In light of Alexei Navalny’s death, join us for an evening with the Swiss theatre artist and director Milo Rau to discuss his latest documentary project, The Moscow Trials. Milo Rau is regarded by many as the most significant politically engaged theatre director working today, following in the footsteps of Bertolt Brecht and Erwin Piscator. 


About the Documentary Project

The Moscow Trials
Congress, Performance, Exhibition, Movie and Book

When punk activists Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in a penal camp this summer for their unannounced appearance in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, it sparked protest rallies across the globe. But this was just the end of what have been ten years of show trials against artists and dissidents, trials which Putin’s system used to hinder any kind of democratic change whatsoever.

The project The Moscow Trials attempts to inject impetus into rigid Russian circumstances through the form of political theatre. In Moscow’s Sakharov Center, a court is being set up in which a three-day trial show will provide the stage for the exponents of Russia’s cultural war. The images of the kangaroo court set up to try Pussy Riot could be seen in all media outlets this summer. All over the world, support movements were founded. The singer Madonna called for the release of the activists and Nobel prize-winner Elfriede Jelinek condemned the trial in a pamphlet posted on the Internet as the “end of all democracy in Russia”. A five-minute appearance at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow was enough to sentence three of the activists of Pussy Riot to two years’ imprisonment. On what grounds? Offending the feelings of believers, blasphemy, and agitation against the Russian nation. An absurd judgement which was met with horror in the West. But what appears to be a sudden epiphany of an authoritarian theocracy has a long prior history. It begins with the nomination of Putin as Prime Minister in 1999. The former KGB agent secured his control by closing ranks with nationalist and extremely orthodox circles. The chaotic, but liberal conditions which were present under Gorbachev and Yeltsin quietly began to disappear. Those artists in particular who didn’t want to fall into line with the new politics of regime loyalty and Russian orthodoxy quickly came to the attention of a system in which the law, the secret service, and the media all work together closely. With the destruction of the exhibition Caution! Religion in 2003 and the trial of the curators that followed, the point of no return was reached. With the authorisation of the state, the Moscow patriarch called for the “expulsion of demons” and the “salvation of Russia.” After a show trial, the exhibition’s curators barely managed to escape being sentenced to hard labor, with one of the main defendants taking his own life. As a result, dissident artists and activists were repeatedly forced to go either abroad or underground, much like the recent activists of Pussy Riot. “This trial was the death of critical art, it has destroyed the milieu in which we were able to live,” said cultural philosopher Michail Ryklin in an interview later on.

In the form of political theatre, The Moscow Trials retraces the steps of this story of a state and church-driven campaign against inconvenient artists. A court is being constructed in the Sakharov Center in Moscow, which previously played host to the destroyed exhibition Caution! Religion in 2003. In a re-enacted show trial with the most important exponents of the Russian cultural war, “art” faces up against “religion;” “dissident” Russia against “true” Russia. There are no actors on stage; instead there are the protagonists of real, political life: professional lawyers, a constitutional judge, witnesses, and experts of all political shades. In the style of a courtroom drama with an open end, cross-examinations, summations and disputes on the sidelines of the trial will bring about a disturbing and conflicting image of today’s Russia: are Putin’s cultural policies violating freedom of opinion and human rights? Or is it indeed art which is violating the feelings of believers? Who is the offender, who is the defender? A randomly selected lay court, made up of six Moscow residents, will reach a verdict after three days. For or against the artists; for or against Putin.

A documentary film, a program, a video installation and a closing exhibition will document the project and illuminate the socio-political background and effects of performance art.

Concept and Artistic Direction: Milo Rau
Curation and Production: Jens Dietrich
Co-Curation: Sophie-Thérèse Krempl
Stage: Anton Lukas
Sound: Jens Baudisch
Press Release: Yven Augustin
DOP: Markus Tomsche
Specialist Counceling: Sandra Frimmel
Production Manager and Dramaturgy: Milena Kipfmüller
Assistant Director: Yanina Kochtova
Casting Moscow: Anastasia Patlay
Corporate Design: Nina Wolters
Web Design: Jonas Weissbrodt

In cooperation with: Deutsches Nationaltheater and Staatskapelle Weimar, Institute for the Performing Arts and Film / Zürcher Hochschule der Künste, Konzert Theater Bern, Gessnerallee Zürich, Stiftung Gedenkstätten Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora, Memorial Russland, Sacharow-Zentrum Moskau, Wiener Festwochen, Kunstenfestivaldesarts Brüssel, Goethe-Institut Moskau, Fruitmarket Kultur und Medien GmbH.

Funded by: Kulturstiftung des Bundes, Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien.

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