UNQUENCHABLE LIGHT BURNING IN THE SOUL
"Dzhan" ("Soul" in Turkmen) is the name of the play that presented young Turkmen stage director Kakadzhan Ashirov to the theater world and a wide audience of viewers at the turn of the 80s and 90s of the 20th century.
This landmark play marked the start of the experimental theater bearing the same name - "Dzhan" - that opened a new page in the history of the Turkmen theater art and national theater school. The word "Dzhan" perfectly conveyed the creative aspiration of the founder of the new theater, his artistic and philosophical study of the soul and desire to ennoble it.
Nowadays, the head of the Main Drama Theater of Turkmenistan is known as a successful stage director far beyond Turkmenistan. He writes scripts for theater plays, and every new production of his team becomes a memorable event in the cultural life of the Turkmen capital.
The People's Artist of Turkmenistan, laureate of the Magtymguly International Prize Kakadzhan Ashirov boasts dozens of successful theater and movie roles, scripts and theatrical productions, administrative experience. Yet, one thing remains unchanged in everything he does. This is his sincerity and desire to make the world purer and better through art.
Kakadzhan Ashirov can be called a follower of the classical theater school, in which, according to Gogol, the stage is perceived as a rostrum "from which one can say a lot to the world of good" and where each performance exposes viewers to the eternal and enduring values, leaving a hope for the best without fail.
Kakadzhan Ashirov believes that despite the drama of the act the theater play has to end on an optimistic note. The theater art is a living process, a live connection between artists and viewers, and it should be understandable without translation. The life-asserting finale of a play gives viewers hope for the best. A "candle" should always burn in the finale.
Undoubtedly, this vision was largely formed by his mentors, primarily teachers of Russia's oldest university - the Moscow Shchepkin Theater School, where Kakadzhan learned the basics of acting. His love of theater originated in his youth, on the stage of the house of culture in Mary province, where he participated in amateur performances. His village, which, by the way, now carries the name of Medeniyet (Culture), was often visited by metropolitan artists and musicians, and a young man used to ask them of how to become an artist. "For some reason, they said that one must go to Moscow." However, he did not make up his mind at once. To a certain extent, as often happens in the theatrical environment, it was a providential accident that influenced his decision.
Kakadzan's friend asked to "cheer" him in auditions to a Moscow theatrical university that were held at the Ministry of Culture in Ashgabat. A lot of people were interested, and auditions were conducted by Moscow teachers. Since it was possible to submit application documents even after auditions, Kakadzan also decided to try his hand in acting. He presented a poem for the panel members that he remembered from school. He spontaneously came up with an original sketch and with characteristic humor completed a special task. "I don't know what part of my acting was the most convincing but they admitted me to the Shchepkin Theater School," the director recalls.
In Moscow, he not only learned the basics of film and theater art but also discovered for himself a whole new art world. Moscow introduced, befriended and connected him for many years with a talented classmate, who by that time, in contrast to him, had already got experience in playing in Alty Karliyev's movie "Magtumguly" and theater works. Gulnabat became a beloved wife, a constant muse, a heroine of his many plays and, most importantly, his faithful companion and friend for many years. Nowadays, People's Artist of Turkmenistan Gulnabat Ashirova, who is known for her impressive film roles and theatrical works, does not remain in the shadow of her famous husband. At the same time, she creates all the conditions for his professional growth.
By the time of graduation from the Shchepkin Theater School, the Ashirov family had two daughters. Kakadzan's movie career started in the same period. He did an internship in Ashgabat. When he played Khlestakov - the main character of Gogol's comedy "The Inspector General" on the stage of the Ashgabat Young Spectator Theater, he was noted by Alty Karliyev - number one figure in the Turkmen cinema and theater art. At that time, he was the artistic director of the Turkmenfilm studio. He invited the young actor to star in "My Friend Melekush" movie (1972).
This is how Kakadzhan Ashirov's filmography started. He played in the movies of the 1980s - "Nothing Happened", "The Magic Book of Murad", "Mad", an episode in "Sannikov's Land". Yet, a movie star career didn't appeal to Kakadzhan. He wanted to stand at the "helm of the ship" himself. His thesis "The Taming of the Shrew" on the play by William Shakespeare marked his debut as stage director. The play in Turkmen language was presented at the new Moscow Art Theater and attracted viewers. While studying at the Shchepkin school, the aspiring actor also tried his hand in translating and screenwriting.
Ashirov considers the two-year internship period at the Moscow Vladimir Mayakovsky Academic Theater an important step in mastering the stage director skills. The theater's chief stage director Andrei Aleksandrovich Goncharov was very strict to his interns, not all of them enjoyed attention of the master of theatrical art. However, Kakadzhan was obsessed with the dream of becoming a stage director, and he diligently implemented all the tasks to prove that he was capable of much. It was on the famous stage of one of the oldest drama theaters of Moscow that he learned the law of a "burning candle in the finale" and lessons of new reading of classical plays and their characters.
Kakadzhan Ashirov's life and artistic career are noted for remarkable ups and ordeals. Yet, the ever-burning fire in his soul and great talent help him overcome any obstacles, while the twists of fate continue acquainting him with amazing people, opening up new opportunities for creativity.
The establishment of "Dzhan" experimental theater in 1988 was the first such a dazzling accent in his career, despite the fact that by that time Ashirov already successfully served at the Turkmen Academic Theater named after Mollanepes, received invitation to serve as chief stage director at the Ashgabat Youth Theater, working simultaneously as an actor, staged several striking plays in different theaters, such as "Profitable Place" by Alexander Ostrovsky, "Dramatic Song" by Boris Ravensky and Mikhail Ancharov, "The Taming of the Shrew" by Shakespeare, "Lizard" by Alexander Volodin. The latter was awarded the main prize of the Youth Theater Festival in Tbilisi in 1987.
However, Kakadzhan Ashirov was passionate about the idea of creating something completely new, original. Young enthusiasm, self-confidence and self-reliance, the ability to see and lead talented artists played a decisive role in the establishment of the Turkmen experimental youth theater-studio "Dzhan" that Ashirov headed as artistic director and chief director until 1999.
They started literally from scratch. The theater didn't have its own stage. They played in different theaters, including the Turkmen Academic Theater named after Mollanepes, the Youth Theater and rehearsed in the evenings in the hall of the Teacher's House. A bench in one of the old Ashgabat squares was the "director's office", where he held meetings with artists, first readings and solved serious issues. Everyone was so passionate about new opportunities that they managed well without make-up artists and dressers and together solved issues related to musical and artistic design of performances. It was this creative union that made it possible to stage the play "Dzhan" that was worthy of the same-name work by Andrei Platonov. The Turkmen stage director was long obsessed with the idea of staging this work because of its philosophical versatility and the notion of rebirth of people that lay in its basis. The densely populated performance, "talking" live pictures, symbolism of images provided a special effect.
The theater is a place that speaks of eternal things, makes the plot of the play a symbol. In this regard, myths, legends and parables offer a very fertile material for work, director Ashirov said. The interpretation of the philosophical parable by Andrei Platonov turned out to be so successful that it became a genuine triumph of the play director. People started calling him the "founder of the directorial era of the Turkmen theater." Critics noted the emergence of a talented artist in the modern theater, gravitating towards a philosophical understanding of reality and, at the same time, towards genuine theatricality, boldly using the folk sources, while not disdaining the centuries-old experience of the common professional theater. The play "Dzhan", having no ideological fanaticism, exposes the audience to an open, live and intimate conversation, Chingiz Aitmatov used to say.
The festival rain hit the theater "Dzhan", opening new prospects in theater art. They performed in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Moscow, Canada, Turkey, Finland ... And everywhere they invariably got success, prizes, international recognition. Based on Andrei Platonov's novel, the play was awarded the USSR State Prize in 1991. The theater's next production, "Dali Domrul", won the International Magtymguly Prize. Never before in history had the Turkmen theater art been awarded so many prizes! The Ashirov family carefully preserves numerous articles, reviews and statements by famous people about productions of that time.
"Dzhan" produced a matured generation of talented Turkmen artists. Over the decade, a number of impressive plays were staged, and each work represented a marvelous piece of directorial thinking and talented stage embodiment. They included "The Devil Woman" on the novel by Prosper Merime; the philosophical parable "Dali Domrul", as well as "Apat" and "Oguz Games" based on the Turkmen national epos "Gorkut Ata"; new interpretation of "Lizard", the play "If You Love Me" based on the work by Turkmen prose writer Agakhan Durdyev; the musical show for children "Uncle Aman." A number of plays were written by Kakadzhan Ashirov himself specifically for "Dzhan" theater.
When choosing a repertoire, the stage director picked the plots that would show a person's inexhaustible need for love and kindness, touch the secrets of human consciousness and tragic and lyrical sides of life.
This feature of Kakadzhan Ashirov's works was noted by Chingiz Aitmatov. The writer arrived in Bishkek to attend one of the premieres of the play "The White Cloud of Genghis Khan" staged by the Turkmen stage director at the Kyrgyz National Academic Drama Theater in 2007. Aitmatov was deeply moved by the original and soulful reading of his work. The play was awarded the international Chingiz Aitmatov Prize and presented a great chance for acquaintance and friendship between a brilliant writer and a talented Turkmen stage director.
In recent years, Kakadzhan Ashirov's directorial talent has been in demand in organizing festive shows and large-scale mass events, including colorful performances held in Ashgabat on the occasion of the ceremonial opening and closing ceremonies of the Asian Games 2017.
Nevertheless, the theater remains his main calling. Today, the Main Drama Theater performs with great success the play "Dovelet Gushi" based on the book by the President of Turkmenistan. The play is full of symbolic images, iconic details and associative references, helping to convey the rich epic content of the novel, its touching and reverent feelings. The premiere sold-out performances of 2019 include a new interpretation of the play "Lizard" by Alexander Volodin ", the play "Proposal" based on Anton Chekhov's plays, the play "Efendi or the Cheerful Neighbor" about Khoja Nasreddin, in which the playwright and stage director Kakadzhan Ashirov organically combines the European stage direction with an Oriental spiritual tradition.
Other than the founders of the Russian theater school, Kakadzhan Ashirov's heroes in stage directing include English director Peter Brook, who is widely known for his innovative productions of classical plays and theatrical experiments, as well as Italian Giorgio Strehler, the founder and director of the Piccolo Theater in Milan.
The Turkmen stage director is full of creative plans. In the age of television and digital technology, it is not easy at all to get an audience in the theater and, at the same time, not to stoop to routine plays that are good for TV shows. "We have something to surprise the audience in the new theater season," Kakadzan Ashirov promised.
The Main Drama Theater of Turkmenistan will conclude the 2019 theater season with the cheerful musical play "Sounds of the Dutar" on the book "Music of the World, Music of Friendship and Brotherhood" by President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov and the story of Shurkur-Bakhshi by Nurmurat Sarykhanov. The playwright, national writer of Turkmenistan Govshutgeldy Danatarov and stage director Kakadzhan Ashirov came up with a new interpretation of the glaring story about the power of art. The premiere of the play was timed to coincide with the XIV Forum of Art and Scientific Intelligentsia of the CIS countries in Ashgabat. Representatives from different countries gathered in a magnificent theater hall. The play was performed in the Turkmen language, as it conveyed Kakadzhan Ashirov's spiritual message that did not require translation. The audience admired the acting, scenography and musical accompaniment of the stage action that was dominated by the tunes of outstanding Turkmen composer Nury Khalmamedov, emphasizing the colorful sound of Dutar.
The finale of the epic story features the same ever-burning fire in the soul - love for art, people and life that make Kakadzhan Ashirov's works modern and popular among different generations of viewers.