The third production that the Moscow Pushkin Drama Theatre presented at the Barbican this February was a version of Mother’s Field by Chinghiz Aitmatov. Interestingly, the director and choreographer Sergei Zemlyansky chose to create a performance without words. It is extraordinary seeing how much can be communicated through moving bodies and dance. The ensemble of performers were truly admirable in their energy and physicality. It was not just about the skill, or the grace of their movement, but it was more about the level of emotion which they communicated without any words but solely through the power of their moving bodies.
The writer Chinghiz Aitmatov is not particularly well known in the UK, but he was very popular in the Soviet Union. He lived through Stalin’s rule and his writing has been informed by the Second World War and the atrocities of Stalin’s regime. Mother’s Field, indeed, is a novella about loss, war, and separation. Aitmatov is renowned for the inclusion of mythical elements in his realistic fiction, and this production certainly achieves the blending of magical realism with the horror of the stories themes.
The striking gestures, the physical sequences, the impressive mime, and powerful tableaux vivantes, manage to carry a lot of emotion and tension across. Yet, they don’t always succeed in carrying plot and narrative across. At points you are so engrossed in the physicality – often close to contemporary dance – of the ensemble, that you get lost in the story. And while I truly believe in the power of dance, there are times that I wished I could have heard some of the text as an addition to the drama portrayed on stage.
This great ensemble, masterfully directed and choreographed by Zemlyansky, offer us an impressive ritual performance about how war destroys a family’s happiness, tears apart lovers, and separates parents and children. It is tormenting to see the outbursts, the moments where the whole body shakes from the pain.
The set design of the production often seemed to get in the way of the performance however, rather than lift it even more. There were times that all the moving of the set pieces felt unnecessary to the flow of the piece. Overall, though, this was a very special performance and a reminder of how powerful the medium of dance is in conveying stories and emotions when words are not enough.