The theatre of the Russian avant-garde, by John E. Bowlt

January 31, 2017


Giuliano Picchi

This essay focuses on the relationship between the Russian performing arts of the Modernist period and designers such as Alexandra Exter, Pavel Filonov, Natal’ia Goncharova, Mikhail Larionov, El Lissitzky, Kazimir Malevich, Liubov’ Popova, Aleksandr Rodchenko, Varvara Stepanova, Vladimir Tatlin, and Alexander Vesnin. It investigates the complex personalities and ideas which transformed the course of Russian visual culture in the 1910s and 1920s and which stood for many different, often conflicting, ideas – Goncharova and Larionov with their Cubo-Futurism, Lissitzky and Malevich with their Suprematism, Exter, Popova, Rodchenko, and Vesnin with their Constructivism. These artists all believed passionately in the new art and felt that Russia was destined to play a primary role in the development of contemporary culture. This essay addresses how, in the quest for this new culture, the theatre became a laboratory where the avant-garde conducted radical and prescient experiments – which followed from three basic levels of investigation: (1) tampering with the conventional aesthetic hierarchy of ‘high’ and ‘low’; (2) changing the primary meaning of theatre (‘Behold’) from a confrontation between viewer and viewed to a dynamic interaction; and (3) reconstructing the movements and gestures of the performer and, hence, of the human body.

Type Journal Article
Author John E. Bowlt
Volume 36
Issue 3
Pages 209-218
Publication Studies in Theatre and Performance
Date 2016
DOI 10.1080/14682761.2016.1231949