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STAGE > Turkmenistan sees changes in art life

ASGHABAT - Agence France-Presse

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Picture shows actors taking a bow after performing in ‘Othello’ at the Russian Dramatic Theater in the Turkmenistan capital Ashgabat. Cultural life in country is resuming.

Picture shows actors taking a bow after performing in ‘Othello’ at the Russian Dramatic Theater in the Turkmenistan capital Ashgabat. Cultural life in country is resuming.

With a production of Shakespeare’s “Othello” and even an opera, cultural life in Turkmenistan is slowly coming back after grinding to a halt under the rule of eccentric despot Saparmurat Niyazov.

Niyazov, who died in 2006, notoriously ordered the closing of the Central Asian state’s theaters in 2001 and now his successor Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov is seeing to a very cautious relaxing of control.

 It is however still Turkmenistan, a nation whose isolation can only be compared with North Korea. The relaxation is limited and art continues to be fully exploited to promote the president’s own personality.
Niyazov, who called himself Turkmenbashi (Father of all Turkmen), presided over one of the most bizarre personality cults in postwar history, which extended to erecting a golden statue of himself that rotated to face the sun.

Berdymukhamedov, who is known as Arkadag (Protector), has embarked on tentative reforms even if critics say he is merely replacing one personality cult with another.

The most notable example of the new permissiveness in Turkmenistan is the production of “Othello” at the Russian Dramatic Theater, which has been playing to packed houses.

“Finally, after 10 years they have started to allow theatre production of world classics,” said pensioner Anna Leonidovna, 58, a self-confessed theatre buff. “Until recently all there was were events in praise of the Turkmenbashi and they brought in soldiers from the barracks and students from state universities to fill up the halls,” she said.

At another venue, the Dramatic Theater, a play is on by Russian playwright Alexander Volodin with music including the surprising choice of French electronic composer Jean Michel Jarre. The culture vultures of Ashgabat currently have just one opera on view -- a revival of the Eastern-themed folkloric “Layla and Majnun” -- but for many this in itself is something astonishing. “It was like I grew wings when the president ordered me to put on opera after so many years of oblivion,” said legendary Turkmen people’s artist, opera singer and actress, Maya Kuliyeva, 90, who directed the opera.

June/07/2012

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