Gorky Russian Drama Theatre celebrates more than a century of theatrical performance

ASTANA – Astana’s 117-year-old Gorky State Academic Russian Drama Theatre continues to offer world and Kazakh theatrical classics.

Театр здание

“We are one of the oldest theatres in Kazakhstan. Reaching 117th season is a rare phenomenon. In the past, theatres used to be mostly in Almaty and none in these regions – in Kostanai, in Petropavlovsk, in East Kazakhstan region, Akmola region,” said Theatre Director and Honoured Worker of Kazakhstan Yerkin Kassenov in an interview with The Astana Times.

Yerkin Kassenov

Yerkin Kassenov

“The local administration donated 100 rubles and Kubrin (then prominent merchant-philanthropist) donated 100 rubles to establish the theatre. They gathered roving performers to set up the first Russian theatre. There was then a Tatar troupe and later a Kazakh one,” said Kassenov.

The theatre, located in the historic centre on the right bank of Astana’s Yessil River, lived through milestones in Kazakh history, he said, including the 1917 revolution, famine, repressions and war.

The independence of Kazakhstan in 1991, Kassenov noted, added a new direction in the development of the theatre.

“Since Kazakhstan gained independence, a national direction in the development of theatre has received more attention. The “Khan Kene” (Kazakh khan leading largest revolt against the Russian Empire in 1837-1847) play was staged. We also presented the ‘Abai’ play. National dramaturgy plays were included in the repertoire,” said Kassenov, emphasising his efforts to maintain this direction.

“Our repertoire does not discover something new, yet we have world classics, including Shakespeare, Williams, Chekhov, Gorky, Dostoevsky. We also redirect our focus now on national plays,” he added.

The repertoire targets not only an adult audience, but children staging plays for children and organising New Year’s celebrations.

“Out of 30-35 productions in our repertoire, 10-11 are for children,” added Kassenov.

Foreign directors and professionals also frequently visit the theatre.

“Moscow is regarded as the centre of theatre art. In Moscow alone, there are nearly 300 theatres. We invite directors from Moscow, Alexandre Konevsky who staged ‘Hamlet,’ Chaikin, Borodin, Yegishe Gevorkyan from Austria, Jonas Vaitkus and Agnius Jankevičius from Lithuania,” said Kasenov.

Last year, the theatre presented “Eugene Onegin” for the sixth time directed by Yuriy Kvyatkovsky from Moscow.  Art directors Yekaterina Zlaya and Denis Sazonov also came from Moscow, he added.

The theatre, he noted, not only invites, but travels frequently abroad.

“We will travel to St. Petersburg in April to present ‘Eugene Onegin’ as they invited us,” said Kassenov.

“We went to Barcelona in 2007 (International Theatre Festival), Hungary in 2009 with the Sultan Beibarys play. Last year, we visited Serbia and performed ‘Mangurt-Eternal Slave’ directed by Barzu Abdurazakov. We also frequently travel to Russia,” he added, noting that the theatre arts are developing in Kazakhstan.

“Two years ago, Dulat Issabekov travelled to Great Britain. Last year, which was the year of the expo, the Astana festival was organised, which gathered theatre representatives of South Korea, Poland, England, Russia and the Baltic states. Influential theatre critics came here,” said Kassenov.

“I am very glad about such development and youth taking an active part in this. The Association of Theatre Art in Kazakhstan operates in Kazakhstan, they unite our theatres,” he added.

Yet, more support is needed to the field, according to the director. “New technology, lighting and sound equipment is required. We are a little behind on this. We have actors, master classes, invite professionals and tour other countries, but so much more can be done,” said Kassenov.