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Derevo


Interview

Russian Fringe stalwarts Derevo talk innovation, chaos and clowning around.

Image of Derevo

Physical theatre favourites Derevo have been delighting Fringe audiences for 20 years and return to Edinburgh in 2017 with an all new production, Last Clown on Earth. Will be this be their most bittersweet performance to date? Founding member Anton Adasinsky sheds some more light on what to expect, the process behind Derevo and all that political bullshit.

Previous works have dealt with weighty themes such as love, death and the struggle for happiness… will we see something similar in Last Clown on Earth? Or will this show break new ground entirely?

Yes, it is again about death and love, and fighting for happiness and fighting to make people happy, to make them smile because it’s the last thing which keeps us grounded on the Earth. I believe that if people stopped smiling and laughing, it would be the end of the world. We can’t live without laughing and the clown is a figure which can make you smile; but please remember that to be funny on stage, to make people happy, you have to break your heart. It’s deadly work.

So, in the show The Last Clown on Earth, I have decided to kill myself, to put myself down, to bring to the people light and warmth and to bring the sun back to the sky. Okay, it’s hard, but there’s no way around it; now I want to do something more than just theatre. I’m tired of doing theatre after so many years; I want people to remember the day they came to see The Last Clown on Earth.

Although often heavily abstract, Derevo’s theatre often seems to communicate many important messages as well. With the world in such a state at the moment, does your latest piece relate to the current political climate?

Like many people around me, I have just been feeling poisoned by the newspapers and the news information channels, which are filled with unnecessary rubbish which kills our minds. So I’d like to bring people back to a more romantic feeling; to make them feel not ashamed to be honest, to be simple, good men. There’s no point in trying to be clever or to understand what’s happening around us, because it’s total chaos. It’s a terrible time for the human race. So ideally I’d prefer not to touch on any political topics like Derevo has done before, but unfortunately it’s inside me; I’m also in the war now. There’s nothing to be done but to try and help people to forget – just for one hour – to forget about this political bullshit that’s happening all around us and to lose themselves in the fairytale that Derevo creates onstage.

The disciplined methods of Derevo are almost the stuff of legends. Can you elaborate a little bit on the schedules to which you commit yourselves when working and how this can affect the finished article?

It’s a really happy time when we start to make a new show. We forget to sleep, we forget to eat, we lose weight, we lose our minds; we are just living somewhere totally disconnected from reality. It’s such a happy time when you bring something to the world which was not here before, like a new fairytale or a new story. There is no schedule anymore; we can work 25 hours a day and I like it so much, the process of building a new show. When you finally bring it to the theatre, it’s like taking your kids to school and saying “Goodbye”, like their childhood has finished. It’s the best, the best time.

Regarding the discipline, there are all day training sessions, strict regulations about food and very little speech. We don’t speak much, we don’t talk much with each other, we use as little communication as possible. Instead, we just jump on stage with each other, improvise with each other and collect all the little pieces… and from 200 pieces, we compress them into one show. But it’s still not ready yet; we have to change it again and change it again and change it again, almost so that it looks like we’re just afraid to say goodbye to the process of working on it, because yes, we do love to keep working on it.

And how does this strict routine affect your relationship with the other members of the company?

When we are working together, we’re like a rainbow; all of us have different colours and we bring different ideas to the show, and none us cares about success or about who is the big man. Even me, I’m not like a boss of the company. We are like one; we have one mind, many hands and all the capacity of fantasy imaginable. We exchange ideas with each other and instead of someone saying “No” to an idea, we try to stay positive and say “Yes, but I’d like to do it differently”. Derevo is like one man with no name, no face, no age. For many years working together, we didn’t know how to communicate properly or to save each other from unnecessary distractions, like life or medicine or war or something. But now we know that the quietness, the silence, is the most important thing in Derevo’s system.

I understand that your collaboration with the celebrated Slava Polunin has heavily influenced your style, but do you think there are any western influences that have found their way into Derevo’s work as well? Theatrical, cinematic, literary or otherwise?

Oh Slava, Slava Polunin, yeah, he was my teacher. I love him but I didn’t work much with him, only three or four years, and then we decided to split because he said “Anton, you have your own style”. But we’re still friends, we like to meet each for coffee every now and again. But of course, I have influences from all over the world; many. Nice movies, Italian movies especially; Bertolucci, Fellini. But it’s not just books and films; sometimes you are just sitting in Barcelona watching the sunset with a nice red wine in hand and all worlds come together inside you. You don’t need to read anything, you don’t need to watch anything because all the world is inside you in that moment.

I used to be afraid to see beautiful theatre companies, dancing ones especially, lose their soul. Now, I’m not afraid because I haven’t seen anything good in the last three years. I mean it’s professionally well done, but it’s cold. I remember first seeing DV8 theatre company from London, it was like an explosion for me many years ago, I hadn’t seen anything like it before. Now they’re gone, their angle is gone. I’m teaching myself now to look inside myself, to find the beautiful universes living inside me, the gods living inside me. I don’t read books or watch films for inspiration so much anymore (maybe it’s because I don’t have the time for this), instead I like to create my own things – and luckily it looks like I have enough to do that.

This year will be Derevo’s 20th at the Fringe – do you have any particular memories from your time in Edinburgh that stand out?

Yeah, I remember first coming [to Edinburgh] in 1997 I think, in The Red Zone. And I remember the moment when I’m standing naked in our dressing room and our manager comes in to me and says: “Anton, congratulations, you got the Total Theatre award!” I said, “What’s that?” He said, “Oh, it’s the best prize, for most innovative production!” I said, “Innovative?” At that time, Derevo was ten years old, so it seemed almost like we’d jumped back in time.

I also remember shaking before performing Once… in the Pleasance One for the first time in 1998, we were all shaking and really nervous, because we didn’t know how this kind of simple story would work at the biggest old-world theatre festival. And then at the end of the show, we got a standing ovation; I was crying. I thought, “That’s amazing. It’s amazing how much people need just simple words about love.” I remember crying, it was a really big day for me.

What has been the most bizarre thing that happened here, either on stage or off it?

Oh, it’s just the vibrations from the festival. When you go out, you can see that the people on the street, almost all of them are artists. It’s like a magical, mystical moment. When you live in a town and everyone in that town is an artist, it makes you think about what it would be like if the whole world could be artistic. All the wars and all the horrible, bloody things which are happening around us would be gone. I’m still a believer in culture and in the possibility of that world, it’s still possible. We need to not give up, we have to work more and more for the people, because theatre is just for the people and to make them happy, at least just for one half hour.

With a runtime of 80 mins, Last Clown on Earth will hopefully erase the ills of the world from your mind for more than just half an hour. Tickets for Derevo’s hotly anticipated new show can be scooped up from the edfringe website and they’ll be clowning around in Pleasance Courtyard every day from the Wed 2 to Mon 28 Aug 2017 (not 14 or 21).

* Special thanks to Maria Pakhomkova for her kind help in bridging the language barrier.