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October 10 — Patriotism

In News

ZumZum2 (SumSum2)

By Maria Brusovani

The language of love is an odd thing.  Two people chirp, coo, tweet and babble to each other like exotic birds.  They point to each other out of nowhere.  Sometimes, they start to hop around and mutter incomprehensible tales of sea-creatures, fairies, and nymphs… 


No, not like birds.  It’s more like listening to some sort of magical creatures whose ways of communication you don’t understand.


After a while, you suddenly realize that you can actually sense subtle inflections in their babble: first, caution and apprehension, then curiosity, then they seem to be chirping in harmony, and that is when you, to your great surprise, begin to understand.  You understand that they’re speaking!  Speaking about love.  Speaking the language of love.  And you can’t believe it, could it be that you’ve forgotten this magical language?  You used to speak it, it used to come to you so easily!  And now?


Being young and in love is so wonderful… and so terrible…  And the people in this play are no different. They’re afraid, shy, so at first, the results of their efforts are awkward: instead of magical creatures they make a papier-mache firebird in a cage, a hardboiled egg in an incubator.  Incidentally, one of the characters keeps trying to play a convoluted tune – using an egg slicer for a musical instrument!


Their older sisters seem able to be more productive, but their time has already passed.  There was a time when they, too sang the enchanted birdsong of love, but no one answered their call.  It’s a shame, really…


But then, everyone is singing.  And it’s coming out well.  And it doesn’t matter that some are belting out folk songs, some are singing choral chamber music, and others are breaking into a jazzy big band tune.  It works.


The play is in two languages: Russian and German.  However, you cease to notice this after ten minutes, so enthralling is this painfully banal story of young people in love.  They met each other on the web – we know lots of these stories, everyone has a friend of a friend who met someone online and … etc.  The intentional un-interestingness of this love story is underscored by the laconic set design by Daniel Korogodsky.  The curtain is roughly made of drawing paper; the windows are crooked cutouts; there is a random collection of cardboard boxes. 


There is also a glass cage that occupies half the space on the stage, and takes on various roles throughout the play.  It’s an airport terminal, a hotel bathroom, and occasionally, it even plays itself: a cage, where the mutual lack of understanding imprisons our infatuated main characters.  Sometimes, it’s a giant window into a vibrant world with sun and sea, museums and churches.  Other times, it’s a wall, inexorably blocking the way into love.


When it’s a wall, the lovers draw their worlds onto it, including their museums, churches, sun and sea.  They explore this world and present it to each other as gifts.  They even draw themselves into this world, but the sad thing is that then, one half of a couple is a living breathing human being, and the other is a nothing but a chalk sketch.  On stage, the sketched lover even seems to move, thanks to tricky lighting and fancy projectors, but no matter how he tries, he cannot get off the glass wall, cannot embrace his flesh and blood other half.  He cannot keep their love warm.  And so, the lovers pace around the stage carrying silly articles of clothing, as though trying to substitute human warmth with wool.


The creators of this play only needed simple materials to relate this eternal and beautiful Love Story.  It’s almost sad how simple.  We already discussed the cardboard boxes and curtain, the chalk and the lighting. 


But the sounds!  While one is humming, the other is barking, the third is using a kitchen pan for a drum, someone else is starting to sing…  Sax and electrical guitar show up as accompaniment – and here you have a delicate harmony, a symphony of loneliness and love, mutual understanding and unfortunate disunity.


You definitely feel pity for the young lovers with their wool and fake firebird.  Although, of course, they still have a chance.  They will know a new love.  Much sadder are those who have forgotten the language of love, who not only no longer speak it, but also, have lost all ability to heed its heavenly sounds…




Dificulties of translation, or  Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

Tatyana Shvets, theater critic


"ZumZum2” (SumSum- in German) performance, room 91 of “Baltiyskiy Dom”/Balit House theatre, St.Petersburg, Russia

Directors: Eberhard Köhler, Valentin Levtsky

Set design –Danila Korogodsky
Composer and player – Rreto Senn (Switzerland)

Selina\Alina – Gitte Repin\Svetlana Smirnova-Kazagadgieva
Sister – Linda Ferster\Elena  Polyakova

Urs-Peter\Petr – Patrick Serena\Vladimir Postnikov
Friend, Priest – Mattias Bernhold\Sergey  Mardar`


Once again about love. It may  be the main idea of "ZumZum2" perfomance, directed by Eberhard Köhler and Valentin Levitsky. Perfomance interpretation of the eternal  theme  is modern and urgent. Internet, globalization process, foreign languages as  symbols of our time, minimalistic multifunctional sets, live sound of instruments, songs “a capella” as contemporary  theatre trends (sets made by  Danila Korogodsky). Stage space is  abstract and lack of any  geographic concern (all detals that  need are drawn on the glass walls by actors  themselves during the performance). And that  it the thing  makes the story of the main heroes closer to the audience.

As in ancient Greek plays, "ZumZum2" has  its actors of “choir”: those who play the sax and clarinet (Reto Senn), sing songs in peaceful international English, герои, voice the tapes for language practice.  

The narration leads in the parallel planes, sometimes  even in parallel dimensions. Like in canon singling tradition, the history is told twice – in Russian and in German.

All heroes are searching love, and  everybody  deserves to be loved. One of the main sences of the performance is waiting – waiting of the future meeting, starting of communication, love story developing and understanding of each other. Russian guy Petr should  meet with German girl  Selina, German Urs-Peter – with  Russian girl Alina,  friends  of the main heroes want to  be aquainted  with  girls` sisters, sisters – with  the  boys they  are dreaming about. But the awaiting in all cases is better and sweeter that  the meeting  itself. One may  cite Chekov`s words “everybody  is  so nervous, so  nervous and there is a plenty of love”. These words sute the situation a lot.  

The play`s author Laura de Wek and directors  of the performance stress the gender priorties very carefully: these are girls who  are learning  the languages of their new mates, despite it is  not easy  and they  don`t reach  much  success and the communication process depends on the sisters but  the girls  tried  to  do their best.  As  it was said, even for the intention to do something  man deserves compliments.

Women`s images in the  performance prove the state that  different people in different  countries  may  be in the same situation and may  struggle the same problems. In this case feelings are more important that nationality. Easily treated combination of deep emotions and light sense of humor and irony in sisters` images by Elena Polyakova and Linda Ferster should be specially mentioned.

The performance as a whole may  be compared with Moris Ravel`s  “Bolero”: beginning with  quiet piano the  motiv becomes louder and in the end  sounds  in  pure and aggressive forte. In "ZumZum2" perfomance emotional tension can be seem twice: in the scene in the beach  when  language barriers and impossibility of their overcoming  may ruin the relations between lovers, and in the final scene of the conversation that  causes the end of love. Last  chance and last  hope for  Hollywood styled happy end can`t be true: cross standing of actors  in this scene and their parallel discussions in both languages stress the dramatic feeling. Even  the  translation is not  correct  any more  and differs from the base text more and more. Hope for the happiness  was not proved. But could  it have been different? The dialogue needs two persons to take part.  To build  relations one need  two  persons involved. Could love have coped such difficulties when there was  only one  person who  tried  to  improve the situation? Certainly, not. 


It is interesting, that the first  nights of "ZumZum2" in St.Petersburg were at the same time with the 2nd  Moscow international  Youth Biennale of art “Stop! Who is coming?”, that  was  focused on the theme of borders.  But the same theme  sound completely different in the performance and in the Biennale projects. "ZumZum2" tells us that the difference in mentalities and habbits is more difficult for overcoming while comparing with geographic borders and pass controls. The conclusion one can make is that studying languages  is always great,  but  the thing  that is  more important is the skill of understating the other person, and that is the thing we are losing so quickly. And that  is the thing  that  by  no means more important  than  grammar rules and  rich vocabulary.