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Monday, March 12, 2012

1983: Victory Over the Sun

Stuart Hodes in The Birth of the Poet
As noted in our recent post on The Birth of the Poet, Richard Foreman’s direction made heavy reference to the avant-garde theater of the past. One of the pieces alluded to—via elements of movement and costume design—was Victory Over the Sun. Performed only twice in St. Petersburg in 1913, Victory is both the beginning and end of Russian Cubo-Futurist opera. And with good reason—it would have been inconceivable to produce a similar piece after the explosive collaboration of such mighty artists. Aleksei Kruchenykh wrote the libretto (in the invented Futurist dialect christened zaum), while Velimir Khlebnikov contributed the prologue. Music was written by Mikhail Matyushin, and the stage and costume designs were contributed by Kasimir Malevich, a pioneer in non-figurative painting (the Victory set contains one of his first non-figurative pieces).

After those two St. Petersburg performances, Victory was largely considered a curiosity of theater history. It was not until the early 80s that it was revived (though reconstructed may be a more apt word). Under the direction of Robert Benedetti, with CalArts students comprising the cast, Malevich’s sets and costumes were reinterpreted based on his original sketches, Matyushin’s music—most of which had been lost—was re-imagined, and an English translation of the text was produced by Larissa Shmailo. After performances in Berlin and LA, Victory was presented as part of the first annual Next Wave Festival at BAM, in a season that included Philip Glass, Molissa Fenley, Trisha Brown, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago.

Victory Over the Sun. Photo: Alma Law

Victory Over the Sun. Photo: Tom Caravaglia
Malevich's costume designs

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