’s speech from Chekhov’s Seagull.

The approach we used was totally novel to me - we never discussed a character in psychological terms or tried to write a character’s biography, but instead went for the meaning of the words on the page, as if an actor was a musician who plays his notes one-by-one, respecting rhythm and meter and other musical rules and with an awareness of each note and a given phrase, but without trying to colour them with his overall understanding of the musical piece. Valentina’s voice technique is about stretching one’s limits and only works if you approach it with 100% commitment and passion. If practiced regularly it results in a strong, vibrant and flexible voice, which then compliments Alexander’s acting technique perfectly, as only a flexible voice that can travel through lower and higher registers with ease and grace can express and highlight meanings of all the myriad of words.

In short, I fell in love with this passionate confessional style of acting and wanted to go further with it, so during the next workshop, for which I returned to St.Petersburg in December 2005, we worked on Russian poetry. Again, it was a revelation, as the method works particularly well with poetic language, perhaps because poetry is so much about condensed ultimate universal meanings and elevated metaphors of life, rather than everyday mundane exchange of information delivered through a prism of individual psychology. The workshop was intense and inspiring, I was still at the early stages of learning to act with such a degree of precision and my voice was just gaining vibrancy and strength, but I already had embraced this method of acting as something very close to my heart and soul.

It is the underlying philosophy of Alexander’s directing/acting method that appealed to me the most. Each word, sentence, monologue or play is considered a ‘mystery’, in the sense of commanding the utmost respect and care, as something sacred like the life of an unknown human being, whom you open up to without any pre-determined judgement, in order to see who that being really is, rather than looking at your own projection. As a result the work is done very carefully without trying to generalize or define a character or trying to find an underlying emotion or hidden subtext, instead it allows meaning to reveal itself slowly word by word. In that sense a performed piece becomes a live entity, which one brings to life with one’s body and voice, but which isn’t one’s body and voice. Thus, an actor becomes a vessel which gets filled up with the work of the writer. It is a selfless spiritual approach and is almost at odds with a more western ego-orientated approach to directing/acting, where a play is a vehicle for showing off one’s own thoughts and ideas, rather than trying to reveal the true meaning of a writer’s words. It is the latter that we have been following meticulously, learning to differentiate between meanings of different words and expressing that difference through voice and body.

At the end of the third workshop, I suddenly realised that without noticing it, I have been gaining a lot of confidence: I had an understanding of what I should do with a text and I had a vocal technique to do it. I felt extremely grateful to the man with piercing blue eyes and sharp intellect, Alexander Markov, and the lady with a deep resonant voice and a big heart, Valentina Beletskaya. Workshops with Russkiye Notchi theatre during my first years of acting have helped me to dispel the fog that I was in with regards to the craft and showed me a clear-headed trajectory for professional development. Being directed by Valentina Beletskaya and Alexander Markov in a play has raised that trajectory to a much higher register.

Valentina and Alexander had plans to stage an adaptation of Dostoevsky’s first unfinished novel Netochka Nezvanova for a long time, but were waiting for the right actress to come along. I was honoured when they offered me the part of Netochka. This one-hour one woman show was performed in St.Petersburg, where it won an award , Edinburgh, where the play got five-star reviews, and London , where it had a sell-out run and standing ovations. It is difficult to praise one's work without coming across as big-headed and I would only do it to express my appreciation for my favourite Russian writer, whose work I was lucky enough to perform in my lifetime and for the brilliant directors that have supported me and allowed me to shine in this amazing piece.

Here is one review that for me summarises the high level, which Valentina Beletskaya and Alexander Markov deliver when they teach and direct:

“This is a beautiful performance, almost an acting masterclass. Her voice is strong enough to soar above some loud music and yet drop to a whisper when necessary and still be heard with extraordinary clarity. Not only that, it is a very flexible voice, and she makes the most of that flexibility. This is a simply stunning performance in every way and deserves five stars on that alone, but the piece itself is strong too - as one would expect from one of Russia's (and the world's) greatest novelists. ... It's a simple format - straightforward storytelling - but it is hard to see how it could be bettered.”

 

Vera Monotti (Filatova)

London, UK

2012

 


 

Website: www.verafilatova.com

 

 

 

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