“Imitations of the Koran” and Uzbek Banskies @ Ilkhom Theater’s 37th season opening
Culture and History, Photoblog, Uzbekistan2 Comments
Editor’s note: “Tashkent without Ilkhom would be like Paris without the Eifel Tower,” writes NewEurasia’s Nik McCaren about the Ilkhom Theater’s 37th season opening. Come check out the playbill, which includes a re-performance of “Imitations of Koran” in honor of the theater’s murdered founder and art installations by a group nicknamed the “Uzbek Banskies”.
The photos in this post are by our blogger and have been published on our Demotix account. If you would like to use them, please help him out and buy them! Also, check out our previous coverage of the Ilkhom Theater and its founder’s tragic death here.
Tashkent without Ilkhom would be like Paris without the Eiffel Tower. Ilkhom is the most famous theater of Uzbekistan — bold, controversial, innovative, provocative. The annual fall opening of the new season is a major event in the cultural life of our country.
Murdered for art
During Soviet times, Ilkhom became the first independent theater in the huge Soviet empire. The theater retains its status to today: it is the only non-state theater in Uzbekistan. All other theaters have sponsorship from the Uzbekistani government.
On September 6, 2007 there was a terrible tragedy that shook not only Uzbekistan, but the entire global theatric community: Ilkhom’s director and founder, Mark Weil, was stabbed to death late outside his apartment at night after the final rehearsal of the play, “The Oresteia” (the play opened the next day).
Here are Weil’s own words on the drama, which I managed to find in an old interview:
“The poetic spirit of Pushkin – a Russian poet with African roots – [seemed to concern everything], including nationalism and religious restrictions; and, perhaps because the Russian poet Pushkin was ‘above everything’, he wrote ‘Imitations of the Koran’. The tragedy of September 11th in New York happened while we were working on the play: under the cover of the holy book of Islam, the terrorists forced the world to shudder. We know that those who orchestrated this diabolical performance in New York, never would have tolerated our work, i.e., the free interpretation of the theme of the Koran on stage. We want Pushkin – who was ‘above everything’ – to help create reconciliation. Pushkin was not interested in anything except the spirit and philosophy of the Great Divine Principle, the beauty of his poetry. And he, as a great poet — he knew value of this things”.
The original Russian: «Поэтический дух Пушкина – русского поэта с африканскими корнями – оказался как бы «над» всем, включая и национализм, и религиозные ограничения. И, быть может, именно потому, что русский поэт Пушкин был «над» этим – он и написал «Подражания Корану. Период работы над окончательным вариантом совпал с Нью-йоркскими событиями 11 сентября, когда под прикрытием священной книги мусульман, террористы заставили мир содрогнуться. Мы знаем, что те, кто срежиссировал этот дьявольский спектакль в Нью-Йорке, никогда не приняли бы нашу работу и сам факт свободной интерпретации темы Корана на сцене. Мы же хотим, чтобы Пушкин, – который был «над» – всех нас примирил. Ибо ничего кроме духа и философии Великого первоисточника, Красоты его поэзии, поэта не интересовало. А он, как великий Поэт, – знал им цену».
In 2010, three men were convicted for the murder. The men said they had planned the murder in response to Weil’s portrayal of the Prophet Muhammad in an Ilkhom production of the play, “Imitations of the Koran” (more about this play in a moment). The court sentenced them to 19, 17 and 13 years in prison, but the loss incurred by Uzbekistan and whole world was irreplaceable.
This year, the 37th season was opened with the play that led to Weil’s death. This legendary show has seen audiences in Europe, the U.S., Russia and Japan. Its original premiere took place on 22 February 2002. In Tashkent, viewers saw a new version of the play, reinterpreted by new artists (many of whom are graduates of Ilkhom’s theater school) that centers around Weil. This new version of “Imitations of the Koran” is not only a tribute to the deceased Master, but also a statement that the theater is not afraid of extremism.
The play is a free interpretation of the eponymous series of poems by Alexander Pushkin. In the play, the director’s vision of Mark Weil was mixed with the music of composer Artyom Kim and dances of choreographer Olimjonov Beknazarov.
In my impression, the performance fascinated the audience: here, on the same stage, within two hours, the performers mixed dramaturgy, music, choreography, video art and the philosophical world created by Pushkin – a world of dialogues between Prophet, Poet and God, thoughts about life and the present world.
Unfortunately, this production could not enlist many of the performers who actually knew Weil personally; most of that generation has emigrated abroad or were forced to leave the theater for financial reasons (unfortunately, the theater still continues to experience economic problems due to the lack of permanent sponsors).
The Uzbek Banskies, et al
Alongside “Imitations of the Koran”, Ilkhom also hosted installations of the art project “Semochka”. This group works a lot with graffiti, earning themselves the nickname “The Uzbek Banksies”(for the famous British street artist Banksy). Their exhibition “End or Fin” (the original title was in English), and was held under the slogan “Beware of animals!” and “Wonders of the horoscope”. They wanted to explore the problem of the similarity between humans and animals by creating animal forms made from human materials. such as disposable plates and yellow tape.
There was also a performance by Tashkent music groups Origami Wings and The Rebels, which involved a strange mixture of dance music and traditional Rock instruments. This was appropriate in a way, since the new season promises to be full of surprises, including the premiere of “Nietzsche’s Zarathustra”, a play created by the famous Central Asian director Ovlyakuli Khodjakuli.
For more photos, click here.