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A Midsummer Night’s Dream in New Zealand Print E-mail

by Olga Suvorova, Prior Group

“All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players”           (William Shakespeare)
In fifteen years of working as an interpreter I have found myself in different situations: flying in helicopters above vineyards with potential investors, descending thirty metres into the ocean with Russian tourists, checking out gigantic smelter pots with foreign top managers at one of Russia’s largest aluminium companies, supporting fellow countrymen while they were undergoing surgical procedures, and even going through numerous checks from the relevant services in order to gain access to the New Zealand Parliament to translate for the Prime Minister and Ministers. But until today the thought never entered my head that at some point I should be walking the streets of New Zealand’s capital … with the gigantic head of a 6-metre puppet.

It all began with a request from the New Zealand coordinators of the annual International Festival of the Arts in Wellington. I was asked to help out Dmitry Krymov’s Russian theatre troupe which had flown in to take part in the Festival. The group, made up of 32 persons, to say nothing of… the dog, was to perform from 25 February until 2 March. And the group needed an interpreter. Moreover the dog, as it later transpired, was a New Zealand dog and it, too, needed an interpreter – the Russian acrobat did not know canine commands in English.

An interpreter also came in handy for Irina, the unsmiling Wardrobe Director – here New Zealand assistants could not tell whether she could smile or not (– nothing personal, simply that Russians have a different attitude to a smile!) And also for Margarita, who was responsible for the actors, because, in addition to the Moscow actors there were New Zealand extras in the play – as spectator-investors and young ballerinas. And for a pyrotechnician who needed plasters on burns. And for two acrobats who were fined on arrival at the border for bringing food into New Zealand. And for the technicians who moved the 6-metre puppets on the stage. And that’s where the most entertaining part begins… It happened that we had to go to a building materials store to get the head of one of the dolls repaired. I have to acknowledge the professionalism of the New Zealand salespeople, they showed almost no surprise at us or our Head and gave advice on superglue and screws. It is true that at check-out local customers got a bit nervous, but nonetheless they did let go ahead us strange foreigners talking loudly in a foreign language, aggressively (as they saw it) waving their arms about (“Seryoga, I tell you it doesn’t glue! – ..You don’t tell me!) I brought up the rear of this strange procession and, with a smile, thanked all the New Zealanders in the queue. No doubt Alice felt the same in Wonderland... We left the shop with complete confidence that the head could be fixed and that meant that the play would go ahead. I glanced back. Everybody was silently following us with their eyes. Well, thought I, situation normal, taking into account the rehearsal for the play I am currently involved in.
The play “A Midsummer Night’s Dream (As You Like It)”, which the Russians brought won an award at the 2012 Edinburgh Festival of the Performing Arts and is rightly considered a most interesting modern staging: Shakespeare without Shakespeare and with Shakespeare; organisational chaos; elements of complete surprise; dramatic shock; after our own fashion. The audience, having come to see a traditional Shakespeare performance, will either be deeply disappointed or will understand that this is indeed real Shakespeare.
The actions of the play take place in our day – investors have come to a new theatre to a performance of a Shakespearean play. The theatre building turns out not to be completed (woodchips and sawdust are sprinkled directly on to the heads of the audience).  The play is clearly not ready – the stage is empty. Suddenly there are shouts in Russian and through the doors through which the audience have only just entered the there, people in overalls appear. They are carrying a huge oak tree, on which a dog is sitting. Then they bring in a real fountain, and water sprays out in all directions over the audience... Finally, when the stage sets are in place the actors begin to change into their formal attire before the eyes of the astonished audience. Then huge 6-metre mechanical puppets appear of the two lovers who are the heroes of the play, operatic arias ring out, acrobats perform, the dog performs its tricks, and at the same time the New Zealand extras argue loudly, turning to the audience and asking whether everybody should leave the theatre or should stay and watch the strange performance out... Fifteen young New Zealand ballerinas come on stage to dance “Swan Lake”, but... It’s late and an elderly gentleman, in appearance very like Shakespeare, is already sweeping the stage... laughter, tears, Russian language, English subtitles on huge screens... a real spectator sent flying... The boundary between the artists and us, the audience,     disappears from the very first minutes – this is a tribute to the main producer of the performance, Dmitry Krymov. The theatre (1200 people) applauds, many of the audience standing...
“I wanted to show the big in the small. This is a story within a story. You don’t even notice that you are becoming part of the performance. You’re laughing and don’t even realise how what we are talking about in the performance has stopped being funny. Everything is now very serious. Now you feel sad, you empathise; now you are with us – that’s what I wanted more than anything else, to join the hearts of the actors and of the audience. In my own way, in New Zealand, I succeeded in doing this”, says Dmitry Krymov, Director of the performance.
“I was very much afraid and wondered how the New Zealand public would react to my performance. For a director there is nothing worse than an audience which does not react, which remains unmoved.
“I am glad. I am touched. The St James Theatre, 1200 seats, crammed to capacity. And the audience laugh, and the audience empathise – such a thrill!
“I am grateful to the New Zealand public and to the organisers for their initiative. Without their invitation we would never even have thought about New Zealand. I’d like to come back.”
And I, for my part, should like to thank Dmitry Krymov for his extraordinary waking dream, his team of administrators and actors, the New Zealand organisers for their initiative and trust, Vladimir Zvegintsev from the Wellington “Russian Club” for the news from the Festival organisers that they needed interpreters, and my outstanding assistants, Yana Gil’d, Irina Zyuzina and Tatiana Chipsanova, without whom the performance would not have been as successful as it was.... Curtain.



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    VESTI 24 Russian TV: Why do leading world powers treat little New Zealand as an equal partner?

Russia - New Zealand Quotes

It was something of a revelation to find that in a country like Russia, where the civilized arts and sciences are supposed to make slow headway, the art of Pavlova has reached its apotheosis.NZ Truth, 1926
Откровением было узнать, что в такой стране как Россия, где цивилизованное искусство и науки, кажется, должны тормозить, искусство Павловой достигло своего апофеоза.НЗ Правда, 1926

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Russia - New Zealand History

Lieut. -Colonel H. C. Barclay, M.D., of Timaru, writing to the Christchurch Sun, says: — Arriving in Petrograd, after a tedious 22 days journey from Japan, I was anxious to waste no time, but to get to the front. At that time no reverses had be fallen the English or French troops, and the idea of my commission leading to an appointment in England among the army that was to be recruited had not occurred to me, and so I promptly offered myself as an army surgeon to the Russians, and was accepted as an operating surgeon, though of the language I knew nothing. Still, if they were game to take me, I was game to go. During the ten days of waiting I had some interesting, if not exciting, personal expediences. I had the honor of being, presented to the Empress - that is, the Dowager Empress, the mother of the present Tsar. It was at one of the summer palaces on the island of the Neva, on the borders of Petrograd. After some formal introduction to a baroness and one of the Princesses, the Empress came in. She was attired in black with a plain white collar and a pearl necklace, her hair dressed in ordinary English fashion. There was no difficulty in seeing at once the likeness to Queen Alexandra, whose sister she is, but she was not as tall, nor as impressive in appearanpe as I understand the late Queen of England to be. She was exceedingly gracious in manner and in speech, and spoke English like an English lady would. Among other things, she expressed her pleasure at seeing an Englishman with her troops, and when she spoke of  the Anglo-Russian alliance, the emotion behind the words was plainly visible to me. A TALISMAN. When I said  that while with her countrymen I hoped to do my duty faithfully and well she slipped a little present into my hand, saying, -"Keep this for my sake, and may it protect you." Then her Majesty looked me very straight in the face and paused - her eyes were moist “Thank God for the English alliance," – she said and raising her hand to my lips I kissed it, bowed, and she passed out. It needed no keen observer to be aware of the feeling at the back of words in themselves so simple. Needless, to say, the little gift was of the nature of an amulet, a religious token to be worn round the neck. Of her interest in my reasons for being in Russia at the time, and of her questions about New Zealand and Australia I need not write. Poverty Bay Herald, Volume XLI, Issue 13570, 23 December 1914, Page 2

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