A new bridge between two distinct cultures

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Theatre Novi Most presents “M2: Mayakovsky and Marinetti” at Open Eye Figure Theatre May 14 – 23.

Vladimir Rovinsky is an actor, writer and director steeped in the tradition of Russian drama: Anton Chekhov, Ivan Turgenev, Alexander Pushkin, Nikolai Gogol. But you wouldn’t know it from hearing him teach:

“I tell my students that language and scripts are the death of the theater,” said Rovinsky, in a recent conversation. He continued:

Take Chekhov, for example: 99 percent of the performances based on Checkhov plays are a total bore – a bunch of whiny people talking about themselves. But if you look at what’s happening, it’s almost like a detective story. People are shooting themselves, having affairs, and money problems.

Rovinsky says it’s movement and expression which is vital to the real understanding of a story. And so he creates theater that is even more dependent on action than it is on words. Russian-born Rovinsky and his wife, American-born Lisa Channer, are the co-founders of Theatre Novi Most, or “New Bridge Theatre.” They met at the Yale School of Drama as part of a large-scale Russian-American theater project. Ravinsky says then, and in the years following (as he decided to continue working in the United States), language became an obstacle:

I spent a long time on physical improvisation and trying to find this visual language for when we don’t have a common language… in other words how to turn this disability into an advantage. I’ve found it’s fascinating, because now when working with English works, I’m focusing on completely different things. Meaning of text doesn’t bother me at all.

As for Lisa Channer, she was drawn to explore the strange relationship between Russia and the U.S. She says the countries are both attracted to and repulsed by one another:

Our work in some ways is cultural work. Ultimately it’s the art that matters to us most, but several of our projects have dealt with how the US and Russia see each other, the humor in that, the ridiculousness in how we are opposites but also quite similar.

When Channer and Rovinsky moved their theater company to the Twin Cities a couple of years ago, Channer says they did so in part because of the strong presence of Russian immigrants.

We tend to work in multiple languages alot, though it’s still primarily for an English speaking audience. And when Russians come, they are moved to tears, because for them it’s getting to have that experience that they haven’t had since leaving Russia, hearing Russian on stage.

Channer says her husband, who often gives his lines in Russian, gets to have a more subtle relationship with the Russian-Americans in the audience.

While Russia and the United States tend to dominate Novi Most productions, that is not always the case. The theater company’s upcoming show “M2″ is inspired by the lives of two futurist poets, Vladimir Mayakovsky and Italian Filippo Marinetti. Ravinsky wrote the play based on historical letters, poems and texts by the two futurists. Marinetti was the founder of the futurist movement, which rejected the past; celebrated speed, machinery, violence, youth and industry; and sought the modernisation and cultural rejuvenation of Italy. But Channer says don’t let the philosphy and intellectualism dissuade you from seeing the play:

It is heady, but it’s a non-stop physical circus as well, there’s very little standing around and talking. It’s a really wild ride. We try to embrace futurists at their most idealistic, and embody that in the theater piece.

Rovinsky says ultimately the play itself becomes a sort of visual poem.

“M2: Mayakovsky and Marinetti” runs May 14 – 23 at Open Eye Figure Theatre in Minneapolis.

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