Tashkent’s Ilkhom Theatre awarded for culture
Culture and History, Media and Internet, Politics and Society, UzbekistanOne Comment
Uzbekistan’s unique accomplishments in theatre and art have been respectfully recognized. On April 5th, the country’s Ilkhom Theatre (“Inspiration” in Uzbek) was prized with the 2011 Prince Claus Award, from the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development, for it’s cultural achievements. The Theatre (Ильхом Театр Марка Вайля) is Uzbekistan’s only independent theatre, was the first in the USSR, and today also functions as a school of dramatic art. The award was presented to the Uzbek Ilkhom Theatre, by Dutch Ambassador to Russia, HE Mr Ronald Keller.
In terms of free expression and artistic development, the 2011 Prince Claus Fund was awarded to Ilkhom Theatre for:
“the high quality of its dramatic productions, for creating a space of freedom in a zone of silence, for nurturing and inspiring the younger generations in Uzbekistan, and for upholding the role of theatre as a means of opening minds and stimulating development.”
Tashkent’s winning Ilkhom Theatre was founded in 1976, during the Perestroika period, by the late Mark Weil (also the art director) and graduates from Tashkent’s Theatre Arts Institute. The Theatre began as a rebel theatre against the USSR when it was founded, without state sponsorship or funding. Ilkhom Theatre has hosted everything from traditional work and local street theatre to improvisation and clowning traditions. The Theatre challenged traditional Central Asian values in the 1990s, via the sexuality and nudity features in the production of Oscar Wilde’s tragic play Salome. Today the theatre produces “adaptations of Western classics, modern classics and even traditional Uzbek comedy.”
In 2008, about the Theatre, BBC News said: “For more than 30 years, Ilkhom, which was the Soviet Union’s first independent theatre, produced a countless number of thought-provoking and controversial plays which forced people to question the reality that reigned beyond the theatre’s door.”
In April 2012, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) said the award presenters “heralded the theater’s success in pushing accepted political and social boundaries in the face of censorship.” Moreover – in regards to Weil’s vision and practice of art freedom, in 2007, The Guardian said:
“To this day, the Ilkhom remains the only venue for original, uncensored drama in a country where freedom of expression is severely limited. An extraordinary man, he created an artistic space in which people could ask questions and explore their experience.”
It seems that Weil did everything he could to keep artistic freedom flowing in this art space. In 2008, BBC News quoted Maxim Tumenev, one of Ilkhom’s actors, humorously saying:
“Several years ago, for some reason, police banned Christmas trees from all theatres and everyone obeyed. But here we just hung it upside down from the ceiling.”
In continuing with the theme of anti-censorship, in 2008, about the Theatre, Repeat Performances said:
“Since the fall of the Soviet Union and the establishment of Uzbekistan as an independent nation, the theater group has continued with its radical agenda, producing plays that layer various theatrical disciplines into complex works that question cultural behavior in complicated and provocative ways.”
Culture, culture and more culture – various websites describe the wondrously, culturally free Ilkhom Theatre.
About the Theatre, the Prince Claus Fund says:
“A multi-ethnic company mixing languages, integrating Russian, oriental and western cultures, and giving voice to the experiences of ordinary people, Ilkhom exemplifies diversity and tolerance, and offers a counter-discourse to sanctioned narratives.”
Samarkand Bukhara Travel shares cultural insights about the Theatre:
“This is a genuine urban theatre, keenly preserving the rhythm of modern Tashkent, in the streets of which you can hear different languages, and where the talkers can understand each other easily. For example, the play “Happy beggars” is performed simultaneously in Russian, Uzbek, Italian and Yiddish. And – such an amazing thing! – it does not require the translation..! Concerts and creative meetings take place in the theatre, songs are sung. This is a true place of genuine creativity and creative enthusiasm.”
In terms of museums, entertainment and tourism, here’s how Lonely Planet advertises the Theatre:
“Tashkent’s other main cultural highlight is the progressive Ilkhom Theatre, which stages productions in Russian but occasionally has English subtitles. Known for bucking trends, its productions often touch on gay themes and racial subjects, putting off some locals but thrilling Tashkent’s expat community, many of whom are big supporters of the theatre. You’ll see such oddities as Shakespeare plays entwined with Beatles music.”
The wildly famous performances stemming from the Ilkhom Theatre have been presented at 34 international theatre festivals, over the past 17 years, in 22 countries.
Ecstasy with a Pomegranate is a renowned piece born from the Ilkhom Theatre, created by Weil and Dmitry Tikhomirov and choreographed by David Rousseve. The play tackles themes of nationality, identity, homosexuality, religion, Central Asian history, Russian turmoil, transitions from Imperial to Soviet Russia, fantasy, reality and love.
In a nutshell, Miami University explains what Ecstasy with a Pomegranate is all about:
“It takes place in 1916-1917 Tashkent and deals with cultural interactions between Sufi Islam, Uzbek culture and the Russian (and then later, Soviet) military stationed in Tashkent. It focuses on the painter Alexander Nikolaev (who became a Muslim and took the name Usto Mumin, painting under that name) and his assimilation into the Muslim religion and culture, especially his involvement with male Bacha dancers who portrayed women.”
The Greek tragedy The Oresteia was founder Mark Weil’s last production. At age 55, Weil – born in Tashkent and from Russian Jewish heritage – was brutally and suspiciously stabbed to death on his way home from a rehearsal of the play on the night of September 6-7, 2007.
From politics to religion, neweurasia’s CXW wrote about the various motivations behind Weil’s death in 2007: “Speculation fails to drown official silence over Mark Weilâ€™s death”. Moreover, neweurasia’s Turnvater also wrote about Weil’s story in 2007, mentioning the role the Internet played in disseminating this horrible information, five years ago: “Uzbekistan: A Great Loss for a Nation”.
Despite Weil’s awful and untimely passing, The Oresteia went on the next day, and a new season on performance was born at “Inspiration” Theatre. Before his attack, Weil said: “I open a new season tomorrow — and everything must happen.”
Mark Weil’s spirit has been long-lived, still very much influencing those of his Theatre today. On April 7th, 2012 Veronika Zuryeva, head of public relations at Ilkhom Theatre, shared her heartfelt respect and memory of Weil with RFE/RL:
“It’s hard without him, because he was the one who founded the theater and was an inspiration to us. But his disciples remain with the theater and retain all the performances as they were originally created.”
It is with absolute honor that this Theatre received the 2011 Prince Claus Award. With such a profound legacy of culture and expression, in a country so void of emotionally and politically motivated art freedoms, the Theatre’s achievements and recognition indicate that culture is of necessity in Uzbekistan.
In terms of cultural importance, in 2012, Christa Meindersma, Director of the Prince Claus Fund, said:
“Culture is a basic need. The Prince Claus Awards acknowledge the exceptional work of organizations like Ilkhom Theatre that really make a difference and inspire others.“
It goes without question, that Ilkhom Theatre will produce nothing short of rich shows smouldering with tradition, custom, civilization, ethnicity and society for it’s audiences to come! Long live the art scene in Uzbekistan, Weil’s legacy and his awarded, legendary Ilkhom Theatre!