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The Maly Drama Theatre was created in 1944 in Leningrad, at a time when most theatres had been evacuated from the city. Founded by decision of the Oblast Executive Committee, the theatre had neither a clear artistic program, nor its own building. The small company performed in towns and villages of the Leningrad Oblast. From time to time interesting plays were staged, but the theatre was still little-known in the city.
In 1973 Efim Padve, a student of Tovstonogov, was invited to serve as chief director. He later attracted well-known playwrights and young directors, one of whom was Lev Dodin. Soon the theatre gained popularity in the city and found its viewers.
Lev Dodin's first work staged at the Maly Drama Theatre was The Robber by Karel Chapek, in 1975. The performance was immediately noticed by the public and critics thanks to his original approach and stage idiom. Other performances followed: The Rose Tattoo by Tennessee Williams (1977), Live and Remember by Valentin Rasputin (1979), and The Appointment by A. Volodin (1979).
The premiere of the play The House, based on the similarly-named by Fedor Abramov, in 1980 became a major event not only for the theatre, but for the theatrical life of all Leningrad. It was difficult to get approval for public performance of the play. The truth told first by Fedor Abramov and then retold by the theatre was hard for the culture bureaucrats to swallow. But this play was bound for success and has been in the theatre's repertoire for twenty years, played to full houses in Petersburg, on Russian and foreign tours, and was also awarded the USSR State Prize in 1986. Only the death of the leading actor, Nikolay Lavrov, who played Mikhail Pryaslin, put an end to this favorite of many, as it did for The Bench by A. Gelman, which had played on the stage of the Maly Drama Theatre for ten years.
Lev Dodin has been the chief director of the Maly Drama Theatre since 1983, and since 2002 – Artistic and General Director of the Theatre. Today the MDT is a recognized leader among Russian theatres and has also received international acclaim. Many plays have made the theatre go down in history.
For example, Brothers and Sisters based on the novel by Fedor Abramov and making up part of a trilogy (along with The House ). For its 20-year life, this performance traveled almost all over Europe, was shown in the United States and Japan, was awarded many prizes (the USSR State Prize in 1986; was named "best foreign performance of the year" in Great Britain; UBU Italian Prize 1995); Stars in the Morning Sky by A. Galin, which won a Laurence Olivier Award in 1988; The Devils, third in a series of plays based on novels by Fedor Dostoevsky; Gaudeamus based on prose by Sergey Kaledin, received the French Theatre and Music Critics' Award in 1992, the English Regional Theatre Award, the UBU Italian Prize in 1993, and Russian State Prize; Claustrophobia, based on contemporary Russian prose of 90s and the holder of four prizes at the BITEF international theatre festival, including the Grand Prix; Mumu based on the story by Ivan Turgenev and staged by Veniamin Filshtinsky; a trilogy based on the plays The Cherry Orchard, A Play Without a Title and The Seagull, and the performance of Uncle Vanya written by Anton Chekhov appeared in the recent ten years.
The Maly Drama Theatre has participated in the Golden Mask National Awards since 1998, during which time many of the theater’s productions received the prizes. Among those there were A Play Without a Title (two Golden Mask National Awards in 1998 for “best production” and “best director”); Chevengur based on the novel by Andrey Platonov for “best directing work” in 2000, The Seagull – “best performance” in 2002, Moscow Chorus after a play by L. Petrushevskaya “best large scale production” and “best actress” in 2004, Uncle Vanya - “best directing work” and best actor in 2004, King Lear for “best design” and the Special Award of the Jury. In 2004 the Maly Drama Theatre took part in the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Golden Mask National Award in Moscow with the program of 7 best productions. In 2005 a project Legendary Productions of the ХХ Century, implemented by Golden Mask was open with the 20 year anniversary of the production of Brothers and Sisters.
Up to 2003 the Maly Drama Theatre was the establishment of regional culture. During one season the theatre gave over 60 performances in the Leningrad region. Now the theatre has officially received the all-Russia status and works under control of the Federal Agency for Culture and Cinematography. But the theatre didn’t break relations with the region. The branch of the main theatre’s stage, opened in 1997 in the town of Kirishi, still continues its work at the Leisure Centre of LTD Kirishinefteorgsintez. Twice a year the theatre brings its shows there. In 2004 the solemn opening of the chamber stage branch was carried out and now there is an opportunity to perform the whole range of the theater’s repertoire in the region. In 2006 with the support of the Leningrad region government we held the festival Theatre Autumn and the regional audience got a chance to watch the most famous performances of the Maly Drama Theatre’s today’s repertoire.
The Maly Drama Theatre carries out a lot of international projects working within the Union of Theatres of Europe, which the theatre was invited to join in 1992. The General Assembly of the Union of European Theatres granted MDT the status of Theatre of Europe in 1998. Today there are only three such theatres in the world: the Odeon in Paris, the Piccolo in Milan, and the St. Petersburg Maly Drama Theatre. This is no accident. During the past decade the Maly Drama Theatre has become a leader in the developing theatrical arts. The theatre's performances have been seen in practically all corners of the world, in more than sixty cities of Europe, Australia, South and North America, Southeast Asia, and today foreign viewers judge the level of Russian theatre arts mostly by MDT performances.
In 1994 the theatre opened the renewed Russian Seasons in Paris. Over the course of three months the theatre gave Parisians three premieres and two shows from the repertoire. It was at that time that Lev Dodin was awarded the Order of Literature and the Arts as an officer "for considerable contribution to Russian-French cultural ties". In 2000 the Union of European Theatres on behalf of the Council of Europe conferred Lev Dodin with the Highest European Theatre Award.
The Maly Drama Theatre is a regular guest and participant in prestigious theatre festivals of the world. The theatre's coaches, led by Lev Dodin, hold workshops at major theatre schools in Europe and America. The theatre offers internship to young directors and actors from the USA, Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland, Finland, Spain, Hungary and the Scandinavian countries.
Today there are 56 actors in the Company, most of whom are students of Lev Dodin of various years: Tatyana Shestakova - People`s Artist of Russia, winner of the USSR State Prize, Petr Semak - People’s Artist of Russia, winner of the USSR State Prize, Igor Ivanov - People’s Artist of Russia; Merited Artists of Russia and winners of the State Prize – Natalya Akimova, Sergey Vlasov, Tatyana Rasskazova; Merited Artists of Russia – Sergey Kuryshev Natalya Fomenko, Igor Sklyar, Alexander Zavyalov, Sergey Kozyrev, Irina Tychinina; actors of the younger generation already well-known in Russia and the world - Igor Chernevich, Oleg Dmitriev, Vladimir Seleznev, Kseniya Rappoport, Elena Kalinina, Maria Nikiforova and many, many others.
In 2007 Lev Dodin’s last class graduates became the participants of the Young Theatre Studio. Among the new cast there are: Elizaveta Boyarskaya, Danila Kozlovsky, Daria Rumyantseva, Elena Solomonova, Alyona Starostina, Katerina Kleopina, Urshula Magdalena Malka, Alexey Morozov, Oleg Ryazantsev and others. Everyday the theatre conducts stage speech, stage movement and singing classes which are obligatory for beginners and mature actors.
Since 1969 the theatre's Artistic Director, Lev Dodin, has taught at the St. Petersburg State Theatre Arts Academy. Today he is a professor and head of the stage direction department. Actors and directors receive much of their education at the theatre itself. In 1999 the theatre opened a Chamber Stage with a cozy auditorium with 50 seats. This is a kind of theatre's experimental laboratory where young actors and directors test their talents. The Chamber Stage would have been impossible without the support from the theatre's general sponsor LTD Kirishinefteorgsintez. From 1998 till 2004 the stage hosted the Festival of Directing Debuts, where five directors represented their first productions.
Today the repertoire of the Chamber Stage includes seven shows made by Lev Dodin`s young student-directors; these are The Small Restaurant, directed by Igor Konyaev, Miss Julie, written by August Strindberg, staged by Igor Nikolaev, The Disappearance, based on prose by Shamay Golan, staged by Yury Kordonsky, The Long Christmas Dinner written by Thornton Wilder, staged by Sergey Kargin, The Love Of Don Perlimplin, written by Federico Garcia Lorсa, staged by Oleg Dmitriev, The Damask Drum, written by Yukio Mishima and staged by Vladimir Tumanov.
In 2007 students of another Lev Dodin’s acting and directing class finished their training at the St. Petersburg State Theatre Arts Academy. Many of them, being students, flew into some shows of the theatre’s repertoire and were working as well as the actors of the permanent Company. And their diploma roles were those in professional productions like King Lear, Warsaw Melody, Caprice, The House of Bernarda Alba, and others. The main work of this class was the production of Life and Fate, after a similarly-named novel by Vasily Grossman, which was immediately listed into the theater’s repertoire and became the main premier of the season 2006-2007. As a result young actors and interns of the theatre made up the Young Theatre Studio.
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