Dmitry Krymov uses ordinary objects to create powerful images of epic proportion in Opus No. 7.
Rusty metal pianos crash and duel “like demented bumper cars” as one critic put it. Buckets of black paint hurled against a white wall morph into people. A medal pinned to a chest bcomes a gunshot wound. Mother Russia is represented by a monstrously large puppet, both nurturing and menacing. A blizzard of tiny bits of newsprint is a heartbreaking reminder of the people killed in the Holocaust.
Opus No. 7 by Russia’s Dmitry Krymov Laboratory is full of extraordinary moments in which ordinary objects, sounds and people are transformed to create beguiling visual images of epic proportion. At times, said The Guardian, “it seems less like theatre and more like alchemy”.
Opus No. 7. Photo by Natalia Cheban
Wendy Martin was knocked for six when she saw the production in London in 2014. Appointed as Artistic Director of the Perth International Arts Festival, it was immediately at the top of her wish list. “It’s one of the greatest pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen,” she says.
The two-part production draws parallels between the fate of Jews in Eastern Europe and the oppression of Shostakovich and other artists under Stalin’s Soviet regime.
Dmitry Krymov began his theatrical career as a stage designer and then spent several years as a neo-expressionist painter before turning his hand to directing, forming his Lab in 2003. He teaches at the Russian Academy of Theatre Art in Moscow.
His productions were initially very visually based and Opus No. 7 unfolds without words. “Now I am fascinated with text, and I stage plays with a great amount of words,” he says. “Opus No. 7 was made about eight years ago, at a time when we almost didn’t touch words and we were fascinated with saying everything [without them]. It doesn’t mean that we’re not going to go back to that period. I hope, there is no scheme. Or if there is, it’s a very tangled one – and this is exactly what I enjoy about it.”
Opus No. 7. Photo by Natalia Cheban
The two parts of Opus No. 7 were separately designed by Masha Tregubova and Vera Martynova, students of Krymov’s who made the show as their graduation work. “So spiritually all this belongs to one school,” he says.
“But why didn’t I choose just one for the whole show? Now, that was important. I wanted to sort of separate these two shows visually. They didn’t even know, what the other one was doing. I was the only one who knew that this will unite… On the outside they are absolutely different. And just how they are united – well, I hope that a person that watches the show will be able to feel it. I’d rather not put it into words… it will simplify the matter.”
Music is always very important in Krymov’s productions. “And that is even more so for Opus No. 7,” he says. The first part has music by Alexander Bakshi, which blends traditional Jewish song, American gospel and oratorio with a contemporary classical style. The second uses music by Shostakovich and his contemporaries.
“Alexander Bakshi wrote some very good music – strange, ancient and at the same time modern, and this music somehow [recalls] Shostakovich in the second part,” says Krymov. ”He taught me that music in theatre can be not just a melody but also some murmurs, scratches. Even silence can be music, but only if you think about it. If you don’t, it will be simply silence with no music in it.”
Opus No. 7. Photo by Pavel Antono
The portrayal of Shostakovich (played by Kristina Pivneva in Perth) was influenced by Charlie Chaplin. Initially Krymov was cautious of the idea but he grew more confident as they rehearsed. “Bonding Shostakovich and Charlie Chaplin is a rather bold step. But I like it a lot. Sort of tragic comedy. Or comic drama,” he says.
Kyrmov hopes audiences will feel “compassion for this little man that resembles Charlie Chaplin and these strange people [the Soviet Jews] that want to know their past – and when they do get to know it [are] scared a little and don’t know what to do with it. And I want this link to appear in the spectators’ brains, the link that I don’t want to put into words, the one between the first part and the second,” he says.
“Though Shostakovich was not a Jew, all this is tied together somewhere in the deep. And if a man follows this thread, I think he will enrich himself.”
Dmitry Krymov Laboratory’s Opus No. 7 is at the ABC Perth Studios as part of the Perth International Arts Festival, February 21 – 26