Edmonton is lucky to have a plethora of unique theatre companies and the diversity that comes with them. As of last year, we can give a warm welcome to one of the newest—Teatr Dialog.
The small drama society is completely volunteer-based with every member being an “amateur professional,” as well as an immigrant from Russia, Eastern Europe or other parts of the former Soviet Union.
Teatr Dialog presents most of its plays in Russian, but debuted its first English play Someone Else, by Pyotr Gladilin, at last year’s Fringe Festival. This Sunday, theatre fans will have another chance to catch this production at Teatr Dialog’s own space at 10005 80 Ave.
The style of theatre is rooted within the European tradition—a very different experience to the North American style most of Edmonton’s theatre audience is accustomed to.
“Its like different spices of the soup. We have our own flavour with another look and approach to the theatre,” says Vladimir Pitchko, president and executive director of Teatr Dialog.
Pitchko immigrated to Canada 20 years ago from Rostov-on-Don, a large port city in Southern Russia.
A few years ago he found a club for Russian-speaking immigrants who were interested in performing and talking about theatre. As Pitchko got more involved, the group became a proper theatre company under the name Teatr Dialog.
“You know, I was moved and impressed from the beginning,” he says. “I went to see a play put on by the group and started to feel like I was in the theatre. Everything was right—the lights, the stage—everything.”
After viewing the play, Pitchko became more immersed in the group until he became the executive director and he constantly works to find new ways for it to be a success. On top of his theatre escapades, he’s an associate professor and program coordinator of Concordia University’s chemistry department. With his demanding career, some people call him crazy for volunteering in Teatr Dialog, but he laughs at them.
“Without crazy people you can do nothing. We have many crazy people here and the theatre cannot exist without their enthusiasm,” he says.
Another crazy one is Teatr Dialog’s artistic director, Manana Lorence, whose husband Zigmund constructs music for the theatre. Before finding Teatr Dialog, Manana was a designer for puppet theatre around Eastern Europe, which allows her to approach plays differently than other artistic directors.
“She’s a naturally-born artistic director,” says Pitchko. “She works like a sculptor with a visual vision and then she starts forming the shape of the play.”
Along with her team of actors, Manana has been one of the driving forces for the creative tone of Teatr Dialog.
“There’s different types of theatre with comedy or tragedy, but with European theatre, and I would say Russian, they are combined. We are walking together through the tears. We want to see hilarity in the tragedy and vice versa,” says Manana.
Another underlying theme within European and Russian theatre is the mysterious complexity found within its plays. It is much different from the usual North American style that typically follows a straightforward plot and immediately grabs the audience’s attention. European and Russian theatre can be compared to a slow burn that tricks you into questioning your own understanding.
Someone Else, starring Tatiana Usova and Nikolay Klimov and exploring the fragmented relationship and personal identities of two not-so-young people, is a perfect example of this. The play definitely creates more questions than it answers with both characters essentially living double lives. But, that’s kind of the point. The audience is meant to come to their own conclusions and revelations.
“For me, European theatre is not something that touches your heart, but it’s something that engages your mind. After our play, I see that people are trying to make sense of what they just watched. Its funny, but everyone’s perception is a bit different,” says Usova.
“It doesn’t really matter which story is real in the play. It’s how these people feel on the stage and how you feel watching them,” adds Manana.
Another aspect of this altered sense of reality in Someone Else is partly created by its original musical score. It successfully presents a feeling of peculiar European nostalgia for the audience using of horns, keyboard, accordion and other innovative sounds.
Zigmund Lorence, a professional musician from Riga, Latvia, created music for many long running plays in different parts of Europe and was once part of the popular Latvian pop group Eolika. Although Zigmund has worked with many different musical projects within different genres, his approach to composing music has always been the same.
“I build it like architecture, with musical bricks I make. Sometime it never comes from me. I catch some kind of tune from another dimension. It just comes to me and then I can’t change it. I just need to be ready,” says Zigmund.
The folks over at Teatr Dialog are looking to expand and eventually solidify a name in Edmonton’s diverse theatre community, but they need help.
“We have no experience in Canadian theatre so we need a bit of guidance,” says Pitchko. “When I think about the future of Teatr Dialog it is like I am walking through the strong fog. I have no idea what is in front of us and what is to come, but I am hopeful.”
Jan. 29 at 6 p.m.
10005 80 Ave.