Bakhtiyor Turayev. Serving the Theatre

Issue #1 • 1016

The creative face of a theatre is largely determined by its artistic director. Since the 1990s, most of the productions of the Khamza Theatre (now the Uzbek National Academy Drama Theatre) have been linked with the name of the theatre’s chief artist, Bakhtiyor Turayev. Like his teacher, G. Brim, Turayev was originally brought up in the atmosphere of the theatre, particularly the academic theatre. The artist worked out his own ideas for understanding and interpreting modern scenography. Turayev was responsible for many productions, such as “Yorkinoy”, “The Escapades of Maysara”, “Saddi Iskandariy” and “Abay”.

The year 1998 saw the theatre’s production of “Sohibqiron” after A. Aripov’s work, which can be described as a classical historical drama. Turayev’s sets help the actors and the producer to find the mood that the dramatic work demands. Timur’s bulwark and his own creation was the city of Samarkand. The artist took that as his starting point when designing the sets. The action of the play takes place in Samarkand, beneath the canopy of its architecture. The real, recognisable features of the city constitute the production’s artistic image. The illusion of depth on the stage is achieved through several pairs of side scenes that divide up the space on the stage. The deliberate distortion of perspective towards the top (all the vertical lines suddenly meet at one point) partly provides the illusion of a deep space. The conflict in the play is Timur’s conflict with himself. Loneliness, the failure of others to understand him and the curses of Bayazit are all accepted by Timur as his fate. The play’s climax is achieved through stage effects – lighting, wind, smoke and so on.

The artist used a different approach in his designs for the play “Emir Timur”, staged in 1996 by the producer R. Mansur at the Surkhandarya Drama Theatre. Turayev himself thinks that his sets made the producer take a fresh look at his original idea and even at the actual script. The artist decided to seek the play’s message in the philosophy of Timur. The tragicomedy genre largely determined the figurative treatment of the play. The artist chose an ordinary knot, a knot that no one can untie, as the symbol for the embodiment of his conception of the play’s philosophical content. By comparing the historical events and characters with symbolic roads, the artist creates on the stage several different roads of history that are intertwined to form a single gigantic knot. The destiny of different people is their way through life, which is woven into the single knot of history that constitutes one of the mysteries of the universe. The scenic treatment of the play “Mashrab”, staged by the producer T. Azizov in 1995 at the Khamza Theatre, was handled in the same spirit. Mashrab is a thinker of the ancient Eastern religious philosophy of Sufism. The plot hinges on the endless philosophical question “Where is the beginning?” The producer and artist had to find the truth and visually develop associations to form a visible and palpable symbol personifying not only the process of interpreting the truth, but also the profound turmoil taking place in the poet’s mind. Sensing all the philosophical searching that accompanies the idea behind the play, Turayev seeks to portray it figuratively in symbols and objects. One such symbol is the spindle. The artist endows it with the features of a symbol – the origin from which the thread of life is figuratively spun.

The play “Piri koinot” was staged at the theatre in 1997 by the producer V. Umarov. “Piri koinot” is a historical drama about the life and work of Al-Farghoni. The scholar’s personality is of great interest to theatrical people in different regions of the country. The play, performed at the Khamza Theatre, was intended to portray the image of the scholar truthfully and fully and to depict his work, his contribution to education and science, and his attitude towards life and love. The idea behind the production is to show the importance and scale of Al-Farghoni as a great teacher, humanist and unusual man of his time. Turayev describes the genre of staging as a real philosophy. He set himself the task of organising the space of the stage in such a way as not to tie the hero to any down-to-earth situation. The plastically figurative element, which was also the main focusing element, lay in a combined set, called an arcade. The artist’s idea was to express the play’s philosophy and the dialectic of the scholar’s thought and to show that Al-Farghoni was a man on a cosmic scale and that he was always creatively searching and producing. The great scientist turned his dream into reality throughout his life. He kept building a temple, his own temple – a huge, immeasurable inner world. The arcade erected on the stage, as though growing out of the ground, reached right up to the sky.

The sets for Fitrat’s play “Abdulfaizkhan” were completely different in technique. Its premiere was held in 1994. The play was produced as a classical drama. In his work of the same name, Fitrat recounted the history of the khan of Bukhara at a time of rivalry and internecine strife and of the three khanates in Turkestan that kept tearing themselves apart in conflict. Like any classical historical work, the play is marked by the dramatic nature of the events described and the depth of the conflict. The play is cutting, expressive and intense. The actual dramatic production and direction of the play can be described as tough in a refined way, and its manner as aggressive and impulsive, but, at the same time, it has a very smooth rhythm. The hero, Abdulfaizkhan, is no saint and is a ruler with his share of sin. Through his cruel and obstinate character, he evokes the jealousy and malice of his enemies, particularly the rulers of the other khanates. Eventually, he falls victim to a plot hatched by his own nephew and the ruler of the Khanate of Kokand.

The sets for the play are very notional, sparse and graphic. The artist uses the so-called “study” device, i.e. wings draped in black material and a backdrop, which create a state of enclosed space. Given the appropriate decor and depending on the specific features of the play’s genre, the device of the enclosed space reinforces the atmosphere of anxiety and tension in the action. Moreover, the creation of sparse, saturated colours on a black background always looks quite aggressive visually, which is in accordance with the play’s general mood. When preparing the environment for a performance, Turayev avoids superfluous elements and details. Each colour and element in the set is given the function of bringing out the play’s idea or its main conflict.

Turayev handled the play in the European manner. He was able to adapt the Uzbek classical work to the new principles for the sets of dramatic productions. The sets for “Abdulfaizkhan” provide a vivid example of effective scenography, which, first of all, highlights, exaggerates and depicts the conflict, the actual drama, and only then is concerned with the historical accuracy of the surroundings and with the appearance of the setting for the action. In this way, the artist makes the play seem relevant to all times.

A plurality of levels in the approach to the principles for the depictive handling of dramatic performances is seen in Turayev’s work on the play “Kunduzsiz kechalar” (“Nights without Daylight”), staged by the producer V. Umarov after the play by U. Azim. It is a work by a modern writer, based on events that occurred in our country’s history. The action of the play takes place in the 1930s and 1940s – the “dark years of repression”. Chulpan was a poet who loved his country ardently and sincerely. He studied its history and its cultural and ethnic roots. The actual, tragic events depicted in the play called for suitable treatment by the artist. Lofty philosophy was out of place here. Turayev decided to take the reality as his starting point when creating the sets. But, even so, he focused on associative perception and the precise portrayal of the atmosphere of tragedy, tension and hopelessness. The very name of the play (“Nights without Daylight”) seems to have suggested the treatment to the artist. There was no particular transformation or change of scenery. The basis was a single scene, which changed as the action developed, plunging the audience into one emotional state or another. The scenery is basically Chulpan’s house, which, together with a small inner courtyard, is depicted as the world of a poet, a pure, bright world of harmony and poetry. By means of stage techniques and by saturating the stage with particular elements, the artist achieves the effect of changing the scenery. A change in the lighting transforms the comfortable little courtyard into a gloomy prison. With his wife crying and lamenting in the background, Chulpan, who is being led away by soldiers into oblivion, addresses the audience. His last words declare that light will certainly break through after the darkness, that completely different times will emerge and that the country will become free and independent.

Turayev was also successful in the folklore theatre. A brief look at the well-known stage production “Chimildik”, produced after the play of the same name at the Khamza Theatre in 1996, is instructive. “Chimildik” is the name of a wedding ritual that is popular in some regions of Uzbekistan. The play is about two young people who married at the insistence of their parents and saw one another for the first time during the chimildik ritual. The play is produced as an ethnographic comedy in which the traditions and foundations of the marriage ritual that have remained unchanged for several centuries are described with gentle irony. The detailed description and showing of the events that follow the wedding evening form the basic plot and message of the play. For his own purposes, the artist Turayev immediately identified the genre to which it belonged: it was an ethnographic comedy. Since the play stresses the influence of traditions and customs on people’s lives, and particularly the chimildik ritual, which completely transforms the heroes’ future, the settings have to be devised accordingly. The artist represents the world of traditions and customs in which people live as a museum of folk art: instead of the usual sets that reproduce the scene of the action, the play is set in a museum. The museum, in which various exhibits about rituals and antique objets d’art are collected, becomes a stage for the actors.

The “character” of the museum as a place that brings together the invariable participants in the country’s cultural and ethnographic history and things that have become relics and rarities chimes in with the reality of today, in which the onward march of “civilisation” and urbanisation is literally swallowing up age-old folk traditions, making such customs rare even in the regions. The chimildik ceremony is understood from the outset to be a ritual of some mystery that only the two newlyweds are allowed to penetrate. The veil of mystery the screens the intimate situation is expressed through a labyrinth of huge syuzane that are suspended all over the stage. To justify the comedy genre, the artist introduces a somewhat childish or fairytale note into the set. All the sets are put up against a backdrop depicting a starry sky. Two stars shine in the sky from the very beginning of the play. The symbolic union of these two stars crowns the happy ending. This scenographic device does something to allay the problem that the play broaches, which is, in the final analysis, a profound social one.

Turayev thinks that it is the genre that determines the scenery. Depending on the genre, he puts on to the stage either illusory picturesque sets or notional sets bordering on surrealism. This indicates the creativeness of a multitalented artist who has mastered the space of the stage, subtly analyses the psychology of the heroes of the drama, is constantly searching for picturesque canvases and strives to understand today’s complicated way of life.

Author: Nargis Tashpulatova

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