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





Cicely Fell





"Theatre differs from all other art forms. In our screen-dominated age, there have been countless attempts to transform theatre into a more ‘cinematic’ art. Whilst this can make for an interesting experiment, it ultimately serves only to blur the distinctions between the two art forms, and theatre is stripped of its immediacy and power. When theatre fails to justify the live presence of actors, it undermines itself as an art.During three weeks of training with Aleksandr V. Markov and Valentina K. Beletskaya at the Russkiye Notchi School of Theatre, I rediscovered the crucial element of difference.

We began by asking ourselves some searching questions, attempting to find answers as to what defines theatre as an art form as distinguished from painting, cinema, music. Theatre is different in that it can only occur with the interaction of living human beings. In order to understand the essence of the art of theatre, we must then attempt to understand what makes a human being unique. We approached the question from a variety of angles, analysing the human self from many different points of view: philosophical, scientific and linguistic, but could find no exhaustive definition. The self at the core of our existence has often been called an enigma (the Russian word is zagadka), but this would imply it is a riddle to be solved. In fact the human self is an inscrutable mystery; it is taino.It was with an understanding of the difference between zagadka and taino, and of the essential mystery that is theatre, that we began to approach Chekhov’s text. We had no predetermined answers, no ‘reading’ of the play or characters, only an awareness of taino at the core of Chaika. This was daunting at first, as it entailed removing the safety net provided by concrete answers, but with the sure-footed guidance of Aleksandr Vladimirovich, I became more accustomed to walking without the net and began to get a sense of how much more exciting and unexpected theatre could be. Of course there were inevitable falls, but those were the points where I learned most about my harmful preconceptions. Initially there was an alarming sense that I was doing nothing, I was simply following the shape and movement of the words. How could this be remotely interesting? Surely Nina Zarechnaya should be acting in a certain way and feeling certain emotions? Eventually I understood that colours and feelings could emerge of their own accord, and more importantly, these were truly being created anew each time. By attempting to fulfil the shifts and turns of the text, as though it was a musical score, we moved away from psychological realism towards the pure poetry of Chaika.The work was detailed and intense, both the rehearsals with the text and the physical training lead by Valentina Beletskaya. The two activities were closely intertwined, as the work of fulfilling the shifts within the text required me to use my full vocal range and breath control. The vocal and breathing exercises undoubtedly fed into the Chaika monologues, which I found demanding technically, and encouraged me to work with all of my being. Of course it takes longer than three weeks to open up full vocal possibilities, but with Valentina Beletskaya’s exercises and support, and by exploring vocal range and resonance, I began to get a sense of what my voice could accomplish if I allowed it. The voice work as lead by Valentina Beletskaya is not concerned with imposing a certain technique, or of placing the voice according to traditional methods, it encourages freedom and fullness of expression.With Aleksandr Markov we concentrated on stripping away the tendency to colour the words emotionally, and to feel pity which is not at all present in the text. I learned that is possible to deliver words without painting them first, so that they can emerge cleanly, as the author wrote them. I did not always succeed in this, but began at least to hear for myself if I had not fulfilled a shift or phrase cleanly, as it was written. Whether directing or acting I can now listen out for the shifts within the text and work towards accomplishing them, as if musically. But the ‘musicality’ is not necessarily aesthetic or pleasing to the ear, it is more about the structure of a piece of writing, its sense and phrasing. For that reason we worked on a new translation of the monologues, as the English version I had brought with me had broken up Chekhov’s syntax, altering its phrasing and poetry. We also looked in detail at the punctuation of the text, as this is so crucial to the sense and flow of thought. As such I felt that nothing in the text was accidental; nothing could be approximated or glossed over.At Russkiye Notchi School of Theatre, I experienced something of the precision and attention to detail needed to become a master of the art. I performed the monologues in a way that I would never have dared if left to my own devices, because to go on stage without ‘acting’ an emotional state took some courage. Under the stage lights I fell into some of the old traps and slipped into a kind of dreary lyricism, particularly during the first monologue. In the second monologue, I felt very easy with myself, with Nina, and with the audience. I felt comfortable with the sudden shifts and changes of direction that the piece demands. I still go through the second piece now, defining those changes; it will always remain very close and familiar and to perform it gives me strength.
Russkiye Notchi School of Theatre was, for me, an encounter with the essence of Chekhov’s work and with the art of theatre in all its difference and difficulty. It is hard to say what benefited me more: the classes, performance or conversations afterwards. Whilst it would have been impossible to take everything on board at once, and to realise it in the heat of performance, I now understand what the work consists of, and can build on it over time."


Cicely Fell

UK, London




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