Chekhov's seminal play staged by one of Europe's most original directors

The Cherry Orchard

Lev Dodin, Maly Drama Theatre
of St. Petersburg

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Madame Lyubov Ranevskaya is under pressure to sell off her beloved cherry orchard  in order to fund the maintenance of her family,  her country estate and her bohemian life style. Her refusal to face her financial predicament and accept the sale leads to the downfall of her family and gives the newly rich property developer Lopakhin, the son of former serfs, the opportunity to realise his plans for these changing times. Chekhov's seminal play premiered in 1904, a time in which Russia was undergoing huge social change. More than a century on, Chekhov's masterpiece seems to be as powerful as ever. In Lev Dodin's transparent staging, the young stellar cast of his Maly Drama Theatre shows us a Russia in which the old values and structures are being dismantled at a frightening pace.

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BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) wrote The Cherry Orchard in 1903-1904, a time when Russia was undergoing huge social change. Forty years earlier, serfdom had been abolished under Alexander II, a measure which around the turn of the century still had a great impact on the economic  profitability of the aristocracy's landed estates. At the same time, a new middle class was on the rise and the proletariat were stirring, preparing to claim their role in history. In The Cherry Orchard, Chekhov recounts the tale of an old family of the landed gentry who fail to move with the changing times. After five decadent years in Paris, Madame Lyubov Ranevskaya, the matriarch of the Ranevsky family returns to her estate in Russia. The family, which also includes her daughter Anya, her stepdaughter Varya and her brother Leonid Gayev, need to deal with their mounting debts if they want to keep the estate. The local businessman Lopakhin, the son of former serfs on the estate who has become a successful and rich entrepreneur, proposes to sell off the cherry orchard  for redevelopment as a site for holiday. 

 

In The Cherry Orchard, Chekhov recounts the tale of an old family of the landed gentry who fail to move with the changing times. After five decadent years in Paris, Madame Lyubov Ranevskaya, the matriarch of the Ranevsky family returns to her estate in Russia. The family, which also includes her daughter Anya, her stepdaughter Varya and her brother Leonid Gayev, need to deal with their mounting debts if they want to keep the estate. The local businessman Lopakhin, the son of former serfs on the estate. who has become a successful and rich entrepreneur, proposes to sell off the cherry orchard  for redevelopment as a site for holiday homes. The receipts from the sale would be enough to retain the rest of the estate, but to Ranevskaya this is taking things a step too far. The cherry orchard is nationally known for its size and has great sentimental value to her and her family. Unable to take her responsibility and face her financial predicament, she refuses to sell the orchard. Whilst the family are having a party inside, the estate, including the cherry orchard, is auctioned and sold to Lopakhin. When the family members leave the house one by one, the audience can hear the axes as they cut down the trees offstage, symbolising the end of an era and the rise of another one.

 

While writing The Cherry Orchard, Chekhov complained frequently that he seemed to have lost control over his work as if it was writing itself. When the play finally premiered in 1904 in Moscow under the direction of Konstantin Stanislavski, he was upset that what he had written as a comedy was presented as a drama. However, Stanislavski proved not to be the only director who found an inexhaustible dramatic depth in this 'comedy'. Constantly balancing between the comic and the tragic, The Cherry Orchard has inspired generations of directors as one of these rare works that effortlessly seem to stand the test of time.

 

In this new production by the director Lev Dodin (he also presented The Cherry Orchard with the Maly Drama Theatre at the Holland Festival in 1995) Chekhov's masterpiece proves as powerful as ever. More than a century after its world premiere, the characters, performed by a stellar Russian cast led by  Xenia Rapoport as Lyubov Ranevskaya and Danila Kozlovsky as Lopakhin, still speak to us, across the boundaries of history.

 

In his clear staging, Dodin uses sheets, suitcases and ladders to create the impression of a theatre which is, like the estate, about to be abandoned. He shows us a Russia in which the old values and structures are being dismantled at a frightening pace and which seems to have cut itself off from European culture. A Russia which, in Dodin's words, 'we have to confront with the most elementary of spiritual values'.

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BIOGRAPHIES

Lev Dodin

The Russian director Lev Dodin is regarded as one of the world's most prominent living directors, on a par with directors such as Peter Brook and Peter Stein. Dodin was born in 1944 in Siberia. His father was a geologist, his mother a medical doctor. The family was evacuated from Leningrad to Siberia during the siege of Leningrad but returned to the city on the banks of the Neva after the war.

 

In the 1960's Dodin studied at the Leningrad Theatre Institute under Boris Zon, a pupil of Konstantin Stanislavski. Dodin's first direction at the Maly Drama Theatre was in 1975 with a staging of Karel Čapek's The Robber. Since his appointment as artistic leader of the company in 1983, Dodin has developed his very own way of working in close collaboration with the Theatre Institute of Saint-Petersburg. Working with a large group of actors, ranging from students to seasoned veterans who have been with the company for years, he has introduced rehearsal and performance cycles of prodigious length and created a repertoire which is constantly being redeveloped. According to Maria Shevtsova, a lecturer at London's Goldsmith College, he combines the Meyerholdian emphasis on the physical aspect of theatre (acrobatics, dance) with the psychological realism and introspection of Stanislavski. In his productions, he attempts to approach the range, the scale and the texture of the classic Russian novelists. According to the affiliated British company Cheek, by Jowl's director Declan Donellan, Dodin's actors inject their roles with truth, humanity and an intensity which is instantly palpable to the audience.

 

The repertoire Dodin and his actors at the Maly Drama Theatre stage are very diverse, ranging from Shakespeare to Schiller and from Chekhov to Wilder. Dodin as well as his actors have been awarded a plethora of national and international prizes in the course of their careers.

 

The Maly Drama Theatre

The Maly Drama Theatre was established in 1944 in the city of Leningrad, now Saint-Petersburg. For a long time, the company remained relatively unknown in this city of theatres, but this all changed in 1973, when Yefim Padve, a student of Georgy Tovstogonov, took over as director. Having gathered a group of young writers and directors, among them Lev Dodin, Padve and his company soon started to garner national and international acclaim for their productions. In 1983, Lev Dodin was appointed artistic leader, a position which he still holds. In 1991, the Maly Drama Theatre joined the European Union of Theatres. In 1999, the company inaugurated a small, 50 seat theatre as a laboratory for new generations of actors and directors to develop their ideas. At the moment, there are 56 actors associated with the company, almost all of whom have been trained by Lev Dodin.

Credits

direction
Lev Dodin
scenography
Aleksander Borovsky
lights
Damir Ismagilov
artistic collaboration
Valery Galendeev
artistic coordinator
Dina Dodina
direction technique
Evgeny Nikoiforov
general director
Natalya Sollogub
music
Gilles Thibaut, Paul Misraki, Johann Strauss
musical accompaniment
Mikhail Aleksandrov
concertmasters
Ksenya Vasileva, Elena Lapina
cast
Ksenya Rappoport (Lyubov Ranevskaya, a landowner), Ekaterina Tarazova (Anya, her daughter), Elizaveta BoIarskaya (Varya, her adopted daughter), Igor Tchernevich (Leonid Gayev, her brother), Danila Kozlovskiy (Yermolyi Lopakhin, a merchant) Oleg Ryazantsev (Pyotr Trofimov, a student), Tatyana Shestakova (Charlotta, a governess), Sergey Kuryshev (Semen Yepikhodov, a clerk), Polina Prikhodko (Dunyasha, a housemaid), Alexander Zavyalov (Firs, a manservant), Stanislav Nikolkiy (Yasha, young manservant)
production
Maly Drama Theatre- Théâtre de l’Europe, Saint-Petersburg Performance created with the help of the Russian Federation Ministry of Culture, Art, Science and Sport Charity Foundation and with personal help of Alisher Usmanov.
with thanks to
Kerstin Hinz: first chairwoman of “Common recognition of the “Altes Land” region, part of the UNESCO World Herritage / Friends of the “Brigitte Van Kann” theatre and Helmut Bootsman, Hamburg / Moritz Windmann and the “Cinecentrum” company, Hamburg / House-Museum A.P. Checkov, Yalta / Svetlany Pechenykh, Fjodor Solov’eva and the Saint-Petersburg studio of documentaries