Theatre in Russia in its current form is a relatively new import, with St Petersburg blossoming into the thriving cultural centre it is today only within the last three centuries. Until 300 years ago, Russia’s priorities were far removed from the construction of exquisite opera and ballet houses, the training of skilled dance and drama troupes and the design of beautiful costumes and sets. Fortunately, times have changed, and Russian theatrics—children’s, musical, dramatic, traditional, experimental—are thriving. So much so that the country has declared 2019 as the Year of the Theatre, with 30 productions to be performed on 50 illustrious stages across the country in the second half of this year. As Russia’s official capital of culture, St Petersburg’s theatres are hosting the lion’s share of them, making this a very exciting time to visit. From the world’s most prestigious international drama festival to a nod to home-grown talent, here are the cultural highlights not to miss.
The Theatre Olympics 2019 is a magnet to the world’s most talented dramatists, playwrights, directors and actors. The well-attended international festival showcases performances from dance companies and theatres from around the world, and includes an engaging programme of lectures and workshops facilitated by industry heavyweights. This year, the spotlight shifts from India to Russia, with the festival taking place in St Petersburg’s theatres and venues between June and November. St Petersburg’s illustrious Alexandrinsky and Mariinsky Theatres are host to many of the performances, with more than 30 productions from 15 countries including Oedipus Rex from Italy, Mother from Belgium and The Trial from Poland.
For a popular theatre festival that’s entirely homegrown, the Chekhov International Theatre Festival has been delighting audiences since 1992. It was launched in the wake of the fall of the iron curtain, aiming to showcase and, in many ways, discover Russian theatre. The majority of the events are staged in Moscow, but there are performances taking place in St Petersburg’s theatres this year, too, most notably A Quiet Evening of Dance from Sadler’s Wells in London, with choreography from William Forsythe, considered to be one of the leading talents in his field. Performed by a small company, it’s a conceptual piece inspired by and reminiscent of a chamber music concert.
A critically acclaimed, international contemporary dance festival, Diana Vishneva’s Context festival puts on a dazzling programme of international dance performances, including world premieres and much-anticipated collaborations, between October and December. Founder and art director Vishneva was herself a prima ballerina and envisioned this festival as a proving ground for new talent, as well as a meeting place for choreographers and dancers the world over. The festival has grown from strength to strength over the years, with visitor numbers reaching above 9,000 in recent years.
Highlights this year include the Evening of the National Ballet of Canada at the Mariinsky II, with this tour marking the company’s first ever performances in Russia. The young choreographers at Context Lab is another anticipated event to watch out for. It sees the young finalists from the Russian choreography competition performing their new works, created especially for the festival, at the Alexandrinsky Theatre.
Murder, intrigue, crime and punishment… St Petersburg has it all. Those fascinated by the more ghoulish side of history will love these significant spots from fiction, and real life.