(by Krasimir Spasov, Bulgarian Army Theatre)
Co-publication with Literaturen Vestnik weekly
By Yordan Yovkov
Director: Krasimir Spasov
Set Designer: Krasimir Vulkanov
Costume Designer: Maria Dimanova
Sound Designer: Sasho Mladenov
Cast: Gergana Dandanova, Asen Kobilarov, Veselin Anchev, Louisabell Nikolova, Ivan Radoev, Alexander Doinov, Stoiko Peev, Radosveta Vasileva, Peter Dimov, Simeon Damianov, Stanislava Nikolova, Vladislav Violonov, Tigran Torosian, Mimosa Bazova, Evelin Kostova, Ivan Nalbantov, Yordan Alexiev, Kalin Ivanov
Premieres: 13, 16 March 2018, Bulgarian Army Theatre
Just days ago a challenging new staging completed the variety of ambitious theatrical productions on the bill of Sofia of the recent months. Following the premieres of Ivan Viripaev’s ‘Delhi’ Dance at the National Theatre, Sofia in the rendition of Galin Stoev (appointed as new director of Théâtre National de Toulouse early this year); the stage adaptation at 199 Theatre of Milen Ruskov’s latest novel Çamkoria and Viripaev’s The Drunks at Small City Theatre ‘Off The Channel’ by Javor Gardev; the newly staged British plays Hangmen by Martin McDonagh at Sofia Theatre and Cock by Mike Bartlett at the Youth Theatre that have been premiered for the first time ever in this country by directors Stoian Radev and Staiko Murdzhev and, last but not least, the one-man production in the vein of the stand-up comedy I’m Iva. Nice to Meet You! by Iva Todorova at 199 Theatre; Krasimir Spasov has put on Yovkov’s Albena at Bulgarian Army Theatre. Albena is believed to be among the most significant and challenging works of Bulgaria’s dramatic heritage.
The production provides the perfect complement to the wide-ranging repertoire of Sofia stage of today, mentioned above, in two directions. On the one hand, the director convincingly presents professionally and masterly made traditional theatre, revealing the world of the dramatic text, particularly, of an emblematic Bulgarian classic dramatic work. (It is important to specify here that inert and routine productions in the aesthetic of traditional theatre rendering dramatic texts abound in this country, but the real thing is a rare occurrence and Krasimir Spasov is among the acknowledged makers of such rare occurrences). On the other hand––and that’s what makes it so important an achievement––he offers a new and never attempted interpretation of Yovkov’s play, which has attracted over the decades the attention of many of Bulgaria’s best directors (Nikolay Massalitinov, 1929; Krikor Azarian, 1969/1975; Luben Grois, 1975; Plamen Markov, 1980; Ivan Dobchev, who staged it several times, last in 2002).
Generally speaking, the interpretations of Yovkov’s poetic and immersive drama about the exceptionally easy on the eye Albena, about her sinful love that has led to a crime, from its first 1929 staging by Nikolay Massalitinov at the National Theatre to its latest renditions would embark either on more naturalistic or more conventional reenactment of a long gone patriarchal way of life and the tensions smouldering within between the individual and the community and the established order or on the disclosing of the main archetypal situations and principles of human life and societies. Krasimir Spasov, also a significant figure in Bulgarian theatre directing, has now, by the end of the second decade of the twenty-first century, unearthed yet another important layer of the text, left almost unnoticed until now, which I’d define as sociological. In the interpretation of the director and his crew, pretty Albena is first of all just as much the real as the imaginary, passionately dreamt of image of the new, modern, free and economically successful world. It, of course, does not override the eroticism of her presence, bringing to light the hidden libidinal impulses behind human existence in the balancing between the instinctive desire and reasoned choice. Rather, this inherent eroticism comes complete with the surrounding her people’s aspirations for prosperity and personal success. In such a sociological reading, the complicated attitudes of the community towards Albena, combining both irresistible attraction and sober distancing evolving at times into hatred (i.e. conflicting, mutually exclusive emotions, which are though experienced and harboured jointly, in a tragic unity) acquire a new clarity. Instinctively feeling (and building on through their own yearnings) the breath of another dreamt of life in the free, beautiful and different Albena, all of them are spontaneously seeking her, but at a rational level they more or less get back to their established existence, back to what is available and verified and giving them a sense of security.
Ivan Radoev (Senebirski) and Gergana Dandanova (Albena) in a scene of the performance
Photo by Ivan Donchev
To bring such a generally sociological reading of the play to the fore, making it crystal clear, Krasimir Spasov shifts the historical time of the action from the pre-war years of the early twentieth century to the late 1930s, a period of strong economic growth in Dobrudja, when the patriarchal agricultural past was rapidly replaced by the industrial and urban cultures. Albena as a symbol of this new world (both invented and desired and actually permeating through the whole old life) of machines, beautiful clothes and delight in everyday life imparts quite a different type of beauty. She is not just the naturally prettiest belle (emanation of femininity), clad in the traditional local garments like everyone else, which, however, only accentuate her beauty, but is, first and foremost, a curious and open to the novelties girl, free and self-reliant enough to keep up with the latest fashion trends of the 1930s as much as possible. Albena in the rendition of Krasimir Spasov and the company of Bulgarian Army Theatre is a slender, tall and elegant young woman donned in the typical of the age silk flapper drop-waist dresses, complete with a neat small parasol (a traditional accessory carried by women in the cities and by the daughters and young female relatives of the wealthy landowners). What should be by all means underscored here is the taste and the careful forethought in this significant, I’d call it historic, change in (the permanently established view of) Albena’s costume of actress Gergana Dandanova in the title role and costume designer Maria Dimanova.
The interpretation and building of attitudes of the community, of the men and women from the village, towards Albena is a defining interpretative key to the play and Krasimir Spasov is strict and laconic here. In the light of his predominantly sociological reading, he conducts a kind of a check before the eyes of the audiences of the varying degrees of aspirations and striving for a free and successful life in a modern, economically developed and open world of each character as well as of their sober thinking, sense of duty, but also of their fear to break free from what is established and well known through their intimacy with Albena. The director here accentuates the under-commented detail of her relationships with the men from the community smitten with her. In various periods, she has been close in one way or another to all of them (she refused to Niagul seven years ago; Gavril wanted to marry her, but took into consideration his family’s ban from marrying her, etc.), then this intimacy was cut off to be then renewed or re-established at a new level. Niagul, who is the most successful and most vigorously striving for the new modern industrial world has a secret affair with Albena, but in his everyday life continues to stick to his established ways until forced to announce his choice after the crime. Gavril, in his turn, after making a compromise, has opted for a dual existence secretly longing for Albena, but outwardly existing reservedly within the surrounding world. This analysis of the degree of intimacy with Albena as a touchstone of the inner ambivalence of the characters has become the focal point of the production and is especially well performed by Veselin Anchev as Niagul, Asen Kobilarov in the challenging role of Kutsar, and Ivan Radoev as Senebirski. Careful and precise in studding the line of closeness-remoteness from Albena are also Louisabell Nikolova, Vladislav Violonov, Ivan Nalbantov, Yordan Alexiev, Stanislava Nikolova.
A challenging and surprising rendition of Yovkov’s Albena, which not only takes us back to the vitality and drama of a rapidly developing Bulgaria striving to join the modern world on the eve of World War 2, but also sounds quite relevantly even now.