Maxim Didenko is one of the most in-demand Russian directors of the 30+ generation. His style of directing is yet hard to define, except for the definition that seems to have been introduced by the director himself, who says his theatre can be described as “Russian physical theatre”. This is the kind of theatre that uses a complex, almost acrobatic, technique, which very few actors of the Russian psychological theatre are capable of mastering. And not just any story is suitable for this kind of theatre, but a story that deals with the circus fits extremely well.
Didenko engages his theatre piece in a dialogue with the famous film directed by Grigory Alexandrov, one of the most powerful Russian movie legends. Didenko pays tribute to the original - in the first place in terms of genre. He challenges the famous fairylike circus film with a theatre extravaganza. The Circus at the Moscow Theatre of Nations is magnificently spectacular thanks to the scenography and costumes, video mapping, online video and inventive onstage effects.
The new extravagant theatre version of The Circus differs from the original by the “place of registration” - that is, giving a different answer to the question of what is the USSR and what is the circus. In the old movie the action takes place in the circus, whereas in the new theatre production the action takes place in the Russian Space Research Center (CIRC). By turning the USSR into a planet lost in space, Maxim Didenko found a kind of a safe perspective from which the past and the present are neither antipodes, nor hostages of each other, nor Siamese twins. The perspective allows you to part with the past whilst laughing, as suggested by the classics. For at least two hours.
Maxim Didenko has for a few years now been working on a big research and art project aimed at re-interpreting and “neutralizing” the Soviet myth. “The Circus” that he has staged at Theatre of Nations isn’t a remake of the famous Soviet comedy movie, in which Marion Dixon (Ingeborga Dapkunaite subtly and skillfully recreates in her performance the features of the Soviet film-star Lyubov Orlova, but also of Marlene Dietrich who Alexandrov had in mind when creating the film) finds herself in a miraculous Country of Soviets, just like Alice finds herself in Wonderland. In this phantasy world all people are azure in colour – from burry Grandpa Lenin (Andrey Fomin), enchanted inventor (Roman Shalyapin) and romantic hero (Pavel Akimkin) to the speaking dog (Danila Rossomakhin, Pavel Rossomakhin). All proportions are violated here: the baby son travelling with Marion is on one occasion frighteningly huge, and on another – reducedshrunk to the size of one’s head thanks to the magic secrets of puppet theatre (the charming Gladstone Mahib); the real monument to Gagarin stands side by side with the never-constructed Palace of Soviets carrying the gigantic statue of the leader on top. Swinging on circus lunges, Mary “flies” not into the skies (as her famous song says), but right into the stratosphere. Turning Alexandrov’s “Circus” into the Centre for Russian Space Research (abbreviated in Russian as “CIRC – the circus” and creating word-play in the title), Maxim Didenko seems to send the USSR itself into a phantasy universe, lost somewhere in space. This gives him and his audience a chance to have a good laugh at the past (even if briefly), the very past that doesn’t want to loosen its tenacious grip.