Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko


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Nemirovich-Danchenko, Vladimir Ivanovich

 

Born Dec. 11 (23), 1858, in Ozurgety, present-day Makharadze, Georgian SSR; died Apr. 25, 1943, in Moscow. Soviet director, theatrical figure and educator, writer, and playwright. People’s Artist of the USSR (1936). Cofounder (with K. S. Stanislavsky) of the Moscow Art Theater.

In his youth, Nemirovich-Danchenko took part in amateur theatricals. From 1876 to 1879 he studied at the department of physics and mathematics of Moscow University. In the 1870’s he began to write as a theater critic.

Nemirovich-Danchenko’s prose works show the influence of A. P. Chekhov. They include novellas about village life (The Governor’s Inspection, 1896; Dreams, 1898), acting (Drama Behind the Scenes, 1896), and the press (Living on Literature, 1891). His plays, including New Business (1890), Gold (1895), and The Worth of Life (1896), were performed at the Malyi and Aleksandrinskii theaters and in the provinces. Possessing a thorough knowledge of the theatrical art of his time, Nemirovich-Danchenko saw the need for major reforms. He became interested in the work of the director K. S. Stanislavsky at the Society of Art and Literature and proposed that Stanislavsky and he combine their efforts to establish a new kind of theater. The result of their alliance was the founding, in 1898, of the Moscow Popular Art Theater (the original name of the Moscow Art Theater). Its company included several of Nemirovich-Danchenko’s students (he headed the drama department of the School of Music and Drama of the Moscow Philharmonic Society from 1891 to 1901), as well as members of the Society of Art and Literature.

The Art Theater’s program of realistic productions, based on the art of “experiencing” and on the staging of contemporary progressive drama, was carried out under the joint leadership of Nemirovich-Danchenko and Stanislavsky. Nemirovich-Danchenko made the final decisions concerning repertoire. Together with Stanislavsky he staged all of Chekhov’s major plays, namely, The Seagull (1898), Uncle Vanya (1899), Three Sisters (1901), and The Cherry Orchard (1904). He staged Chekhov’s Ivanov independently in 1904.

Nemirovich-Danchenko helped draw attention to M. Gorky’s dramas; in 1902 he and Stanislavsky staged Gorky’s The Lower Depths. He also staged G. Hauptmann’s Lonely Lives (1899) and H. Ibsen’s When We Dead Awaken (1900), Pillars of Society (1903), Brand (1906), and Rosmersholm (1908).

In 1903, Nemirovich-Danchenko staged Shakespeare’s tragedy Julius Caesar, relying heavily on the methods of modern psychological theater. The innovative principles of his directorial work—masterful psychological analysis and the ability to convey the unique features of a social milieu as well as the characteristics of an author’s style—were also convincingly displayed in his productions of the Russian classics, including Ostrovskii’s Even a Wise Man Stumbles (1910) and Saltykov-Shchedrin’s The Death of Pazukhin (1914). His stage adaptation of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov stressed the novel’s social criticism. At the same time, the contradictory nature of his Nikolai Stavrogin, (1913), a stage adaptation of Dostoevsky’s The Possessed, led to Gorky’s complete rejection of the play.

Seeking to overcome dangerous tendencies resulting from the theater’s loss of contact with progressive social thought in the last years before the Revolution, Nemirovich-Danchenko did not always find reliable support for his choice of repertoire; his productions of L. N. Andreev’s Anathema (1909) and Thought (1914) were unsuccessful.

The Great October Socialist Revolution opened up new perspectives for Nemirovich-Danchenko. His contribution to the development of directorial art was of great significance in establishing socialist realism in the Moscow Art Theater and in training the new Soviet actor, the bearer of the militant and staunch spirit of socialist humanitarianism. Nemirovich-Danchenko worked persistently to bring the works of Soviet dramatists to the stage. In his production of Vs. Ivanov’s Blocus (1929), he attempted to solve the problems involved with staging contemporary tragedy. He paved the way for the poetic recreation of revolutionary history and contemporary reality in his productions of Trenev’s Liubov’Iarovaia (1936), Leonov’s The Orchards of Polovchansk (1939), and Pogodin’s The Kremlin Chimes (1942). In his stage adaptations of L. N. Tolstoy’s novels Resurrection (1930) and Anna Karenina (1937), Nemirovich-Danchenko provided a model for a new stage interpretation, based on Leninist analysis, of the great writer’s works.

Nemirovich-Danchenko also staged the works of Russian classical drama, including Ostrovskii’s The Storm (1935) and Griboedov’s Woe From Wit (in 1938). His inherent ability to reveal the underlying sociophilosophical content of a work in a unique poetic form that corresponded to its inner structure emerged with particular force in his productions of Gorky’s Enemies (1935) and Chekhov’s The Three Sisters (1940).

Nemirovich-Danchenko worked consistently on problems of stage theory and the training of the actor, closely following the methods developed by Stanislavsky. His theories were based on the concept of “the three perceptions of the theatrical production” and “the three roads to it: the social, the true-to-life, and the theatrical,” all inseparably linked. It was precisely this concept that led to Nemirovich-Danchenko’s highly important teachings on the “second level of the actor’s stage life,” on the “nucleus” of the stage character, on “physical awareness” and on “inner monologue.”

Nemirovich-Danchenko also promoted stage realism, rejecting routine and stereotypes, in the musical theater. In 1919 he founded, as part of the Moscow Art Theater, the Moscow Art Musical Studio, which in 1926 became the V. I. Nemirovich-Danchenko Musical Theater. There he staged a number of productions and supervised the presentations of such musical works as Lecocq’s The Daughter of Madame Angot, Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, Verdi’s La Traviata, Shostakovich’s Katerina Izmailova,Khrennikov’s The Storm, and Carmencita and the Soldier (based on Bizet’s Carmen).

Nemirovich-Danchenko was awarded the State Prize of the USSR (1942, 1943), the Order of Lenin, and the Order of the Red Banner of Labor.

WORKS

Iz proshlogo, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1938.
Teatral’noe nasledie, vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1952–54.
P’esy. Moscow, 1962.
Rezhisserskii plan postanovki tragedii Shekspira “lulii Tsezar’”; Moskovskii khudozhestvennyi teatr, 1903 g. Introductory article by B. I. Rostotskii and N. N. Chushkin. [Moscow, 1964.]

REFERENCES

Sobolev, Iu. VI. I. Nemirovich-Danchenko. Petrograd, 1918.
Vilenkin, V. Ia. VI. I. Nemirovich-Danchenko: Ocherk tvorchestva. Moscow, 1941.
Freidkina, L. Vladimir Ivanovich Nemirovich-Danchenko. Moscow-Leningrad, 1945.
Freidkina, L. Dni i gody VI. I. Nemirovicha-Danchenko. Moscow, 1962. [Contains a bibliography.]
Markov, P. A. Rezhissura VI. I. Nemirovicha-Danchenko v muzykal’nomteatre. Moscow, 1960.

B. I. ROSTOTSKII

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