ArtiShock – Korova (The Cow)
The first time I saw an ARTiSHOCK show was back in the summer of 2011. It was the theatre’s 10-year anniversary, and I turned up at the event not quite knowing what to expect, since I had heard a whole gamut of opinion about their shows: from sublime approbation to dismissive disapproval – even outrage!
In actual fact, I was treated to a thoroughly delightful cabaret-style evening of comedy sketch and repertoire pastiche, interwoven with improvised speeches and warm anecdotes from the various players, who were garbed in charming handmade costumes; the audience members were actively involved in the performance, and the atmosphere was relaxed – much like being among old friends or extended family… my appetite was whetted, and I smelled a photo feature.
It was not until the following autumn, however, that I approached actress-director Veronika Nasalskaya and was introduced to her compeer Galina Pyanova in the theatre’s dimly-lit basement. Over a cup of tea I explained my wish to base a photo feature on ARTiSHOCK, and they agreed with alacrity – fortunately they were about to embark on a new dramatic project.
The rest of the company quickly welcomed me, to the extent that my presence was very soon barely noticed at all, and I was able to get right into the action and shoot the fly-on-the-wall documentary photographs I was after.
While producing these images, I was witness to a creative melting pot that few are privileged access to, and was impressed by the level of professionalism and supercharged resolve that the team displayed.
In its embryonic stages, the play was basically no more than a handful of ideas and a short story by the Soviet writer Andrey Platonov. Gradually, through the extemporized movement and interaction of the players within the space, the text and its connotations were interpreted, questioned and explored, deconstructed and debated – a literal, physical and emotional brainstorm of discovery and illumination as well as elimination.
Energies were excited and quelled as the troupe played games, danced and sang, shared personal experiences and expressed opinions. The actors were instructed to probe their characters, ad-libbing dialogue and mannerisms; while I shot the rehearsals unobtrusively from the sidelines, egos and passions ricocheted tangibly from the basement’s low ceiling and pipe-clad walls. At times I had only a frustrated hour to shoot while sulking performers smoked or gulped down a hasty lunch, at others a scene was repeated ad infinitum and I waited in vain for it to be played out to everyone’s satisfaction.
As the cast were encouraged to experiment with makeup, props and costumes, accompanying sound and lighting effects were introduced… slowly but surely the organic beast began to assume form, and was knocked into shape by a seemingly tireless Anna Zinovieva – the play’s director, invited especially from Novosibirsk – who gently reined the piece in and moulded it to perfection.
A little more than two weeks remained before opening night, and it seemed to me that such a lot still remained to be done – but through sheer professional determination and doggedness the company managed to pull it off: in March the public got its first glimpse of the new production.
As I sat cramped among the audience, I wondered how many of them had any inkling of the hours of laborious sweat that had been invested, any idea of the degrees of passion and pain the company had driven themselves to in order to deliver “Korova”…
the applause I awarded ARTiSHOCK that night was easily the loudest in the house!
Tear sheets from Nomad #51: