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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

BAM Blog Questionnaire: The Cherry Orchard's Danila Kozlovsky

The Maly Drama Theatre of St. Petersburg is famous for its imaginative productions and Artistic Director Lev Dodin is renowned for his commitment to training and ensemble work. We spoke with Danila Kozlovsky, who plays Lopakhin in The Cherry Orchard (coming to the BAM Harvey Feb 17—27), about the company’s rehearsal process and how theater is a lot like professional sports. 

Danila Kozlovsky and Elizaveta BoIarskaya in The Cherry Orchard. Photo: Viktor Vasiliev

1. How does Maly Drama Theatre training differ from other theater schools or companies?

I studied for five years in Lev Dodin’s acting course at the St. Petersburg Theatre Academy, and had the immense luck to perform as Edgar in Dodin’s production of King Lear during my third year. I joined the Maly Drama Company when I graduated in 2008. Most theater companies in Russia, like ours, have a full-time roster of actors and a permanent repertoire. But in a majority of theater companies, training and professional acting are clearly divided. A few years after joining a company, some actors consider themselves professionals—they think they know everything they need to know. It could be viewed as complacency or as self-assuredness, depending on your point of view.

I’m biased but I think Dodin’s way of training is the best: the training process continues seamlessly from the Theatre Academy into the Maly Drama Theatre. For five years we had daily training in classical dance, acrobatics, singing, instrumental music, voice, and speech. Before every show we do extensive warm-ups targeted at what the actors need for that particular performance—voice and speech (always), singing (always), classical dance, acrobatics, orchestra—whatever is needed. Spending an hour or two warming up together before the show allows us not only to hone the practical disciplines, but also to reestablish our connection as a company, which is essential for acting together onstage.

2. What are your favorite aspects of the training? Most challenging?

In many respects, theater can be compared to professional sports—at least in terms of training and form. It’s hard to imagine an American football or baseball player stepping out into the arena of a packed stadium not having trained for a month. He’d never play well. We are so used to our warm-ups before every performance that we can’t imagine going onstage without them. And actually the audience feels it immediately. They might not know what exactly is off, but every member of the audience is aware that he or she is somehow being cheated out of the full experience. Training and warm-ups discipline you, it helps you stay on form. 

Photo: Viktor Vasiliev

3. What was your rehearsal process like for The Cherry Orchard?

What I love about rehearsing with [Lev] Dodin is that we never just turn up and meekly expect him to tell us where to enter, where to stand, and what face to make when saying this or that line. We go onstage and we propose things to the director according to our sgovor (Stanislavsky’s term meaning “complicity/collusion/betrothal,” signifying the system of ethical, esthetic, and human values the director and his company of actors generally share, and in regard to the specific literary material they are rehearsing).

We do the scene the way we think it could have happened, and Dodin uses it as a starting point for the rehearsal. This method makes an actor feel he is a valid co-author and not just a medium. It gives an actor a whole new level of freedom in rehearsal. By the end of rehearsing a scene—or the play—Dodin will have explained to us where to enter, where to stand, and how to convey a line, but we’ll have made that journey together.

4. What are the benefits of working and training with the same ensemble for many years?

Right before the New Year, several actors in our company got sick and several others could not go onstage for other reasons. A performance of one of our most popular titles was scheduled, and had sold out well ahead of time. A decision was made not to cancel, not to substitute another production, but to go ahead and perform. With four stand-ins taking on very complex lead parts, the production was practically a new show, staged with few rehearsals. I was in the audience that night and I can say honestly and objectively that it was one of our best and most serious performances of the year. I saw this magic thing—sgovor—work, and work to perfection. Stanislavsky wrote pages and pages on end about this concept, but it’s very elusive. It’s when the actors and the director share common goals and a language only they understand. It occurs when the actors understand and feel together, when they perform as a team. (I think that’s how soccer club Barcelona plays its best matches.) It does not always happen. But that night I sat in our auditorium and saw it happen on our stage, in our theater.


  1. Fascinating. Koslovski was marvelous in the play, and full of unexpected behavior that was appropriate to the part (as was the whole cast).

  2. #thecherryorchard#themalytheater#

    Such a pleasure to experience the whole Chekhov's story with a fabulous acting ensemble -the audience isn't just watch but is in the center of the action thanks to a set and how actors use the whole space of Harvey theater. This time Cherry Orchard was a lauphing comedy with some interesting scenographic descisions and a great interpretation of main characters, especially Lopakhin, Ranevskaya and Trofimov. Bravo !

  3. Great production, with wonderfully clever twists to a familiar classic. If only the Harvey Theater Gallery were not so uncomfortable and claustrophobic!

    Please correct the spelling of Mr. Kozlovsky's name in the header of this BAM Blog Questionnaire section.

  4. Overblown pretentious "updating" of Checkov that eclipses the play by focusing on the director and his attention grabbing actors. Sinatra' s "I did it my way" as the play's anthem? Really? Compare this 'from the outside in' approach that lathers on layers of hokum to Ivo von Hove's 'from the inside out' approach that strips away surfaces to reveal fresh essence.

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