Mask, do we know you?

The world premiere of The Three Masks of the King ballet in Samara

The Samara Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre has had a ballet premiere. The play titled The Three Masks of the King is a unique occurrence: it was created in public and private partnership. Kilize private theatre from Saint Petersburg founded by benefactor Vyacheslav Zarenkov sponsored the staging.

With benefactor

Vyacheslav Zarenkov sponsors theatre stagings and the construction of Orthodox churches, writes books and paints, does research. He is the author of the idea of The Three Masks of the King ballet and a co-author of its libretto. The previous ballet by Zarenkov's libretto Orr and Ora saw the light in 2017 on the stage of the Belarusian Big Opera and Ballet Theatre.

Yury Smekalov, the soloist of the Mariinsky Theatre's ballet company and choreographer, winner of Golden Mask national theatre award for Trigorin in Boris Eifman's ballet The Seagull took on the idea of Zarenkov. Smekalov has stagings under his belt in Russia and abroad, including in the Bolshoi and the Mariinsky theatres.

The Three Masks of the King is the first staging of Yury Smekalov in the Samara theatre. He is not only the ballet master and the director of the play but also a co-author of the libretto. Russia's Bolshoi theatre's soloist Viktoria Litvinova, who participated in his recent staging in Comedian's Refuge theatre in Petersburg – the notorious play Solaris to the music of Bkhima Yunusov – became Smekalov's assistant when working on The Three Masks of the King.

The Three Masks of the King is the first staging of Yury Smekalov in the Samara theatre

Petersburg composer Mikhail Krylov wrote music to the ballet, young composer, graduate of the Moscow conservatoire and graduate student of The Hague conservatoire Daniil Pilchen was invited for orchestration. But the music of The Three Masks of the King goes beyond a traditional symphony orchestra: sound effects and the sound of live instruments are combined in it. Petersburg musician and director Vlad Zhukov, one of the composers of blockbuster Salyut-7, was responsible for the electronic part of arrangements and sound production.

The task of coordinating academic musicians and electronic music was on the shoulders of chief conductor of the Samara theatre Evgeny Khokhlov. Scenic designer Vyacheslav Okunev created decorations and costumes of the play. A multifunctional transformer mask, which changes a facial expression throughout the play, is the main element of the scenic design and the centre of all video effects.

Spectators in search of moral

The Three Masks of the King is a parable ballet; though it has a storyline and characters, the moral is the most important thing in it like in any parable. The plot is clear, while the directors don't reveal the moral: the play's spectators should understand it on their own.

The action takes place in an invented world where everyone wears a mask. The king named Julius meets a girl Emma who doesn't wear a mask and he becomes interested in her; in the meantime, another girl, Sara, hides her feelings under a mask. The king's main adviser Conor stages a coup, dethrones Julius and depersonalises citizens. Emma encourages Julius to get the power back; the citizens who took the masks off join the opposition against Conor's faceless supporters…

The king named Julius meets a girl Emma who doesn't wear a mask and he becomes interested in her

Yury Smekalov speaks the language of both academic choreography and contemporary dance techniques, the latter prevail in The Three Masks of the King. And the work on the play became for the Samara theatre's company whose repertoire today consists of classic and neoclassic ballets is an unprecedented experience. Nevertheless, it didn't have to invite artists from the outside.

Only principal dancer of the Mariinsky Theatre Vladimir Shklyarov performed the leading role in the very first play of the premieres. Prima ballerina of the Samara theatre Ksenia Ovchinnikova became his partner in the premiere. Only Samara soloists danced in two other premieres: Kirill Sofronov and Veronika Zemlyakova, Sergey Gagen and Marina Nakadzima. Anastasia Tetchenko and Uliyana Shibanova performed the role of Sara.

After one of the plays, the audience was invited to meet with the directors. Vyacheslav Zarenkov, Mikhail Krylov, Evgeny Khokhlov, Yury Smekalov, Viktoria Litvinova, Daniil Pilchen and Vlad Zhukov answered the spectators' questions about The Three Masks of the King in the background of the decorations. Such an event has been held in the Samara theatre for the first time and has become another level the theatre has reached thanks to this project.

The new ballet caused a buzz in Samara: spectators have bought out tickets to all the plays scheduled on the poster.

By Yekaterina Baburina. Photo: