by Pyotr Reshetnikov


TYuZ, Sakha-Yakutia
Director Elena Ivanova-Grimm

A fascinating ethnographic play

Ethnic national groups in Russia return to their roots. The cultural origins of many northern and eastern ethnic groups like the Yakuts, Bashkirs, Buryats, and Tuvinians, lie in the “Olonkho.” The Olonkho is a heroic chronicle that includes legends (bogatyrs) of the middle world battling monsters from the low world under the patronage of people from the high world.

The Olonkho can only be told by a superb virtuoso, capable of creating a world in the audience’s imagination through the use of words and intonation. There are few Olonkho storytellers still alive, but the tradition has not stopped. Previous visitors to the Russian Case will remember the Olonkho play, Kyys Djebeliye, directed by Andrei Borisov.

Borisov believes initially the Olohnko was not a monologue but a wordy competition between several storytellers, making the Olonhko extremely theatrical. The young director Elena Ivanova shares this opinion. She bases her plays on the Olonkho as performed by Pyotr Reshetnikov. This 78-year-old performer uses old legends as the foundation for his Olonkho stories.

Elena Ivanova-Grimm lives in Hamburg with her husband, actor Gernod Grimm who played in the film By the Will of Genghis Khan, directed by Andrei Borisov. She found a Western word “ethnosynthesis” to describe her production. It may be easier to call it a reconstruction of Olonkho as an actors’ combat. The artists engaged in the performance are not only professionals but are also inventive throat singers. The actors turn The Merciful Hero into a really exciting competition, containing both passion and humour. For example, the duel between the knight and the young girl is performed by the Yakut actors as a passionate love encounter.

Elena Kovalskaya