Horizon at Your Feet
Avant-garde Theatre from St. Petersburg: DEREVO in Dresden
A portrait by Irene Sieben
DEREVO, the compulsively itinerant Russian dance/theatre group, have adopted the tree (Russian: Derevo) as their godparent and hold themselves in constant readiness to tackle the zen paradox: The horizon lies at your feet,' as they say. Sharpening awareness of human existence, cleansing body and spirit of unnecessary ballast - this is what they're striving for, these five shaven-headed comics/tragedians, monsters and termagents. Like children of Olymp they're poised on the brink of the seventh sense, on a pilgrimage in search of the one truth. The transmogrification of the spectator is preferred; DEREVO believe just as fervently in self-transformation at the transcendental moment of theatrical presence as in the positive power of theatre to change the world - it can, it should, it must...
They turn their hand to all sorts of media: improvisation, clowning, the archetypal commedia dell'arte scenario, the delicate spiritual vibrations of early Stanislavskian symbolic-surrealistic theatre, expressive rhythmics of Meyerhold's Biomechanics... above all, their work pulses with the same theatre of passion and metaphysics as runs in the veins of the discoverers of Butoh, the dark shamanism of Tatsumi Hijikata and lyrical mysticism of Kazuo Ohno, of whose friendship and respect these actors can be sure. Anton Adassinsky, founder and heart of the quintet, is a driving forces behind St. Petersburg's theatrical avant-garde even though he's relocated himself further west since 1990: Prague, Florence, Amsterdam and currently Dresden. Born in 1959 in Siberia, Adassinsky the classical guitarist came, after detours through photography, mime, acting, and dance, to Leningrad and Slava Polunin's Lizidei clown theatre in 1982. For five years he experimented with Polunin, later to head Cirque du Soleil, on a burlesque brew of mime, dance, theatre and music far removed from arts devel-
opments in the West. For Adassinsky this was an important schooling in forcing the roots of his own creativity. His ideas of abstraction and the magical displacement of time and space were still lying dormant at The Foot of the Rainbow,' later to burst out in his wordless metaphorical spectacles wrapped in the bleak atmosphere of Dostojevski's and Bulgakov's fictional worlds: angels wring out the clouds; heaven and earth divide themselves in the act of creation; humpbacked devils with halos grope for the light; ice-skaters get all tangled up in the hall of mirrors like rats, their whiskers stuck straight out like electrodes.
In 1988, after parting company with Slava Polunin, Adassinsky gathered 50 compatriots together in a big studio for a year of cloistered work culminating in an 'exam.' Five students stuck it out to the end: DEREVO. Four are still living together in this 'Open Long-Life-Project:' with Adassinsky are Lena Yarovaya, Tanja Khabarova and Alexej Merkouchev; Oleg Joukouvky replaced Dima Tjulpanov on his departure to Israel. The collective 'body climate,' as Min Tanaka described the 'meteorology' of the cells as a sum of alf feelings and influences from one's surroundings, is right. After their debut with 'Red Zone' the troupe set out for San Francisco as soon as the borders opened with 'Five Characters,' throwing their swirling kaleidoscope of characters and types at the audience: contrary images of transparent clowns, gloomy fools, anarchist, unfounded, often hideously comical. The secret of their holding together through the storms of radical rituals in a profane life is seen by Adassinsky in their highly-developed powers of self-reliance: "We're all completely self-sufficient - and we have, along with our physical training taken a lot of time to figure out why we're living and what we want to say. It suited us to live together in
silence. The first two years saw immense changes in our brains and physical feelings. From then on it was hard to work with anyone who hadn't been through this school; it's got a lot to do with the mentality, with ways of thinking-so therefore every two years we free ourselves from one another and work alone: an enormous challenge for everyone and a very good test."
In this way, along with the five group productions, two solos and two duets have been taken into the repertoire and played on their world tours - often the subject of controversial criticism but just as often showered with honours. They take with them a vast conglomeration of instruments, props, masks, that could have been looted from a crazy children's room by Lewis Carroll. All of them play one or more instruments or sings; the music is made up before they've any real idea of where the next journey will take them: led by intuition, following their noses through books, places, films, advertisements and events, the team strikes out into uncharted terrain, partly inspired by composer Roma Dubinikov and the St. Petersburg artists' group AXE. The working methods on collage-like imagery is directly comparable with that of Pina Bausch even if Adassinsky avoids speech and over-analysis: "The intellect is our deadly enemy on stage. We try to disarm him." Adassinsky follows his feelings, the non-rational, into the spiritual dimensions: a 'Poetics of the Senses' as demanded by Artaud when he banned the dictatorship of the spoken word from the physically concrete location of the theatre. Morbidity and transcendence draw as close together as the laughter and tears of distressed and cornered Pierrot. As a 'wandering tribe' they feel drawn to places and people which can 'make use' of their arts: since 1995 Dresden has combined three virtues - a good working atmos-
The clowns mean business. Nothing less than a lifelong project is the aim of Anton Adassinsky
from Siberia in collaboration with his shaven-headed quartet in honour of
Artaud's 'Poetics of the Senses.' Since 1989, DEREVO have stood for a dance theatre of the passions;
since 1995 the five 'radical ritualists' have been working in Dresden.