Eduard Kochergin: “I arose from fantasy” – the main artist of the BDT turned 85 on September 22, 2022 – September 22, 2022

Photo: Stas Levshin / courtesy of BDT im. G. A. Tovstonogova

September 22 marks the 85th birthday of Eduard Kochergin, theater artist, writer, laureate of two USSR State Prizes and the RF State Prize. Fontanka congratulated the hero of the day and talked to him about art, burning planes and horses going downhill

— Eduard Stepanovich, you have been engaged in scenography all your life and, in addition, write books — these seem to be such different types of creativity… How difficult is it for an artist to switch to words? Or is there a contradiction here?

– Absolutely no contradiction. After all, many artists wrote prose. Starting with the same Benvenuto Cellini. And we have Repin’s wonderful memoirs “Far Close”, Petrov-Vodkin has three huge books, Benoit, Dobuzhinsky … You can collect a whole library from the prose of artists alone. So I am not an exception, but I continue this tradition.

But are you still an artist? If you are asked who you are, how would you define yourself?

– What a person earns, so he is. I earn as an artist. And writing is now paid very badly.

– Does it require some effort from you, a switch in your mind? Now I’m an artist, but now I’m a writer?

– In general, the categories both there and there are the same. After all, text needs to be composed, and layout is a visual practice. The text must be flexible. And plastic is the basis of our profession. Very similar cases. I have never experienced any particular stress when switching.

How did you get started writing your stories? At first it was just stories in the company?

– When I told, they always told me that it would be nice to write it down. Because the stories are out of the ordinary, no one knows this. In 1973, we were traveling by train from Dzintari to Riga with a wonderful Moscow artist, who had already passed away, Sergei Barkhin – we were there at the dacha of the Union of Artists. And I told him a sad story about the Vasileostrovsky alcoholic captain. After some time, Barkhin sent me to St. Petersburg a large piece of whatman paper in a tube. Above was a painting of the Smolensk cemetery – this is the end of the story, the captain’s funeral. Below is a blank sheet. And a request: “You must record this novel.” I wrote it down and sent it to him. Then the story was published in the Znamya magazine. And it got very good reviews from critics. Completely unexpected for me, because I wasn’t going to be a writer. And off we go…

– You were born in St. Petersburg – and this is a theatrical city not only in terms of the abundance of theaters, but also in terms of its feeling …

– It was originally wonderfully drawn, planned – for Russia this is a rarity. Naturally, I was born here and infected by it. Our profession in the West is called stage design, stage design. And design is originally “drawing, plan”. So yes, it’s the same thing.

– Have you ever had the feeling here that you already see the finished scenery for the stage?

– I don’t remember, maybe it was … But just the process of working on the production is “a little different” than people imagine. This is research to a large extent. The study of dramaturgy, the time when the action takes place. Study of material culture, styles, costume history – all the components that will be present on the stage. Nothing will come of it without this research. This is the process of learning the philosophy of the play through material culture, history… And even the financial situation of the theater plays a role – whether there is money for such an incarnation. It’s not so simple – the visual solution of the performance.

– Yes, there is an idea – “they came up with something and drew it for themselves, dressed everyone in modern jackets …”.

– But in fact, all this is hard, painstaking, small-scale work. You can modernize the dramaturgy, play Shakespeare in modern costumes. Everything is possible – it is important that it be talentedly done and convincing. And “modern, not modern” is all garbage. Not always, of course, it turns out, even more often it doesn’t work. Therefore, it causes rejection in the viewer. But sometimes it turns out very cool – thanks to the talent of the director and his ability to build his own convincing image, his own dramatic philosophy. And for this you need to study the original. It is better to know than not to know, and out of nothing, nothing will happen. “Fantasy is knowledge,” Montaigne seems to have said. This slogan should be hung in all educational institutions so that it is the first to catch the eye. Transformation, the development of knowledge – this is already later. Without knowledge, there can be no fantasy.

I was objected to this many times: what about rural art, folk fantasy? And the people know ten thousand times more than we do. All the names of herbs, trees, bushes, flowers. Or how to lower a horse with a huge heavy cart down a steep hill – you need to put a piece of wood under the rear wheels of the cart, otherwise the cart will roll onto the horse. They know what we don’t know. And their fantasy is built on this knowledge.

– That is, this is not “naive creativity” …

– This was invented by city art critics, researchers … It’s not naive at all, if you look at it seriously. They are closer to the truth. We are distant from her.

“So the truth is in nature?”

– Of course. I think that everyone – not only an artist, but also a person in general – has this truth in his blood: a desire for nature. Remember how you even breathe differently when you see flowers or a field. There is no getting away from this, and you want this contrast – to take a break from cars, gasoline and city nightmares.

But the theater is an urban phenomenon, and there is also all this stage machinery …

– The technique was created by people, which means that something natural is also embedded in it … The brilliant French artist Cezanne came to the conclusion that the most ideal shape in the world is a ball. We are all balloons, he said. And he created his own painting on this, without which there would be no next generations of artists – Dali, Picasso … And ten years after Cezanne’s thought, science proved that everything is so: balls-electrons move around a round nucleus, all this is inside us … All life consists from this. So technology is the way to the same natural knowledge.

– You were born before the war and caught her. What do you associate with this concept, with the war?

– I was evacuated from Leningrad with other children from the orphanage in the winter on a wooden plane. And the Germans, when we were already flying up to the shore, knocked us out. Skillful pilots landed the burning plane on the shore in the snow and saved us, seven children. And there were drawings of combat aircraft. Then a factory was built in Omsk, and already in 1942 these planes were flying, beating the Nazis. Here is a fantasy. I came from fantasy.

Are you writing a new book now?

– Yes, I collect material in the brain. Of course, I want to see the book published, especially since I still hit 85. God forbid.

– Do you want to create something on the stage?

– It has already become difficult for me to do it purely physically, after all, I’m sick … And I work in the theater as an aksakal. But with any difficulties in the technical solution of the performances – I can help. Because the experience is very strong.

Interviewed by Fedor Dubshan, especially for

A festive evening dedicated to the 85th anniversary of Eduard Kochergin will take place on September 24 at the Kamennoostrovsky Theatre. The stories of the birthday boy will be performed by Nina Usatova, Oleg Basilashvili, Svetlana Kryuchkova, Veniamin Smekhov and other BDT actors, and not only. And the exhibition “Kochergin and Directors” will open in the large audience lobby of the Bolshoi Theater.

Eduard Kochergin became the chief artist of the BDT in 1972. His performances The Quiet Flows the Don based on Sholokhov (in the Bolshoi Theater), as well as Tsar Fyodor Ioannovich, The Death of Ivan the Terrible and Tsar Boris (played at the Komissarzhevskaya Theater) brought him two State Prizes of the USSR (in 1978 and 1984), and the design of the play “Arcadia” by Thomas Stoppard – the State Prize of Russia (2001). Among the books he wrote, which convey the spirit and details of the life of Leningrad in the second half of the 20th century, are Angel’s Doll: Stories of a Drawing Man, Baptized with Crosses: Notes on their Knees, Zaviruhi Shishov Lane: Vasileostrovsky Parables, Children of the Lieutenant’s Bridge Schmidt”, “The Life of Lidka Petrogradskaya” and others.

Photo: Stas Levshin / courtesy of BDT im. G. A. Tovstonogova

The article is in Russian

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