Ivan Vyrypaev is a Russian director, actor, and playwright. Critics describe his aesthetics as a combination of Quentin Tarantino and Andrei Tarkovsky. His works feature irony and the spirit of the Orthodox Christianity; finesse and cruelty, and recently, UFOs and visitors from the underworld.
Born in 1974, Vyrypaev is one of the most outstanding and intriguing representatives of the Russian drama scene. He has received awards at international film and theatre festivals, and produced almost thirty performances in twenty countries.
Serial murderer retro style
It all began in the post-Soviet Irkutsk, the director’s hometown, and the place of his debut – in 1998, he staged Dreams, which immediately caused a scandal. This politically incorrect play about young Russian drug addicts stirred the authorities, who shut down the theatre and expelled the artist from the city. Vyrypaev left for Moscow, where he began supporting the Teatr.doc theatre, specializing in the art of documentary.
As Roman Pawłowski notes in the Gazeta Wyborcza daily:
On one hand, Vyrypaev focuses on the scourges of the new Russia: drug and alcohol abuse, violence, adolescent prostitution. On the other, he sticks to the traditional issues that have been permeating Russian literature for the past 200 years: the limits of human freedom, the meaning of sacrifice and redemption, relationship between man and God. Even though he chooses psychiatric patients, drug addicts and murderers, as his protagonists are, the point is not to analyze a social problem. His dramas evolve around a man who has found himself on the edge, and his relationship with others, God, and himself.
He enjoys experimenting, but doesn’t denounce theatrical traditions. For instance, in his play July (Lipiec), the first one he put on in Poland, it is a young actress – Karolina Gruszka (privately the director’s wife, with whom he has formed a successful artistic tandem for years) – who acts out the monologue of a 60-year old serial killer. On stage, she is accompanied by just a microphone, a tripod and text. The actress, who was awarded for this role on many occasions, hypnotized the audience with her Orthodox incantations and precise rhythmical beats. Her words come to the fore here.
After the performance’s premiere, the critics announced the birth of a brand new actress. According to Aneta Kyzioł:
Gruszka divides the excerpt into cadences, modulates her tone of voice, intonation and pace, almost sings parts of it, while others she melodeclamates. She cherishes each word she utters, plays with sentences, at one point she distances herself from the story, and then again reconnects with it, repels and pulls it. It is the kind of performance that could be compared to a recital of one of the 1950s Jazz divas (a period to which the play in fact makes a reference), seducing her audience with dark stories about mad and rampant passions.
July received the Grand Prix at the Kontrapunkt International Theatre Review in Szczecin and the Prize for Best Production at the Boska Komedia (Divine Comedy) Festival.
After the very well received July and the film-turned Oxygen, Vyrypaev prepared Delhi Dance (Taniec Delhi) for the National Theatre in Warsaw. It was yet another performance in which its protagonists’ stories were told through form and playing with genres. A few people meet in a hospital waiting room. They are connected by their loved ones' diseases, but also by the Delhi dance through which they express their suffering – conceived by the young dancer Katarzyna (played by Karolina Gruszka). The technical staff changes the set decoration in front of the audience and a heavy curtain marks the subsequent acts. The classy, 1940s-inspired costumes are counterbalanced by contemporary gadgets.
Karolina Gruszka reminisces in interviews:
During the rehearsal period we spent a lot of time looking for the appropriate way of speaking for the protagonists. We watched Casablanca and paid attention to Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart’s expressions – we tried to create a melodrama-like style. We wanted to find balance between form and content, so that the protagonist’s words wouldn’t be overshadow by their expression.
If, however, Delhi Dance had been, like Julia Holewińska wrote for the Dwutygodnik magazine, purely a game of convention or form, it would not be hailed as an innovative and beautiful performance, one of the most significant productions on the Polish stage at the time.
Dear spectators, I invite you to a discussion...
Vyrypaev’s most popular play Valentine’s Day has been staged in Poland nearly twenty times, by such directors as Agnieszka Olsten, Małgorzata Bogajewska, Aleksandra Konieczna, Łukasz Kos, Michał Zadara, and Agnieszka Glińska, who also adapted his Illusions at Warsaw’s Na Woli Theatre. She explained her fascination with the Russian playwright to Dorota Wyżyńska from Gazeta Wyborcza:
In my opinion, he is the kind of playwright that the Polish theatre scene has been awaiting for a very long time. He is heavily inspired by tradition, and yet so poignant to the contemporary audience. He touches on the most subtle, tender and important things. He also has a unique talent for communicating with the actors and audience members. After seeing his productions, or reading his texts, one is so crushed, and confronted by his own self […] Vyrypaev, just like Chekhov, understands human sorrow. He writes about being suspended in unfulfillment. His work involves the acceptance of the existential pain, but at the same time he is immensely funny. It is a wonderfully shocking amalgamation. Just like in Chekhov’s case.
Vyrypaev’s words of invitation to the staging of Illusions at the Stary Theatre in Kraków only confirm that:
Together with the actors, I am pleased to invite you to our – I can’t say: performance – because it will simply be a meeting. We are therefore pleased to cordially invite you to a meeting during which we will tell you the stories of the life of two married couples. In reality, these couples never existed, I made them up. Nevertheless, we would like you to listen to these stories, because they are very beautiful and touching, and besides we are convinced that discussing such topics is invaluable in the contemporary times.
Addressing the audience directly is Vyrypaev’s trademark. Instead of enacting different roles, the actors simply tell stories to the spectators, very often paying more attention to the melody rather than to the text. In lieu of a traditional performance we thus are presented a kind of concert, with elements of psychodrama. Such was the case with the play UFO: Contact realized together with students from the State Theatre School in Kraków. In it, ten protagonists recount the stories of their encounters with extraterrestrial civilization. Gogol’s Marriage, staged at the Studio Theatre in Warsaw, was also intended as a mystical adaptation – in the spirit of the Orthodox Church.
Vyrypaev was nominated for the prestigious Polityka’s Passport in 2012, for:
Creating poetic and spiritual realms on stage, that are guided by astounding rules; his theatre provides an authentic antidote to the sensational and ad hoc nature of Polish theatre. His style of writing is akin to the Medieval ars dictaminis, in which the words and sentences are only there in order to be spoken, as if there was no other way for them to fully exist. Contrary to the prevailing trends, the artist believes in the power of storytelling and solid construction of text, he is able to inspire a brand new tone in an actor, and experiment with his on stage persona. And for the fact that he keeps reminding Polish theatre that the art of theatre can also act as poetry.
In December 2015, the Powszechny Theatre in Warsaw held a premiere of Vyrypaev’s Nieznośne długie objęcia (Unbearable Long Embraces) for which the director was awarded Audience Grand Prize, that is the Grand Prix of the Kontrapunkt festival in Szczecin. According to the director, the play’s main subject is language, style, words and the beauty of phrases. Vyrypaev explained in an interview:
Probably this staging is a continuation of what I did in the July where cruelty and beauty united in one entity which gave birth to poetry. How can one describe reality with words? It’s impossible. But words can evoke a condition in which we sense the connection with life within us.
Witold Mrozek noted in Gazeta Wyborcza:
Precision, perfect rhythm, and constantly played out distance are employed here in order to enchant the audience. To some extent Vyrypaev seeks metaphysics, and to some extent he poses as a Russian mystic poet in a disenchanted, melancholic and cold world. Contemporary reality is a ‘used plastic bag’ for him and life takes place ‘behind the glass’. At the same time he is doing very well in this reality. Some time ago, together with students from the State Theatre School in Kraków, he staged the pseudo-documentary UFO at the Studio Theatre. He's smuggled Eastern mysticism into the stories as if taken from the X-Files. While looking for aliens, his protagonists were seeking transcendence.
transl. AM, February 2015, update: May 2016