These are strange times for Russian
theater. On the one hand, state-sponsored conservatism, censorship
and the growing influence of the Russian Orthodox Church have led to
plays being shut down and theaters threatened.
On another hand, never before has the
Moscow theater scene been so popular.
Serebrennikov, 47, is at the cutting
edge of this renaissance. In 2012, he was appointed to run the Gogol
Center by Moscow culture minister Sergey Kapkov. Under
Serebrennikov’s leadership, the Gogol Center became Moscow’s most
exciting cultural hub.
At least initially, Moscow’s hottest
director was not averse to working with authorities. In 2011, he
staged Okolonolya, attributed to the Kremlin’s then powerful gray
cardinal Vladislav Surkov.
But the theater’s launch sparked
several protests organized by ultra-Orthodox activists who sent
letters to prosecutors saying they were offended by nudity and
obscene language in Serebrennikov’s plays. As time passed, the
director became embroiled in open conflict with the Culture Ministry.
A rebel emerged. Serebrennikov
supported protests against Putin’s presidency in 2011. He advocated
LGBT rights and even called Russia’s annexation of Crimea the act
of “an impoverished thug who has lost his mind.”
His controversial film The Student,
which explored matters of indoctrination, won the Francois Chalais
prize at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival.
One year on, in the very week that the
festival re-opens on the French Riviera, Serebrennikov finds himself
being taken away by masked men.