(cont. from the homepage) Finally,
Boris Pasternak studied music with the composer and pianist
Scriabin and expected to make a career as a composer before
he turned to poetry and prose. Collaborative projects, particularly
in the area of book design, were also popular, and Russian
poets and artists combined to produce some of the most beautiful
books of the twentieth century.
In their intensive search for synthetic forms, it was only
to be expected that the Russian modernists would find the
theater, with its potential for a mixture of text, music,
motion and pictorial art particularly attractive. And indeed,
discussions of the theater and its function played a central
role in the frequently opaque theoretical discourse of Russian
modernism. As Andrei Bely put it: "The drama represents
the dynamic principle of creative energy in art. The drama
enshrines the synthetic principle. In the drama, we touch
the massive trunk, as it were, from which the manifold forms
of art spring in all directions to form a luxuriant crown."
The weightiest voice calling for a revival of drama as synthetic
art, however, belonged to Viacheslav Ivanov, perhaps the leading
theoretician of Russian symbolism. He saw the theater as "fully
capable of replacing religion and the Church for a humanity
which had lost its faith," and envisioned a return to
the Greek roots of theater, to its Dionysian origins. "The
spectator must become an actor - a participant in the ritual
act." Similar beliefs could be seen all across the theoretical
spectrum: Anatoly Lunacharsky, for example, who would eventually
become the first Soviet cultural arbiter and who was no admirer
of symbolism, waited eagerly for the day when a "free,
artistic, and constantly creative cult will transform temples
into theaters and theaters into temples."
It was this belief in the power and importance of theater
that drove the collaborative theatrical projects described
on the web pages that follow. Here, you will be able to see
production photos, set designs, costumes, directors' sketches
drawn from a range of path-breaking theatrical productions.
You can use this web site to search by production, by designer,
by director, or by artistic movement. Whatever approach you
take, however, you will be astounded at the exceptional vitality
and beauty so characteristic of Russian modernist theater.
In decided to produce these pages as an accompaniment to
a course I taught at Northwestern University devoted to Russian
modernist theater, a kind of virtual textbook. They have subsequently
been expanded and they have been completely redesigned by
Michael Denner, Professor of Russian at Stetson University.
I am profoundly grateful to him for all his help on this project.
We expect, over the years, to add to this site, so if you
have comments or suggestions, please let us know.
Bertha and Max Dresser Professor in the Humanities