“Russian Problem” in the Lithuanian State Theatre. The Idea of National / Autonomic Culture in “Naujoji Romuva”

Šarūnė Trinkūnaitė (PDF)

After becoming the head of the Lithuanian State Theatre in 1930, Andrius OlekaŽilinskas initiated a direct collaboration with famous Russian theatre performers that was expected to accelerate the developmental processes of professionalisation and modernisation: in 1931, three experienced ballet masters – Nicolas Zverev, Vera Nemchinova and Anatole Obukhov – joined the ballet troupe in the State Theatre and immediately became its leaders; in 1932, Mikhail Chekhov started working with the drama troupe as its director and pedagogue and certainly raised its existence to a more sophisticated level. However, this initiative was met by strong opposition, mainly from Naujoji Romuva, the most influential Lithuanian cultural magazine edited by Juozas Keliuotis. Naujoji Romuva, of course, did not even try to negate the aesthetic value of the theatre art that was created both by Oleka-Žilinskas and the Russians he had invited. Instead, it focused on two political aspects that demonstrated its deep concern with the future of the Lithuanian culture that the magazine saw as the goal of its activities; it argued passionately that: 1) in order to become strong and original, Lithuanian culture should get rid of all foreign influences and cultural “help from abroad” and should start learning to be brave and self-confident (the foreigners in the State Theatre are brilliant professionals, but they take all attention away thus preventing the natural development of the skills of the local performers); 2) in order to recover its health and positivity, Lithuanian culture and theatre culture in particular should turn away from its connections with primitive, nihilist and destructive Russia and should re-orient itself again towards the higher culture of the Western Europe (the Russians in the State Theatre unconsciously infect its artistic style with Russian “nervosity”, “hysteria”, “nihilism”, and even “bolshevism” or “sovietism”, etc.). In 1933 to 1935, in the wake of this attack, the Russians left the State Theatre one after another; in 1933, a young Lithuanian actor Juozas Miltinis moved to Paris, France, for theatre studies at the school of Charlie Dullen hoping to facilitate the start of the „westernisation“ of the Lithuanian theatre after coming back to Lithuania. However, the project of bluntly cutting off the “Russian” orientation of the Lithuanian theatre was not actually successful: Miltinis was not accepted to the State Theatre when he returned in 1937 (and he went on to work as a theatre critic in Naujoji Romuva); and the new generation of Lithuanian theatre directors in the late 1930s – first of all, Romualdas Juknevičius and Algirdas Jakševičius who, after graduating from the class of Oleka Žilinskas in the Drama School of the State Theatre, studied in Soviet Russia – clearly confirmed the dependency of the Lithuanian theatre on the Russian theatre.

Key words: State Theatre, Andrius Oleka-Žilinskas, Naujoji Romuva, Juozas Keliuotis, national culture, Russians, Russian theatre, Soviet Russia, Western Europe