Friday July 14 1989
Dawn of the
Anton Adasinsky, founding father of the 'clowning of opposition'
PHOTOGRAPH PETER NASMYTH
They developed in isolation, but Derevo, the young Russian group coming to LIFT next week, specialise in an advanced form of foolery. John Connor reports
— it's another one, like the
Marx Brothers. It's against the
throat — it's fighting. Maybe
what we are doing is intellec-
From the stumblings outside,
the show progresses to a circus
clown act pastiche which,
though funny, produces a great
sadness. This moves on to a
series of structured vignettes.
Two soldiers try to be romantic
— he brings flowers — she
moves to take them. They both
struggle to reach each other in
vain, but they never stop try-
ing. This work that is full of
pain, yet is also so visually
compelling, fits into a frame-
work that we in the West have
learned to understand. Yet how
does a Russian audience deal
"They have a very good reac-
tion to us. And for us it is more
interesting to work in our
country than the West. It is also
more useful. You haven't our
problems, our history. In Rus-
sia our show works like ther-
apy for people's hearts."
Entitled, Krasnoe (The Zone
Of Red), the piece, as Adasinkij
claims, is not political. "In this
time when it is possible to say
what you like — it's no longer
interesting. Every publication
deals with it." But it does seem
to be a visual metaphor for the
rebirth of the spirit of a people.
A constant image is one of the
performers pictured in a foetal
"For our audience the images
are no more direct than they
are for a Western one, though
perhaps when we depict sol-
diers it is more evocative for
us. For our people, being in the
army is a discrimination
against freedom. It's a very
hard time for our young people
when they have to go in the
army. I think it's unhappiness,
it's unfree. But it is a common
idea for all the world."
— Derevo play at the ICA from
July 17-23 as part of LIFT.
SOMETIMES being an Englishman abroad isn't too bad. When a Russian troupe plays at an Italian theatre, both sides use English as their common ground. In the Teatro della Li-monaia, in Firenze Centre on the outskirts of Florence, everyone is excited. It's the morning of the press reviews, and the nationals are all raving about Derevo, a young performance theatre company from Leningrad.
Fulvio Fo, the impresario brother of Dario, has already been on the phone trying to set up a full-scale Italian tour for the group later in the year. Not bad for a company that have only been going for two years — and are now on their first tour outside the Soviet Union.
But then they are a remarkable company. They're slap-bang in the middle of the new theatre movement in Europe — yet they've developed their style in complete isolation. Imagine Beckett zombies, choreographed by somebody from the school of Japanese buto movement and performed by clowns. Anton Adasinkij, their 30-year-old founder and directors describes it as "Clowning of opposition".
Against a background of taped rhythmic engine noise these anti-clowns emerge from the theatre into the lighted garden space outside — they struggle to move, fall down, plough into walls, yet they stumble on. If ever there was a performance equivalent to Beckett's cry "Go on", this is it.
Anton Adasinkij had already found fame in Russia before founding Derevo, he was the lead performer and creator of the theatrical style of the jazz-fusion band Avia, who played-successfully in England earlier in the year. His wife is still a member.
"Avia became very strong, but then they didn't want to change anything. The commercial life had taken over — and for me the purpose of the group stopped. But I obviously still wish them well."
He started his career, not surprisingly, as a clown with a group called Lycedeji. Clowning in Russia is treated with as much reverence as any other performance art. It was there that he got a chance "to study and read about theatre. That's why I came to my own ideas.
"I had no relationship with Western groups — but I knew of their existence from magazine pictures, and reading. I hadn't seen any video or film of any performance companies. We wanted to get hold of such things but it is impossible in our country." Neither had he seen buto before, at least not until a couple of weeks previously on the tour. Yet, Kazuo Ohno, co-founder of the movement, wants to do a performance with them in Vienna.
"We decided that the problems that we wanted to deal with, were those that connected with the whole of humanity. This clown act was born out of the madness of our civilisation. It's not the clown act of Chaplin