Anatoly Vasilyev, born 1942, is a theater director staging new plays from 1972, an educator who taught many of the Russian celebrity actors of today, and a cultural symbol. In 1987, he started his own theater which is a standalone example of uncommonly modern building in Central Moscow with a very unusual program. Several of his plays were warmly accepted in Europe and beyond. In 2001, his theater entered the Union of Theatres of Europe.
For anyone connected with modern Theater Vasilyev is a figure of Biblical importance, a teacher of Illusions. We at De I followed Vasilyev to the river as if following John the Baptist to see how his methods of ruining stereotypes work. John the Baptist cut off his head and threw it into the hall. Moses filled his eyes with sand and said he is going nowhere.
Altogether this was just an interview. Vasilyev in his own words:
– I am upset with every bit of ugliness in art. If something ugly protrudes into my plays, I feel depressed, incapable to fight.
– We never forgive those who steal our illusions, we start our revenge.
– My path has always been controversial: on one side I had inside me so many dreams, games, jokes, on the other, no fooling around, no illusions, the world was wide open, rude and perverted in its simplicity.
– I have an urge to be embodied. This is a natural feeling, it is a part of the ever-reproducing world.
– I quit loving theater in myself and in others. It was a beautiful desillusion, which we could call the image of truth.
De I: Do you know how to create illusions?
Vasilyev: I think I do. And I also know how to quit them.
I stopped engaging in psychological realism, because this style develops illusory aesthetics.
In the early 1990’s I gave up realistic drama and modern texts. I engaged in philosophy, religion and aesthetics. It was not meditations to make nature any better, these engagements were thoroughly practical. I found them better than theater, because you come into direct contact with life.
I grew up in the South and feel heat, desert, ocean, wind, and continental sun as something very real, having their own existence. This summer, I witnessed something absolutely unusual: I stayed in Patmos, in Greece, and decided one evening to visit the nearby town. The road streamed directly uphill, in vicinity there was the church of St. John the Evangelist. I took my camera with me as I often make pictures on the road. On one side of the road there were usual quadrangular buildings, on the other – the fields and open scenery. I wanted to preserve this view and started making pictures. The Sun was on the left from me, I turned to the right and saw, on the very same height, the very same size, the Moon rising. Standing between the two celestial bodies, I understood I am standing on the axis of the planet. This made a very strong impression, and this was not an illusion. But on the next day, nothing was like this: the moon rose by 40 minutes later, and it was dark.
De I: What did you understand while staying between the sun and the moon?
Vasilyev: I have to treat my art as a craftsman. I cannot be anything else. Of course sometimes miraculous works of art are born, and then, craftsmanship is not obvious. For example, what kind of vocal is the best, emotional or not emotional at all? For me it is the voice fully free of emotions. I hear it as a clear tone; it is the media of spirit. The sound full of emotions is just a message from one human being to another. Of course it may be nice, it can be loved. But I seek the other kind of sound to enjoy, even if enjoy is not at all the word to be used.
De I: Do you listen to anyone, do you have a teacher?
Vasilyev: There was a man I referred to as if he was my father, Eji Grotowsky. After his death I never staged a modern play.
I often tell my student, now he is an Orthodox Russian priest: – Father Daniil, I am a habitual sinner, not great or small, please forgive me every time you see me.
Habitual sin is the ugliest of all, as it protrudes everywhere, not leaving a clean place, and never noticing it leaves its dirty marks. This sin should be abandoned completely. But I am who I am with my life of habitual sinner, indulging in my habits in full.
I often dream of getting back to the ocean, to the desert Beduin life. But the pity is, this is impossible for me. Once I was very lucky to cross the border between Israel and Egypt: I found myself in Sinai. I reached the Monastery of St. Catherine and found that I never felt like this since I had worked in the Pacific! The great presence of truth! But I never elaborate on it.
I am in constant fight with illusions, and I call this contemplation. It can be compared to camera objective that reacts to light. You never know when the negative appears and when the print is ready. But you are sure that the necessary image appears some day. What happened then in Sinai will come to light one day. The day will come when I will remember and tell everything.
© DE I / DESILLUSIONIST #02.