When the First World War exploded into action one hundred years ago,
the roar of bombs and gunfire inspired the Dadaist art movement to
respond in a similarly noisy fashion. Without ever being explicit,
there is something of this in The War, in which Russian director,
composer and performer Vladimir Pankov and his fancifully named
SounDrama Studio explore the consequences of war through the eyes of
young aesthetes holidaying in Paris during Christmas 1913.
“These are a group of young people with ideas,” says Pankov, who opened
The War as part of Edinburgh International Festival's Theatre this
weekend. “What I wanted to explore and emphasise here is the idea of
how war influences individuals, whether young and artistic like those
in the play,or older people, and to find out what reasons they find to
go and fight in something so catastrophic.”
What is crucial here, however, is how Volkov tells this story. As the
name implies, Pankov's approach is led by sound and music, with The War
featuring two music directors, Artem Kim and Sergei Rodyukov and a
libretto by Irina Lychagina, as well as choreography by Sergei
Zemlansky and Ekaterina Kislova. This fusion of forms makes for a
crossfire cacophony that evokes the noise of war itself.
“What we are doing,” Pankov explains, “is using all the sounds a human
being might make during batttle, the screams they might make when they
rush forward, all of that.”
Pankov's move towards his sound drama technique arguably dates back to
when he started to explore Russian folk music and dance aged twelve,
and later became a collector of folklore while learning to play
assorted horn instruments.
“I was very involved in trying to preserve these folk traditions,” he
says, “It became a very ceremonial thing, that such rich traditions
shouldn't be allowed to disappear, but should develop in a contemporary
Pankov's approach in preserving and renewing traditional music us in
keeping with collectors such as Alan Lomax and Hamish Henderson, who
tapped into a rich seam of tradition which contemporary composers can
source for their own work.
Pankov trained as an actor, and worked at the Moscow State Theatre of
Variety Art. As a composer, Pankov scored Declan Donnellan's
international productions of Boris Godunov and Twelfth Night, in which
he also acted. With his skills developing as a director, it was
inevitable that Pankov would branch out on his own.
“I looked for a theatre company where I could use both types of my
knowledge,” he says, “but there wasn't one, so I had to start my own.”
With three fellow composers, Pankov formed Pan-Quartet to score music
for theatre and film. Out of this developed their own productions with
a loose collective of like-minded composers, musicians, choreographers,
dancers and actors. In 2003, SounDrama Studio was born with the
ensemble's first show, By The Red Thread.
Since then, Pankov and SounDrama Studio have ploughed their own
artistic furrow, utilising a collective approach to produce a form of
performance which may look to the likes of Gogol and Cocteau for source
material, but which creates a pure form of performance style more akin
to free-form avant-garde opera. In The War, Pankov and SoundDrama
Studio might just have found their time.
Pankov's co-production with Chekhov International Theatre Festival may
have been in development for two and a half years sheltered from the
blast in a small village outside Moscow, but, looking at the horrifying
footage of Gaza, it couldn't be more pertinent.
“When our play appears now,” Pankov observes, “it is so very up to the
minute that I'm almost afraid that it looks like we're trying to be
For audiences watching The War in such a climate, however, Pankov
advises leaving all preconceptions at the door.
“I would like them to feel it,” he says. “I would like them to feel
what a human being is like during war, what is love like during war,
what is love like in general. In the performance there is no politics,
and there is no moral in the play. You have to feel the meaning of
what we have to say.”
The War, King's Theatre, Edinburgh, Aug 9-11, 8-10pm; Aug 10, 3-5pm
The Herald, August 8th 2014