…On summer night 1927 a famous stage director was taking a stroll in a shady park in the old quarters of Tashkent. After a glass of Seltzer he decided to take a look at the performance of then popular “Blue Shirts” – sinebluzniki. His attention was attracted to a stocky young man who, together with the other, diligently “constructed” a pyramid of gymnasts, and afterwards, having changed his shirt to a white blouse, recited verses in a poetical composition.
The director proceeded backstage and invited this heavy-headed and broad-faced youth to join his theatre company. The youth was Shukur Burkhanov who was to become an outstanding actor. The director was Mannon Uygur, prominent Uzbek stage director. 2007 is the year of the 110th anniversary of his birth.
The anniversary year is always prone to risk of exaggerating the merits of a person whose jubilee is celebrated. In case of Uygur, however, such concerns are groundless. The first professional Uzbek producer, for a long time he was a permanent art director of the leading theatre company of Uzbekistan – the Khamza Theatre. Under his guidance the company developed its finest professional and ethic traditions and its aesthetic manifesto. Uygur brought up several generations of actors and stage directors – wonderful stage masters who were to become pride and glory of the national Uzbek stage art. Among his students are A. Khidoyatov, S. Ishanturaeva, Sh. Burkhanov, N. Rakhimov, A. Khojaev, L. Nazrullaev, Z. Khidoyatova, Z. Sadrieva…
As a governing principle for the development of the company Uygur chose the diversity of actors’ personalities. He was a “collector” of his company, inviting gifted young people from other theatres and amateur groups of performers. The meeting describes above is just one example of an unerring “feeling for talent”, and there had been quite a few of such examples in Uygur’s career. He brought together and “fostered” first generation actors of the Khamza Theatre and helped them reach artistic heights.
Uygur happily combined three key qualities of a producer: coach-guide, director and manager.
As a coach, Uygur consistently introduced his actors to the big-time drama. His best productions – Shakespearean and historical performances – are oriented towards theatre of large forms. Yet his ideas about the art of performance were not at all limited to this orientation alone. He taught how to wield the acting skill comprehensively and present characters in a wide range of genres: from domestic comedy to high tragedy. His work with actors was often experimental. In one play and throughout one performance two actors could play the same character taking turns. Often one actor played one, two and even three roles in one play, and sometimes young actors were given the roles of aged characters. The purpose of such experiments is obvious: to reveal the latent reserves of the actor’s personality and protect the actor from habitual clich?s.
Uygur assigned a primary importance to the performance technique, persistently striving to perfect and refine every gesture and achieve expressivity in everything: actors’ gestures, motions, words. It was not accidental that Abror Khidoyatov, his favourite actor, was referred to as “the king of the pose”. ‘If you stand on stage with your back to the audience, then let your black play’, Uygur used to say during rehearsals.
Rehearsals occupied a special place in Uygur’s creative laboratory. He ascribed a great import to the word said on stage. A connoisseur of Uzbek language, Uygur possessed an exceptional literary gift, writing and translating plays. His knowledge of linguistic subtleties manifested itself even in the choice of his artistic alias. As early as in the days of his youth Mannon Majidov already chose the alias ‘Uygur’, which is an archaism that translates from old Uzbek as ‘uyonish’ (the awakener, the herald of dawn) (1). Yet this was well in the spirit of enlightening aspirations of jadid.
Actors who went through Uygur’s schooling stood out by an amazing purity of articulation and richness of intonation shades. Shukur Burkhanov recalled: ‘Day and night he was busy in the theatre. Even when it was somebody else’s production he directed the plays together with them. He made criticism of even a slightest mistake or wrongly pronounced letter; he taught us pure Uzbek language. He demonstrated how the actor should behave onstage, how to speak and hold the pause… Although I did not receive any training in drama, I already played a hundred of roles and am ever proud and happy that I was a student of Uygur and went through his schooling’. Many actors could have echoed these words.
In the capacity of producer Uygur created quite a number of performances, most of them in early 1920s, when he staged up to twenty plays every year (2). One can easily imagine the constraints he faced: amateur actors working in unsuitable premises… Yet their significance for both the director gaining experience and the nascent Uzbek theatre is unquestionable. During those years Uygur staged all plays by G. Yunus, G. Zafari, A. Kadyri, Fitrat, Khamza, M. Bekhbudi, Chullan, A. Avloni, A. Badri, Khurshid, and basically all Uzbek plays written by that time. In 1921 he staged the first Uzbek musical drama “Khalima” by G. Zafari.
Right from the start Uygur the director regularly turned to translated literature and drama. For instance, his performances of early 1920s were a great success: “Sheikh Sanan” and “Iblis” based on plays by Azerbaijani writer Kh. Javid. Later on, searching for an answer to the question of what the young Uzbek theatre should look like, he starts experimenting with form, and in his production of “Khujum” he is looking for ways to synthesize European theatre and traditions of Uzbek folk theatre of the maskharaboz.
Yet his most important performances belong to the period of maturity in his creative career that started with Shakespearean Hamlet staged in 1935 and ended with the second edition of Alisher Navoi in 1947.
A dream to stage Hamlet was born in mid 1920s in Moscow drama studio where talented Uzbek youth were then doing their studies, so one can say that the play preparation lasted almost ten years. The play was translated by Chulpan who shared Uygur’s ideas of drama. Both of them, one through his articles and the other through his plays, advocated the need to employ all the riches of Western and Oriental theatrical cultures in the young Uzbek theatre. Both men were the followers of Vsevolod Meyerhold, prominent Russian stage director. To create the set for Hamlet Uygur invited EIlya Shlepyanov, stage designer of Meyerhold’s major productions.
For almost one moth Hamlet was on daily. Newspapers dedicated entire pages to cover the event. The theatre received dozens of requests from factories, plants and institutions. Eski Juva Square next to which the Khamza Theatre was then situated was flooded with donkey-carts of farmers from surrounding villages who found out about the play. People arrived from other provinces… After the 27th performance Abror Khidoyatov, the actor playing Hamlet, collapsed from over-fatigue and nervous exhaustion and regained consciousness only in the hospital. All this could have appeared as a beautiful legend if had not been confirmed by eye-witnesses.
Before the Second World War, Uygur together with N. Ladygin staged Othello, which is perhaps the most famous production of the Uzbek theatre. According to one critic, during the performance of Othello one could hear ‘the audience moaning’. The play was on for eighteen years, till the demise of Abror Khidoyatov who played the leading character.
The results of creative work on Hamlet and Othello enable one to speak about the reality of Uygur’s Shakespearean laboratory in the Khamza Theatre. The influence of this “laboratory” covers not only future productions of Western classical tragedy by the Uzbek theatre; the experience of working on Shakespeare’s plays significantly influenced the staging of Uzbek historical drama and was evident primarily in the plays produced by Uygur himself, such as “Mukanna” by Kh. Alimjan, “Jalaletdin” by M. Sheikhzade, and “Alisher Navoi” by Uygun and I. Sultanov, which have become the classics of the national stage. The principles of interpreting history and historical characters set in these plays still live in the Uzbek theatre.
In the capacity of manager, for more than thirty years Mannon Uygur had been the head of the country’s leading theatre company that initially existed under different names and is now known as the National Theatre of Uzbekistan. Uygur stood at its origin, was one of the main creators of the theatre to which the most important pages in the history of the Uzbek art of drama are dedicated. These pages record not only major creative achievements and beautiful legends, but also situations of tenseness and tragedy.
In 1937 Hamlet was taken off the stage. Chulpan who translated the play was repressed, and the still was deemed formalistic. Its artistic merits and astounding success had not saved the play.
To get an idea of how catastrophic the situation was for Uygur and his theatre, it would suffice to offer a quotation from the general assembly resolution of 1938: “As a result of identifying and exposing bourgeois nationalists Basit Kariev, Ziya Saidov, Chulpan and their henchmen who were causing damage in literary sector, the following plays by the bourgeois nationalists have been removed from the repertoire of our theatre, both original and translated:
“The Inspector” by Gogol, translation by Sanjar;
“Treachery and Love” by Schiller, translation by A. Ayupov;
“The Wedding” by Gogol, translation by A. Kadyri;
“Intervention” by L. Slavin, translation by A. Ayupov;
“The Sheep’s Spring” by Lope de Vega, translation by Sanjar;
“My Friend” by N. Pogodin, translation by Sanjar;
“Hamlet” by Shakespeare, translation by Chulpan.”
As a result, the theatre was left without a repertoire (3).
Hamlet comes last in the list. Perhaps they were hoping, or maybe trying, to save it, waiting for the very last moment. They failed. Uygur who was at the peak of his artistic career, was removed from theatre work for more than a year. Miraculously, he did not share the lot of Uzbek artists and culture workers repressed by Stalin’s regime.
In 1946 the repertoire of the theatre led by Uygur was again revised to almost complete devastation. ‘In recent years’, the main Party paper wrote, ‘Uzbek dramatists created a number of plays on contemporary and historical topics. However, most of these pieces have major flaws’ (4). The paper went on listing all the plays in the theatre’s repertoire, which allegedly “marred soviet way of life and idealize history”.
Pravda Vostoka wrote: ‘The Khamza Theatre (Art Director M. Uygur) that continues to stage these plays, demonstrated incomprehensible indulgence for the authors. For the sake of amicable relations the leadership of the theatre refused to criticise ideologically and artistically poor drama pieces’ (5).
Once again, the entire work the theatre had done over a number of years was cancelled. All historical drama and the only Uzbek comedy staged in the Uzbek theatre over the twenty years of its evolution, and other plays were taken off the stage. Mannon Uygur was named the main “culprit”. Although “organizational conclusions” never followed, the emotional blow was heavy. Uygur took hard the next demolition of his theatre repertoire and, according to some witnesses, went into the state of major depression. He was not spiritually broken, but his creative power was undermined. It was enough for the swan-song – the second rendition of Alisher Navoi. After this play Uygur practically never produced any significant performances. Prior to his passing away in 1955 he was preoccupied with pedagogical work in the institute that now has his name.
…The library of the State Institute of Arts named after Mannon Uygur has the portrait of the stage director. It is not the most successful copy of a portrait kept in the Museum of the National Theatre. It lacks that most important feature that can be clearly seen in the old photographs of the master: the magnetism of his clever, penetrating eyes. This look was very attractive, inspired by the temperament of the artists taken by the love for theatre.
- 1. Ахмад Саъдулла. Сахнамиз сарбони. Гулистон, 1977, №12.
- 2. Исмаилов Э. Маннон Уйгур. Ташкент, 1983.
- 3. Материалы по истории узбекского театра. Т.2, 3. Фонд Института искусствознания АХ Уз.
- 4. Кизил Узбекистон, 1 октября 1946 г.
- 5. Правда Востока, 1 октября 1946 г.