A Fairy  at the Russian Centre of Culture and Information, Sofia

A Fairy at the Russian Centre of Culture and Information, Sofia

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Bulgarian legends have it that the kingdom of fairies (samodivas) is a mythical land far, far away where the sky and ground merge into one. They would come here on 25 March (the Feast of Annunciation) and leave on 29 August (the feast day of John the Baptist). They may fall in love with a lad or lure a shepherded into playing to them. The next morning, the grass where they have danced barefoot is left charred and the shepherd boy has gone insane after what he has seen. One can catch and keep a fairy if stealing her veil: she becomes a human girl and can take human men for husbands. But one should never give her veil back or else she’d fly away joining her sisters forever. The fairies would more often than not take revenge by blinding the guys who had stolen their love away. The word samodiva would rather mean self-admiring or a deity in herself, while the samovilas i.e., running wild or a whirl in herself, are believed to be unfriendly to humans, but the dividing line between the former and the latter is rather blurred.

The production of Kazanluk Drama Theatre performed in Sofia on 22 February offered a different ending.

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The crew includes Mara Boneva, director/puppet designer; Svetlin Ivelinov, co-director/choreographer; Ivan Boiadjiev, set/costume designer; music adaptation by Milen and just two actors and four actresses. They play it all the roles: both the real characters, the lad Ivan and his Mother, the lasses and the lads on the village green, the gossipmongers and Ivan’s flock of sheep and the fantastic characters of the three fairies, the Eagle that takes Ivan up into the wonderland, the animals, birds, whirls flown over by the Eagle.

A pitfall of staging such a fairytale lies in drawing a dividing line between the world of the real and that of the wonderland. Mara Boneva’s imagination is especially conducive to this: the incorporeal supernatural beings are given puppet heads in Bulgarian folk tradition and long veils wrapping around their arms to create an impression of levitating above the ground; the Eagle has white cloth for wings, a head made from twisted sticks, very similar to yokes to carry pails on, and cowbells for eyes. The attributes used to design the world of the real and that of the fairies are all-Bulgarian: the cowbells, kerchiefs, shawls, veils, canvases, fences, sheep are made form sticks and veils. Just two spreading oaks also constructed of canvases along with a sloping practicable form the set of the production, while the rest––houses, windows, whirls––are assembled together using rods, hayforks and cloth, arranged in various manners.

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The ability to assemble a different world of what you have at hand is really very impressive. The entire production exudes Bulgarian air both in the spoken text, the storyline and the used attributes. The Bulgarian character of the tale about the lad who takes the Fairy’s veil to make her his wife is accentuated. And even another tale is added to this one: after giving her veil back, the Fairy flies off to her world and as Ivan sets off after her, the Eagle lends a helping hand, taking him up into the wonderland.

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Yet, the ending is different. Instead of the traditional reading, where fairies gouge out the lad’s eyes so that he may never be able to see them again, the authors from Kazanluk have opted for another interpretation, extolling love. The Fairy helps Ivan escape her sisters and the Eagle carries them back to the lad’s village on its wings. Ivan again gived her the veil, but she throws it into the flames, while dancing around the fire, raising an association between them and fire dancers. Interestingly, Ivan’s mother performs the same movements as though she herself wants to put the veil on her own head. This scene apparently suggests in both its directing and choreography that Ivan’s mother possibly was a fairy before she had her son and also chose human love over the world of the fairies, staying in the village. Then hers was not an isolated case, but rather an opportunity for everyone to catch, keep and domesticate one’s own fairy.

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‘We all have our Fairy deep in our hearts, desperately craving for her, readily setting off for ultima Thule to find her, but how many do have the courage and are capable of grasping her tightly and keeping her not forcibly, but lovingly, making her fall madly in love, leaving everything behind to follow you?’[1]

There are also associations between the couple and Orpheus and Eurydice: while flying on the Eagle’s wings, the Fairy asks the lad if he loved her, but the Eagle warns him: ‘Don’t turn around to look back at her, lad, don’t answer her, or else you’d lose her forever.’ When they land, Ivan tells her: ‘You want to know whether I love you? I don’t know, lassie. If Love is like that magic stealing your dream from you, taking your breath or stabbing your heart like a knife, making your heart ache or killing you, or leting you soar in the sky… Well then, yes, I do! I am destined to give that Magic to you!’[2]

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The spoken text built primarily of direct speech does not weigh on the performance and choreography is a continuation of the speech, rather than being solved as dances in a theatrical performance. It is this synthesis of speech and choreography is definitely and achievement due supposedly to the equal presence of the co-directors. Apparent is the shared idea and their zeal for the same direction. Most impressively, this is a plastic production, where movement logically stems from word, which in its turn intertwines into the plasticity. Dances and words are inseparable. This symbiosis is substantiated by the performers, young and very devoted, though neither of them has received any professional dance training.

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Peter Petrov (Ivan) studied at NATFA, as did Beatrice Blagoeva (a fairy), Svetlana Burgazova (Mother) and Mara Boneva (co-director and a fairy); Ivelina Pavlova (the Fairy) studied at SWU, while Sava Dragiev (the Eagle) completed Luben Grois Theatre College.

The real world is skilfully demarcated from that of the fairies in co-director Svetlin Ivelinov’s choreography by keeping the all-Bulgarian air, but without using folk borrowings in the dance. The dividing line rather lies in the tempo-rhythm and the character of the movements: the dance of the real-world characters is more broken and with more poses, presented slightly ironically, while that of the fairies and the love duets––before the Fairy flies away and after the hero finds her again––are much more plastic, cantilenal and without sharp edges.

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The dance of the Fairy around the fire before she throws her veil into the flames is different, dream-like and the same holds true for that of the Mother, who is craving for the veil and once again gives up on it. In this, the veil becomes a symbol of the Fairy’s soaring up freely in the sky, sacrificed for the sake of her love for the boy.

This production eludes the magic of Bulgarian traditions and the finale seems to open doors to the real power of love even in the fantastic fairy world.

The project came to fruition with the support of Iskra 1860 community centre in Kazanluk. The performance showed for an umpteenth time that theatre should never be classed as belonging to the capital or to the country, but as traditional and such promoting capturing ideas and enthusiasm, which is something to be proud of, regardless of where it is played. I express my admiration for Kazanluk Drama Theatre for taking up the challenge to stage innovative, unconventional productions!

Watch the trailer at:

[1] The theatre programme.

[2] The theatre programme.

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Anelia Yaneva

Department of Music
Musical Theatre research group
Professor, DSc

Ballet, contemporary choreography, choreographic directing, plastic theatre, tanztheater, classical dance, modern dance, hip-hop, salsa, performing arts, dance theatre, physical theatre, musical theatre, set design
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