chapter  16
12 Pages

Pyotr Semak: Maria Shevtsova

WithMARIA SHEVTSOVA

Born in Ukraine in 1960, Pyotr Semak was admitted into the four-year acting class of Arkady Katsman and Lev Dodin at the National Institute of Theatre Music and Cinema in Leningrad, from which he graduated in 1983. Semak’s successful entry into this prestigious school is noteworthy because its selection procedures in the 1970s were no less rigorous than they were in the 2000s. In 2005, for instance, Dodin, who had been left in charge after Katsman’s death, auditioned some 2,500 people, whittling them down over four rounds until he selected twenty-six of them (Dodin in Shevtsova and Innes 2009: 42-43). The Institute was renamed the Academy of Theatre Arts after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. On completing his course, Semak, together with a group from the same class, imme-

diately joined the Maly Drama Theatre whose new artistic director, as of 1983, was Dodin. This commitment to continuity between an acting school and a theatre dedicated to the same principles was key to Konstantin Stanislavsky’s work and distinguishes the Maly today from virtually all other companies in Russia. Most of them had fallen prey to the commercial imperative dominating the country since the collapse of communism, or else they simply wanted a change from established Russian practice, much of which had atrophied under the Soviet regime. School-theatre continuity is of fundamental importance for the Maly’s organic approach to acting, and Semak’s work on Shakespeare is inseparable from this approach, nurtured by Dodin and his team of teacherscollaborators not only in the school as such, but in the ongoing training that occurs within the company as the actors rehearse and perform (Shevtsova 2004: 36-60). Semak’s first role was Mikhaïl Pryaslin in Brothers and Sisters (1985), which was

also the Maly’s first production under Dodin’s leadership. Brothers and Sisters was a six-hour long epic that focused on the hardships of villagers living in the Arkhangelsk region during the last years of the Second World War and the early post-war period. Its themes, starting with state control and the injustices perpetrated by it, were of the moment, chiming with the overhaul of structures, ideas, attitudes and expectations that underpinned Mikhaïl Gorbachev’s reforms – perestroika and glasnost – from 1986 to 1988; this socio-political focus, combined with performances of an uncommon clarity, musicality, energy and humour, gave the production something like legendary status. Semak’s role was seminal to his development as an actor and also to the company’s fame, both national and international. The production has remained in the Maly’s repertoire ever since.