by Tatiana Tolstaia

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The 2008 archive

Alvis Hermanis


Sonia © Christophe Raynaud de Lage / Festival d'Avignon


Alvis Hermanis has run the New Theatre of Riga, in Latvia, for nearly 10 years. At the age of 42, he was at the head of this state institution, provided with a permanent troupe of 25 actors, part of whose programming is devoted to the classic repertory, especially German and Russian authors. He also stages the most contemporary texts, such as Sonia by the Russian author Tatiana Tolstaia, as well as shows inspired by elements of concrete life, such as Long Life, unquestionably his most well-known creation, a play that benefited from an extensive international tour and that proposes a series of melancholic variations based on the life of old people and their very specific vision of the world. Alvis Hermanis and the New Theatre of Riga's shows are most often personal and collective creations with the actors, arising from different sources of inspiration, their own experience, literature such as Ice by Vladimir Sorokin or the Simon and Garfunkel album The Sound of Silence. Alvis Hermanis's theatre illustrates an inventive form of synthesis between two contradictory traditions: Germanic dramaturgy – structured, thought-out, abstract, reasoned –, and Russian theatre – offbeat, splintered, disorderly, sometimes encumbered with a certain madness. Hermanis's work with his actors, a vital part of his approach, seems constantly pulled between these two lines.

Tatiana Tolstaia was born in 1951 in Saint Petersburg. She comes from a family with a rich literary tradition. After studying at the state university of Leningrad, she moved to Moscow where she worked in a publishing firm before devoting herself completely to writing. As a journalist, Tatiana Tolstaia wrote about literature but also about current events in Russia. Today, she lives and works in both the United States, where she teaches in a university, and Russia. She is considered one of the greatest contemporary Russian writers.

Two men with a rather coarse appearance enter a faded apartment, playing characters with dazzling virtuosity. One transforms himself into Sonia, a woman full of contrasts, even contradictions: a dreamer, solitary, romantic, innocent and naïve, but also a housewife, scouring the dishes, baking her cakes, ready for any sacrifice. The other is a kind of distinctly real and imaginary projection of the men she hasn't had, but also the incarnation of that cruel society that manipulates her, harms her and takes her right to despair to melodrama. Femininity is omnipresent whereas the woman is, however, not on the stage. It is the determination to live in a dream, while courageously confronting the ordinariness and misery of existence that this show portrays. Its strength stems from its radical simplicity: two men to play the entire world, in the style of Beckett, who go from one register to another with amazing ease – from the burlesque to the tragic, from the humorous to the pathetic, from the dream of love to the compelling feeling of death –, and ordinary, banal sets, recreating as far as the fetishist obsession a dull Russian interior of the 1930s. So well that Sonia offers the rare gift of an autonomous show, sufficient unto itself: everything is created without any exterior artifice or forced theatricality, as if, through the interlocking of stories, the entanglement of destinies, the mixture of registers, the frozen existence of these two men could suddenly come back to life on stage. With rigor, via a joyous tinkering of gestures and objects, everything is linked together in the invention of an imaginary figure, who seems both the key to and the curse of the show.


mise en scène Alvis Hermanis
avec Gundars Abolins, Jevgenijs Isajevs
décor et costumes: Kristnine Jurjane
son Andris Jarans
lumières Krisjanis Strazdits


coproduction: schauspielfrankfurt, Jaunais Rigas Teatris
avec l'aide de: l'Onda pour les surtitres

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