Kyrgyzstan: Making Theater for Tolerance
The message of
tolerance has hit
the nerve of time. Kyrgyzstan is leaving a troubled year behind. About 2000 people were killed in riots and clashes between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks following a coup d’etat in early June. Earlier this year OSCE reported an attempted ethnic cleansing in which Kyrgyz law enforcement forces had been involved. In total, more than 400,000 people fled violence. Even today, tension between Uzbeks and Kirghiz can still be clearly seen and felt.
At this background of tension and unrest Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s play Nathan the Wise spreads the message of tolerance and provokes the viewer to reflection. The premiere was attended, among others, by the Ambassador of Germany to Kyrgyzstan Holger Green, his colleagues from France and Russia, Jean-Charles Berthonnet and Valentin Vlasov, and Kyrgyz Minister of Culture Sadyk Sherniyaz.
Mood of a Fortress after a Battle
This is a continuation of the Nathan series of plays launched in 2003 in Uzbekistan organized by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom. After the initial success of the play in 2003 in Taschkent and Samarkand it was then staged in 2005 in Buchara and Chiva, in 2006 in Fergana and Margelan, in 2007 in Termez and Karschi, and finally in 2008 in Bischkek. The latter is directed by Turkmen director Ovlyakuli Khodjakuli and is entirely influenced by the events in Kyrgyzstan.
Photo of the stage:
"... ground covered with
bullet casings from
the fights in Bischkek” For this purpose Khodjakuli reorganizes the stage décor workshop situated in the basement of the Russian Drama Theatre into a modern amphitheater. “I wanted to capture the mood of a fortress after battle,” says Khodjakuli about the stage decors. Kyrgyz decor artist Anatoly Kolesnikov has managed to create a wonderful post apocalyptic atmosphere: steep, uneven stairs to the theater, bare walls bearing bullet traces turn the audience from a mere observer to a participant who experiences events under the spotlight. The ground is covered with bullet casings from the fights in Bishkek, some of the stage props are debris taken right from the rubble of destroyed local houses.
In an interview to the press, Kolesnikov, who plays the part of the Patriarch, says: “We wanted to have modern society reflected in this gruesome stage decor, as well as to have it contrasted to tolerance and humanity, as required by Lessing’s play. These values are missing nowadays.” By clever cuts and allocation of lines, the play is performed simultaneously in Russian, Kyrgyz and German without the message being lost. As German Ambassador Holger Green puts it aptly in his welcome address “more than two hundred years later the message of the play has lost none of its relevance”.
Performance Attended by Uzbeks and Kyrgyzes Alike
"… modern society reflected
in…gruesome stage decor." The first stage play from the regular cycle was performed in the city of Osh, which is located in the center of recent violent riots. Over 300 spectators, most of whom high school students, attended the play in the city theatre hall. It was one of the few events attended by Uzbeks and Kyrgyzes alike. As in Bischkek, Anatoly Kolesnikov had made stage decors from local artefacts, evidence of recent unrest.
The Kyrgyz Nathan has undertaken a national tour since early December, organized and assisted by the ArtArea Foundation for Cultural Development. The standing ovations for the cast and the many requests to ArtArea for more performances indicate that Lessing’s message of tolerance in Kyrgyzstan has hit the nerve of time.