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This is the oldest professional puppet theatre in Russia. It has been organized in 1918 by a group of city artists led by L.V. Shaporina- Yakovleva and named the Petrograd State Marionette Theatre. Its curtain has been lifted for the first time on April 12, 1919. The spectators were presented with "A Tale of King Saltan" by A.S. Pushkin and "The Manger" by M. Kuzmin. The team of artists under the leadership of Shaporina- Yakovleva has long stayed the city's only marionette troupe.
The marionette is ageless. Its strings lead us from the distant past to 18th century Russia. During that time period, European puppet performers have began to cross the Russian borders quite often. The foreigners' artifice has reached Russian squares, and by late 19th century we can find on them European marionettes along with the Russian Petrushka. In the early 20th century, "Silver Age" art tries to catch glimpses of existence's secret meanings through the marionette. The Symbolist writer Andrei Belyi seeks to revive ancient rituals with the puppet. Yulia Slonimskaya and Petr Sazonov choose a 17th century French street play titled "The Power of Love and Magic" for a marionette staging. It is translated by the poet Georgi Ivanov. Having delayed his work in the Moscow Academic Art Theatre, Mstislav Dobuzhinsky rushes to St. Petersburg in order to decorate the scenic portal and the puppet used in the opening scene.
"The Forces of Love" is generally considered a part of our theatre's prehistory. Rehearsals and first performances have been conducted in Aleksander Gaush's mansion. Evgeni Demmeni has been one of the theatre's first visitors. In 1924 Demmeni has created his own theatre, called the Petrushka Theatre. A. Gaush became its artist. The new theatre's first premiere has taken place in the same mansion. By 1930 Evgeni Demmeni's Petrushka Theatre and Shaporina-Yakovleva's Marionette Theatre have been merged into one, under the name of the Leningrad State Puppet Theatre headed by Evgeni Demmeni.
In mid 1930's the theatre has been given a new building on Nevsky Prospekt, 52. The building has a great cultural and historical value. It has been first mentioned in historical documents in 1832. By late 19th and early 20th century the famous Schreder pianos have been exhibited here. (The building has belonged to Schreder at the time.) During the 1920's the Chamber Music Concert Hall has been opened here. Famous musicians and composers, such as D. Shostakovich, V. Sofronitsky, L. Oborin and M. Yudina, have debuted here. During the 1930's this stage has become a site for experiments conducted by Demmeni and his followers.
Today the renovation of the buiding is among the theatre's administration's main tasks. Over the past years, a project involving the creation of a series of window frames, based on theatrical subjects, has been carried out here. The first window composition, titled "Marionettes' White Dream" (designed by Boris Koroteyev), has decorated the theatre's entrance and became the winner of the city's window design contest. Other windows are currently being made. Thus the segment of the Nevsky Prospekt adjacent to the theatre is becoming an area with a unique theatrical atmosphere.
One of the pioneers of Russia's puppet theatre, the outstanding actor and director Evgeni Sergeyevich Demmeni has headed the theatre for nearly half of a century. Evgeni Schwartz and Samuil Marshak have written their first plays for this theatre. About 250 plays have been performed on the theatre's stage and among them were the first Russian puppet stagings of works by Cervantes, Shakespeare, Moliere, Swift, Anatole Franz, Pushkin, Gogol, Chekhov and Meterlink. The theatre's troupe has taken part in the creation of "Max and Moritz", the first film with parts played by puppets in the history of cinema, made in the 1920's. In 1930 the first Russian puppet T.V. film, titled "A Scholar in Heaven", based on G. Sax's script, has been created here.
In 1927, special courses, teaching the techniques of puppet theatre acting, directing and puppet design were created on the basis of this theatre for the first time in Russia. The Marionette Theatre has had a strong influence on the development of Russian puppet theatre art. Great masters like E. Kruglikova, E. Janson-Manizer, T. Bruni, E. Yakunin, I. Pavlovich, M. Artyukhova and others have participated in the design of the theatre's plays. Its puppets were exhibited at international exhibitions in Paris, Warsaw and Bucharest. M. Artyukhova's marionettes for "A Scholar in Heaven" were awarded a silver medal at the World Exhibition in Brussels. During the 1920's a unique collection of puppets, made by remarkable sculptors and woodcutters, began to form in the theatre. Among these were marionettes acquired from folk puppet artists and hand-held French marionettes of late 19th century, bought by Demmeni in a thrift shop and used in the theatre's first plays, "The Harlequinade" and "Colombina's Kiss". More than a thousand beautiful marionettes comprise the theatre's treasury.
The theatre's repertory today consists of 15 pieces of various styles and genres, based on the works of both Russian and foreign authors. The theatre is actively touring, it has been to a number of major international festivals: Canada, 1990; South Korea, 1991, Switzerland, 1992; France, 1993; Finland, 1994; Finland, Denmark and Israel, 1995; Denmark again in 1996. The theatre's plays make use of the expressive potential of various types of puppets: marionettes, Petrushka dolls, masks and caned puppets. The theatre's troupe includes a number of notable puppet artists, whose mastery of the most sophisticated type of puppet, the marionette, is extraordinary.
The Theatre is headed by Accomplished Worker of Culture Natalia Luneva. Chief Stage Director - Evgeni Ugryumov. Literary editor - Elena Rublevskaya.
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