ART OF A SECOND WIND
By Hikmet Aydinoghlu
BAKU MARIONETTE THEATRE
It can be stated for sure that Baku Marionette Theatre (BMT) is popular not only as a wonderful phenomenon of theatrical life, but also as a multifaceted cast of the modern culture in whole, and not only of the culture of Azerbaijan, but internationally as well.
From very first step into the theatre, visitors feel the magic of some special, incredibly high styling in everything – starting from the cloakroom and up to the final bow of the performers when the show is over. Perfect styling in any element apart combined with harmonious interweaving of all details make atmosphere of BMT unforgettable.
Reflecting the best theatrical, musical, ornamental, choreographic, ethnographic and even architectural traditions, BMT in its own way refracts these values through the prism of contemporary art and transmits them to the future. Joint between times as well as between individual life ages becomes tangible here, as if a time machine operates in its all modes at once. It must be due to this magic that all BMT shows performed whether in Azerbaijan or abroad, get rapturous press and go invariably sold out.
Just for example: when in the summer of 2019 in Charleville (France) they had started with the ticket sale for the BMT’s show of ‘Leyli and Majnun’, included in the programme of the traditional World Festival of the Marionette Theatres, tickets were sold out in few days, i.e. several months before the festival launch! The lucky ones, who managed to visit any of the BMT performances in Charleville, used to stand up when the show was over and applaud, repeatedly requesting the actors with their marionettes back to the stage. The same happened little later in Zagreb (Croatia). Just the same was experienced earlier, when the show of ‘Arshin Mal Alan’ was performed in France, the USA, Switzerland, Germany, Russia, Poland…
So, dear friends, let’s take a quick look at the Baku Marionette Theatre – probably the smallest, but one of the most fulgent, matchless theatres of our country.
Nascence of BMT: hope to cover a distance in the same breath
In the mid of 1980s, young director and artist Tarlan Gorchu, working for the State Puppet Theatre, got an idea of founding a specifically marionette theatre. Tarlan managed to involve several like-minded young artists, supportive to his dream. Abas-Ali Mustafayev, Irma Kaadze, Elman Mirzayev and Rafig Hasanov were the most dedicated members of Tarlan’s initiative group of talented individuals. Their first marionettes and sets, created in Tarlan’s artistic studio, manifested a high-level professional puppetry and thus became a convincing proposal for the birth of a new theatre.
Stars of the theatrical beau-monde of that time, including opera tenor Lutfiyar Imanov, who was head to the Azerbaijan Union of Theatre Figures (AUTF), director Azer-Pasha Nematov, artist Elchin Mammadov, composer Javanshir Guliyev and others highly appreciated Tarlan’s restless enthusiasm and actively supported his initiative at all decision making levels. Finally, AUTF issued the Order #51, dated as April 20, 1988, establishing a new legal entity – ‘Buta’ Marionette Theatre, and Tarlan was entitled the head to that theatre.
It was the time when the Soviet state began to lose its power implausibly, and burst-out of Armenian nationalism began to grow virally into chaotic negative processes. At this difficult time AUTF provided almost maternal care of the new-born creative team: the new theatre received symbolic but much-needed funds, which enabled it to hire its troupe; a space for rehearsals, artistic and technical works on the first production was provided free of charge in the AUTF building; in the absence of a free market the theatre enjoyed the privilege of the AUTF’s intercession for buying materials and tools needed to complete its production.
The new theatre had started with original interpretation of Uzeyir Hajibeyli’s operetta ‘Arshin mal alan’. It premiered in France in 1990. French reviews were full of enthusiastic headlines like ‘Marionettes can do anything!’, and when the programme of that overseas trip was prolonged, local newspapers greeted ‘Two more evenings of pleasure!’
Special architectural project was worked out and soon the city authorities started with reconstruction of the location in the very centre of Baku, where the theatre’s permanent stage was to be nested… In 1993, the theatre was granted status of a municipal theatre and began to be called the Baku Marionette Theatre… It seemed that this care and custody will be endless and BMT will continue its lucky way ahead in one breath…
However, the republic entered a long period of political upheavals, economic difficulties of the transition period, Armenian occupation of 20% of the territory of our country, urgent needs of a million refugees expelled from Armenia and occupied regions of Azerbaijan… BMT shared the Motherland’s hardships, keeping hopes for the better times, awaiting for a second wind. The theatre building’s overhaul was frozen for many years, the lack of necessary funding and own stage did not allow thinking about new productions… BMT activities were limited within occasional events in Azerbaijan and rare trips to the European countries.
The long-awaited second wind was obtained in 2013, when BMT was admitted to consist to Administration of the State Historical and Architectural Reserve ‘Icherisheher’ under the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Azerbaijan, headed by Mr. Mikayil Jabbarov. BMT was enabled to continue further on with its creative work including production of the new show – the theatre enjoyed the opportunity of staging ‘Leyli and Majnun’. The new chapter of the BMT history had started.
Compound paths of the BMT’s second wind
– Building. The year 2013 gave a second wind not only to the theatre’s creative activities, but also to its permanent location issue. Thanks to the care of the First Lady and First Vice-President of Azerbaijan, Goodwill Ambassador of UNESCO and ISESCO Madam Mehriban Aliyeva, the administration of ‘Icherisheher’ received and allocated funds for the BMT building’s highest quality overhaul. Soon the reconstruction was successfully completed and on December 24, 2016, the opening ceremony of the Marionette Theatre took place. On that special day, President Ilham Aliyev and Madam Mehriban Aliyeva visited the theatre in person and took part in the opening ceremony.
– Repertoire. Anticipating the end of anti-pandemic lockdowns in the near future the audience expects not only new productions with creative staging surprises, but also a second wind of previously known and beloved pre-Pandemic repertoires. As for the BMT, it has two completely different shows in its repertoire: the musical comedy ‘Arshin mal alan’ and the mugham opera with a tragic plot ‘Leyli and Majnun’. Details about each of them can be found on the theatre’s webpage: http://marionet.az/en. What these productions have in common is that they both present a high level of performing and unique creative solutions.
The theatre’s founder, managing and artistic director Tarlan Gorchu is currently conceiving of a third production in the BMT’s repertoire: ‘Ashig Garib’. It will be an even more unique stage work, unlike anything else in the world. The breath of his upcoming staging is already fanning Tarlan’s creative hearth.
– Mission. All BMT productions are based on the masterpieces of the great Azerbaijani composer and playwright Uzeyir Hajibeyli (1885-1948). Each of them has a unique approach, based on a fresh, modern take on the great Master’s stage legacy. Staged at BMT, U. Hajibeyli’s classic plays get a second wind and sound attractive to modern audiences both in Azerbaijan and at international venues.
Azerbaijani schoolchildren are a special target audience for BMT. Before the pandemic restrictions were applied, the theatre offered regular short guided tours for kids. Groups of children of different ages and from different schools were coming to the theatre at their designated time. BMT staff were welcoming them, showing them around while telling interesting facts about Uzeyir Hajibeyli’s extensive, fruitful activities, as well as answering children’s questions and showing excerpts from the shows based on Uzeyir Bey’s works. In this way BMT used to imprint vividly the image of great Uzeyir Bey into the youth hearts, promote his cultural contribution and spread the loving towards his creative legacy among today’s schoolchildren.
– Troupe. Over the decades, many changes had happened in the performing team of BMT. Only two puppeteers from the theatre’s initial times remain active up to now, i.e. for more than 33 years – Hasan Yagubov and Hikmet Huseynov. And only H. Huseynov is a performer, who participated in every single show of the theatre so far.
No doubt, experience is a great value. However, it must be considered also that the shows gain a fresh breath with every new puppeteer. Today the theatre is expecting a lot from the two newcomers who are currently undergoing acting training. Here is what the newcomers think of the puppetry:
Fikret Hajiyev: “Having practiced at the theatre for a few months, I realise that I want to learn more and more about the art of puppetry, to become a fully-fledged actor and master this art.”
Rasima Abbasova: “I am a student in the Sabah Groups at the State University of Culture and Arts. This year I am graduating as an actress. BMT attracts me because the actors here breathe a soul into the marionettes, bring them magically to life.”
May such keen souls always work here, and their hearts give eternity to the BMT marionettes!