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Theatre makes a comeback in Turkmenistan
Arts, discouraged through much of early 2000s, regain some government support
By Shakar Saadi
ASHGABAT – Theatre arts are back in vogue in Turkmenistan.
“Up until 2008, we had completely forgotten about what the theatre was,” said Dovlat, who covers cultural events for state television, explaining that then-President Saparmurat Niyazov closed theatres in the early 2000s, calling them “unneeded.”
But plays and opera re-emerged on the Turkmen scene in 2008.
“Then, suddenly, one premiere after another came out, and the last one, in fact, drew in a lot of people – several hundred – including President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, who went on stage at the end and made a speech about the importance of culture,” Dovlat said. “All this was simply a surprise for the Turkmens.”
The latest offering is the opera “Mahmutkuli,” which premiered in late June. After opening, the directors of various children’s theatres held a meeting and the government granted 10 major theatres $50,000 (143,000 TMT) each.
The theatre revival is a positive change that has given hope to many Turkmens, Dovlat said.
“After we showed a report about the opera ‘Mahmutkuli’ on television, a lot of people called me, asking about it and saying they were very happy that theatre and opera were making a comeback,” he said. “Our nation really loves theatre – and that’s not all!”
Theatre-goers are happy to have options again.
“In Soviet times, I went to the theatre often,” said Maisa Nurmametova, who attended the Russian Drama Theatre’s production of “Othello” this summer. “Under Niyazov, all the museums were left in disrepair and closed. It was a sad sight. And now, to see such a production on stage in Ashgabat – it might be just a classic, but it is Shakespeare – it was simply amazing!”
While people can appreciate the return of theatre, the re-emerging arts scene is going through some growing pains.
“Although the quality was not the best like before, I believe that everything will turn out for them,” Nurmametova said. “I’d like the door to the arts and culture to be opened, not shut. What would become of a nation without culture?”
Theatre critic Irina K. gave mixed reviews of the rebirth of the arts.
It is good that the classics are on stage, she said. “We’ve got many young people who don’t even know or read the classics. Maybe (seeing) the theatre productions will then inspire them to read the books.”
While she welcomed efforts to restore the arts, Irina K. proposed expanding the range of what’s being offered.
“Theatres, if you noticed, are just putting on classical productions,” Irina K. said. “If modern productions were attempted, then they’d likely be something in the style of the current government’s propaganda.”
Some have suggested that theatre groups spread their artistic wings, as discussions have been going on about productions on the dangers of drugs and the benefits of an athletic life, she said.
The idea of re-establishing the national ballet has also been mentioned, and though nothing definitive has been announced, Irina K. said she’s hoping to see that happen.