Tag Archives: Vyacheslav Klykov

Alexander Pushkin statue, Sofia, Bulgaria

Click on photos to enlarge.

Surely there are more monuments erected to the memory of Alexander Pushkin than to any other Russian cultural figure – or of any other Russian, period. I can’t imagine who could beat him at this point. Lenin, perhaps? Stalin must have had more at one point, but, like the monuments to Lenin, the Stalin statues were pulled down at a high rate for about 60 years following his death in 1953. True, he’s making a comeback as Russian cities rush to show their support for Vladimir Putin’s re-Stalinization of Russia. So, maybe this little topic requires a bit more research.
Somebody else will have to do that, however, because, frankly, I don’t give a damn about monuments to Lenin and Stalin. And, anyway, I digress.
Pushkin. What is there left to say about Pushkin? I have a whole stash of photos of Pushkin monuments in my archives but I never get around to posting them because I have no desire to repeat myself and I have kind of exhausted my thoughts on this be-all and end-all of Russian everything. It doesn’t mean I love him any less, maybe I love him all the more for that – how many writers have taken you all the way to the end of your thoughts? But it doesn’t make me want to rush to my computer to squeeze a few new words out of my increasingly addled brain.
But I just happened to pass through Sofia, Bulgaria, a week or two ago, and I had the good fortune to encounter still another monument to Pushkin. This one is located behind the Russian church  in the center of the city on Tsar Osvoboditel (The Liberator Tsar) Boulevard at the intersection with Georgi S. Rakovski Street. Seeing as how this will be my first post originating in Bulgaria, I didn’t want to delay posting it.
There are at least three monuments to Pushkin in Bulgaria – the one you see here, another in Burgas and another in Pliska. There may have been a fourth addition just recently that Wikipedia hasn’t found yet – I ran across an article from 2016 about a new sculpture unveiled at the A.S. Pushkin Middle School in Sofia, just  few blocks from the Russian Church.
The Wikipedia article about monuments to Pushkin is chock full of fun information. We won’t take its numbers as absolutes, but it definitely provides an impressive picture of the world’s attempts to further the memory of Russia’s greatest and favorite poet.
There are nearly 290 monuments to Pushkin around the world. Around 142 of them are in Russia, 145 more are spread out among 45 other countries. There are over 60 such monuments in Ukraine alone. Several Ukrainian cities, such as Kiev (4), Kamenka (2), Lugansk (2), Mariupol (3), Odessa (3) and Ternopol (2) have multiple monuments.
Moldova comes in a distant second to Ukraine with 9 statues, busts, what-have-you spread out over 7 cities. Of course, Moldova, known as Bessarabia in Pushkin’s times, was the site of Pushkin’s first period spent in exile in the early 1920s – he was there for three years – so it makes sense that people there would feel a strong connection to him. Two of his most popular works were written there – The Captive of the Caucasus and The Fountain of Bakhchysarai. An article by Anastasia Fletcher in the International Identities online journal , “Alexander Pushkin in Bessarabia: literature and identity politics in the periphery,” offers a great deal of information about Pushkin in Moldova/Bessarabia:
Memory of the great Russian poet’s exile in Bessarabia has been inseparable from the identity collisions in the region. Pushkin matters as heritage both as text and as context. The category of ‘text’ includes Pushkin’s own writings and the various texts of his contemporaries. The poet invented Bessarabia as a romanticized and exotic land of released authentic freedom. Various memoirs authored by people who met, or pretended to have met, Pushkin in Chisinau, reinforced this image of the region. This urban mythology is an auth- entic piece of the intangible cultural heritage of the city and of the region. The category of ‘context’ includes scholarship of local origin, a monument, topography and two museums.”

Pushkin, of course, never traveled to Bulgaria, as he did not travel to almost all of the “foreign” countries that now offer monuments to his memory. Most of the statues erected in relatively recent times (the Sofia monument was unveiled in June 2001) have had some sort of political undertone to them – they are usually attempts by cities and governments around the world to find common ground with Russia and Russian culture – and who better than Pushkin to embody such a thing? (A few years ago in this space I wrote about a monument to Leo Tolstoy that went up in Budapest just before Putin visited that gorgeous city, and was specifically intended to make the Russian leader feel “at home” in Hungary.)
Some of the monuments, however, were probably not expressions of political expediency. A few are very old, thus predating the era of contemporary global politics. Some of the oldest outside Russia include a bronze bust in Tbilisi, Georgia (1892); Chișinău, Moldova (1885); and Ashgabat, Turkmenia (1911). I am fascinated to see that there are three Pushkin statues in the United States – one each in Washington, D.C., Jackson, New Jersey, and Monroe, New York.
The oldest object memorializing the poet is no longer in existence. It was erected August 12, 1817 in Tsarskoye Selo near St. Petersburg by Pushkin’s fellow classmates. Pushkin had just turned 18 at the time. It was a marble block engraved with the words “genus loci.” It was moved into the city in 1844 then lost. The oldest extant monuments appear to be the one in Moscow on Pushkin Square – it was unveiled in 1880 – and one on Pushkin St. in St. Petersburg – it went public in 1884.
For the record there are 9 monuments to Pushkin in St. Petersburg (not counting the lost marble block), and 11 in Moscow.
The monument in Sofia was created by Russian sculptor Vyacheslav Klykov (1939-2006). He is known for his monumental sculptures, often on patriotic topics. He was a monarchist in his later years and was involved in numerous right-leaning political movements. His likeness of Pushkin – a more or less human-sized work – is perfectly passable, though, to my eye, not distinguished in any way. It’s a vision of Pushkin that we recognize and have seen a million times or more. According to one Russian blog post, the idea for erecting the monument belonged to the Pushkin Fund, while the mayor of Sofia covered the local costs that were incurred in putting it up. Klykov appears to have donated his work to the city free of charge.


Tairov and Koonen plaque, Moscow


This plaque commemorating the great husband-and-wife theater team of director Alexander Tairov and actress Alisa Koonen hangs in the left-hand foyer of the Pushkin Theater. It is located next to the door leading backstage, where Koonen and Tairov would have spent most of their time when they worked here between 1914 and 1949, and when the theater was called the Kamerny, or Chamber, Theater.
Tairov (born Kornblit) is usually the fourth-mentioned of the great names of Russian directors who worked in the early part of the 20th century – Stanislavsky, Meyerhold, Vakhtangov and Tairov. Tairov was different from the others. He was something of a walking contradiction, a talented creator of light spectacle in the vein of commedia dell’arte or bouffonade, and at the same time a great lover and practitioner of tragedy and theatrical pathos. Productions such as Charles Lecocq’s Girofle-Giroflia (1922) and E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Princess Brambilla (1920) were popular examples of the former. Famous stagings of Innokenty Annensky’s Thamyris Kitharodos (1916) and Racine’s Phedre (1922) were examples of the latter. Tairov discovered Eugene O’Neill for Russian theater and audiences with productions of The Hairy Ape (1926), Desire Under the Elms (1926) and All God’s Chillun Got Wings (1929, as Negro). It was, in part, Tairov’s love of non-Russian drama that got him in trouble in the 1930s and 1940s. The Kamerny Theater was closed by government decree in 1949 and Tairov (1985-1950) could not bear the injustice and humiliation. He died within the year.
Koonen (1889-1974) was the muse, the spark, the material, the talent that brought out the best in Tairov. He, who had acted for Meyerhold in several productions at the Komissarzhevskaya Theater in 1906-1907, found Koonen at a turning point in her life and career. Having been a highly-touted student of Stanislavsky, and playing several major roles at the Moscow Art Theater, she shocked her master by jumping to the new Svobodny, or Free, Theater headed up by Konstantinov Mardzhanov (aka Kote Marjanishvili) in 1913. That company did not last long and, within a year, many of its members made up the new Kamerny Theater run by Tairov. Koonen was, from the very first show in 1914, to the very last, in 1949, the theater’s undisputed star.

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The legend is that when Koonen left the stage at the Kamerny for the last time in 1949, having performed in Tairov’s famous, 30-year hit production of Ernest Legouvé and Eugène Scribe’s Adrienne Lecouvreur, she damned the stage and the theater. Never again would it know the success and the greatness that it had known while she and Tairov reigned there. One could easily write a book about all the details of the curse, the proof, the suggestions, the eye-witnesses, the tales… And maybe I’ll do that some day. It’s a hell of a good idea. But for now suffice it to say that – whether or not Koonen did actually curse the theater – for over half a century afterwards directors, actors, administrators, priests, shamans and just-plain-crazies talked of it as if it were as real as a sharp stone in a slipper. This fed the legend and, often, directors took direct action to try to overturn the curse.
When I arrived in Moscow at the end of the 1980s the talk of the curse was very much alive. I remember Yury Yeryomin’s 1992 production of Erik (based on two plays by Strindberg), during which the theater’s firewall was lowered with a slow, screeching, rumbling racket, and then raised back up again. There was talk that he did that as reverence to Koonen – as if he were saying, “You see? We’re closing the theater off. We’ll open it back up and begin anew, this time with your blessing, rather than with your curse.” But the truth is that from 1950, when the Kamerny was rechristened the Pushkin Theater, until the early 2000s, no director, no company, no repertoire was capable of returning this space to the ranks of the city’s best venues. Despite many talented people working here, and despite the occasional hit, over the decades the Pushkin acquired the reputation of a musty, dusty, unwieldy, miraculously unsuccessful Moscow theater. That changed slowly in the 2000s after it was taken over by Roman Kozak.  For the first time since the first half of the 20th century the theater gained a sense of coherent purpose. Perhaps having the curse in mind, Kozak staged his first show (Koki Mitani’s Academy of Laughter, 2001) not on the famous main stage that Koonen cursed, but on a small affiliate stage in a building located a block away. It was a monstrous success, so that when Kozak staged a beautiful, energetic Romeo and Juliet with a very young cast on the main stage, he came to that troubled space as one who had already triumphed. Still, when the tall, strong, handsome director was stricken with cancer and died just nine years later at the age of 52, there was more than one whisper that he had taken on the battle of the curse and lost by winning.
These days there is no sign of any curse at all. Under the direction of Yevgeny Pisarev, the theater has become one of Moscow’s most popular evening destinations for theater-goers.
The plaque that hangs in the foyer of the Pushkin Theater was designed by sculptor Vyacheslav Klykov and architect Roman Semerdzhiev, and was unveiled in 1984 for the Kamerny’s 70th anniversary. It was apparently intended to be placed outside, but permission was not granted. When Pisarev applied for permission to place a plaque on an outside wall of the theater for the 100th anniversary of the Kamerny in the 2014-2015 season, he again was turned down. I don’t know if the plaque in question would have been a new one, or if it would have been the one you see here. In any case, curse or not, it seems everything that happens at the Pushkin/Kamerny Theater is fraught with additional resistance from the gods.

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