THEATERS

As you are setting out to visit theatres in Minsk, be prepared to find yourself back in the USSR... Unfortunately, this description applies to almost all theatres in Belarus. For comparison, let’s take a look at two cities: Mahiloŭ in Belarus (358 thousand residents) and Lublin in Poland (348 thousand residents). Several state-run theatres operate in the both cities. However, there are additionally about 20 smaller theatres and studios in Lublin, yet nothing like that is there in Mahiloŭ. This is how competition is created for viewers to pick what performance – a subtle intellectual drama or a comedy play - to watch.

There are only 11 professional theatres in Minsk, the city of two million people (the total for Belarus stands at 29). The small number of theatres means the choice is limited. A handful of amateur or experimental troupes do not have their own stages and do not perform regularly.

The state-owned theatres are forced to meet attendance targets – a tight condition for theatres to become eligible for state funding. In order to meet those targets, they try to attract the mainstream audience with light entertainment plays.

Yet another difference between theatres in Minsk and those in other countries is the location. In most countries, theatres are scattered across different districts of the city. In Minsk, all theatres are located in the city center, with the exception of New Drama Theater near Aŭtazavodskaja Metro station.

Interestingly, the central location does not really matter when it comes to the dress code. Perhaps, only the spectators at National Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theater and, to a lesser degree, the spectators at Belarusian State Music Theater and Yanka Kupala National Drama Academic Theater care to dress formally (in gowns and suits). But in most cases, the public tends to dress democratically – something you cannot say about average Minsker’s theatrical tastes, which are rather conservative, as bold experimental plays usually get a cautious treat from the local audience and do not survive for long in the repertoire.          
 
Is theatrical Minsk a closed space? Many experimental theatres and studios emerged in the second half of 1980s, offering an alternative to conservative repertoires. However, most of those theatres eventually closed down due to financial difficulties in the first place. Now, there is only one professional alternative theater – the experimental theater of plasticity InZhest – and several amateur studios. The InZhest Theater does not have its own stage; it performs on the stage of Minsk Railway Workers’ Palace. The Center of Belarusian Dramaturgy has a small stage at the Belarusian Dramaturgy Theater. The Center of Experimental Directing also has its own premises. Others, like the ME100 creative cluster, the Center of Contemporary Arts, Black Box (New Drama Theater) are rather temporary venues for experimental performances. The is yet another alternative theater troupe, which usually performs abroad. In Belarus, the theater is informally blacklisted; the troupe is forced to shuttle among friends’ apartment and small, hidden cafes and bars for rehearsal space and performance venues.
 
Over the past several decades, theater in Belarus has been in permanent crisis. But despite the financial constraints and administrative pressure, the following five leaders on the theater scene have continued to set the standard high.

National Academic Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theater

National Academic Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theater
Each of the troupes – ballet and opera – deserves a special mention. The hallmarks of the Minsk ballet are Carmen Suite, Creation of the World, Spartacus, Carmina Burana, Bolero,Romeo and Juliet with choreography and staging from Valentin Yelizariev. Although on stage for several decades, they remain up-to-date. We also recommend Jiri Kylian’s Six Dances – an incredibly funny  interpretation of the classics. Metamorphoses and Waiting Room on the theater’s experimental stage are definitely a pleasure to watch – only that these dance shows are very seldom.   The Opera’s playbill is dominated by classical pieces by Italian and Russian composers of the 19th century. Last year, Minsk Opera premiered P. Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman for the first time in 35 years to mark 200 years since composer’s birthday.   Interpretations of Opera classics in Minsk are somewhat traditional. Unlike in Europe and Russia, local directors rarely allow themselves to draw parallels with the contemporary reality – with some of exceptions, though. For instance, in Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera The Snow Maiden, the scene is set virtually in the cosmic space. Against all possible opera clichés, the main character in Prince Igor is portrayed as a mediocre politician who is to blame for the defeat of his troops rather than as a hero. In Puccini’s Turandot, the medieval oriental despotic rule brings about associations with the 20th century. In Verdi’s Nabucco, the elimination of Jews by Babylonians is compared to the Holocaust during the World War II.   As for the operas composed by Belarusians, we recommend King Stach’s Wild Hunt – although it is rarely performed. Popular comic operas The Bear, Rita, or The Pirate Triangle are performed on the theater’s small stage. One-act operas First the Music and then the Words by Salieri and The Impresario by Mozart are united into one performance, which revives the atmosphere of the opera competition in Vienna.  Salieri and Mozart composed these operas for that competition in the 18th century.   Operas, performed on the big stage, are sung in the original language. Those on the small stage are sung in Russian, according to the old Soviet tradition. Surtitles are used to translate the lyrics from foreign languages into Russian and vice versa – to translate the lyrics and dialogues of few Russian-language and Belarusian-language operas into English.
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  • Address: 1 Paryžskaj Kamuny Sq (Niamihia metro station, 5 minutes walk)
  • Contact data: +375 17 334-10-41 (tickets)
  • Website: bolshoibelarus.by

Belarusian State Academic Music Theater

Belarusian State Academic Music Theater
The Music Theater’s playbill features musicals, operettas, comic operas and choreographic plays. Check their website for more details and ticket information. The website is in Russian only, so feel free to use Google Translate.
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  • Address: 4 Miasnikova St. (5 minute walk from Plošča Lienina metro station)
  • Contact data: +375 17 200-81-26 (tickets)
  • Website: Playbill

Yanka Kupala National Academic Drama Theater (Kupalaŭski)

Yanka Kupala National Academic Drama Theater (Kupalaŭski)
Anton Chekhov’s one-act play The Wedding stands out in Kupalaŭski’s repertoire as SoundDrama – a new theater genre that combines drama, music and choreography. The play was performed on tours to Spain, France, Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Georgia, Azerbaijan and China. All plays are performed in Belarusian. In May 2014, Kupalaŭski Theater plans to introduce synchronous translation of some plays into English.
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  • Address: 7 Engelsa St. (Metro station Kastryčnickaja)
  • Contact data: +375 17 327-17-17 (tickets); +375 17 327-40-31 (reception)
  • Website: Playbill

Theater of Belarusian Drama

Theater of Belarusian Drama
The Theater of Belarusian Drama is one of the leading drama troupes in Minsk. The Chernobyl Prayer is a joint Belarusian-French project and one of rare attempts to adapt Svetlana Alexiyevich’s prose. The play is dedicated to people that were affected by the 1986 accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Check their website for more information about the repertoire and tickets.
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  • Address: 44 Krapotkina Getting there: Bus No 18, 26, 29, 39, 44, 136 to Paliklinika stop; tram No 3, 4, 5 to Teatralny stop
  • Contact data: +375 17 385-97-51 (tickets); +375 17 286-70-21 (inquiries)
  • Website: rtbd.by

New Drama Theater

New Drama Theater
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  • Address: 16 Čaikinaj St. Getting there: Metro station Aŭtazavodskaja; buses No 9, 9v, 16, 21, 22, 87, 93; trolleybuses No 3, 3d, 34 to Vulica Katoŭskaha stop.
  • Contact data: +375 17 123-45-67, +375 29 123-45-67. E:mail: Newtheatre@bk.ru
  • Website: New Drama Theater

Maxim Gorky National Academic Drama Theater

Maxim Gorky National Academic Drama Theater
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  • Address: 5 Valadarskaha St. (Metro station Plošča Lienina)
  • Contact data: +375 17 200-15-41 (box-office), +375 17 200-39-66
  • Website: Playbill

Young Spectator’s Theater

Young Spectator’s Theater
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  • Address: Enhielsa 26 (5-minute walk from Metro station Kastryčnickaja)
  • Contact data: +375 17 294-78-72, +375 17 398-70-76. E-mail: info@beltuz.by
  • Website: Playbill