He was renowned for his provocative plays which were always sold out. In Moscow, the Gogol Center, a theater transformed into a nest of freedom by the now exiled artist Kirill Serebrennikov, played his last show on Thursday evening: “I don’t make war.”
Words that resonate, in the context of the Russian assault that has been going on for more than four months against Ukraine and which has led to a new turn in Russia against those who do not think like the Kremlin.
The room is full, the emotion strong, the applause is linked. On stage, the actors interpret texts by the poet and former soldier Yuri Levitanski (1922-1996), much appreciated by the intelligentsia. The title is taken from an emblematic verse: “I have forgotten almost everything, I want to forget everything. I do not wage war, war is waged within me”.
Before the performance, spectators placed a few roses in front of the theater with white walls, as at a funeral. “They close everything, they block everything,” laments Daria Kojevnikova, a 36-year-old teacher. She pauses, then a strange smile crosses her freckled face: “We’ll all be in chains soon.”
As a new iron curtain has fallen between Russia and Europe, the Russian authorities are stepping up their repression against any criticism of the offensive in Ukraine. With closures of organizations, fines and prison sentences. Now it was the Gogol Center’s turn.
Moscow City Hall has announced that the theatre, a municipal stage, will change direction at the start of the school year and return to its former name – Nikolai Gogol Drama Theater – that of before the Serebrennikov era, when well-known plays were performed there. more conventional.
Another well-known Moscow theatre, the Sovremennik, will also change direction.
Between 2012 and 2021, Kirill Serebrennikov was the artistic director of the Gogol Center and made it a pillar of Russian cultural life. We put on frenzied pieces mixing performance, social criticism, sexuality. Foreign artists were invited there. “It’s a place where they had managed to mix modernity, fashion and art. A place that showed young people that it’s cool to make art”, testifies Alia Talibova, a 39-year-old Muscovite came to the last show.
In February 2021, Serebrennikov had been ejected from his post, a few months after being convicted in an embezzlement case denounced as a punishment of power. One of his collaborators, Alexeï Agranovitch, had taken over, before being also thanked this week. “It’s unfair, it hurts a lot and it shouldn’t happen, especially in the 21st century when you claim to have a civilized country and society,” Ilia Vinogorski, a 22-year-old actor present Thursday at the Center, told AFP. Gogol.
“Serebrennikov is a symbol of freedom,” agrees Liza Maximova, a 19-year-old student. “It’s having the choice to talk about what you want, to talk about the human being, about what is important to us.”
After the show, spectators have a nightcap in the café at the Gogol Centre. Others take pictures of themselves holding a sign that reads “I don’t make war.”
Opposed to the conflict in Ukraine, Kirill Serebrennikov left Russia at the end of March and now lives in exile in Germany. Cruel contrast, he stages in July the show of honor of the Avignon festival, in the south of France, the largest theater festival in the world.
As soon as the redesign of the Gogol Center was announced, he denounced the “murder” of his artistic project. Then he spoke during the last performance of the Gogol Center, by videoconference, from the Cour d’honneur of the Palais des Papes in Avignon.
“We are people who are not at all pleasant for power,” he told his audience. “But we are going to live a long time and I hope that we will see, one day or another, the end of the war and the beginning of a beautiful Russia looking to the future.”