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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Theater as Muse, Design as Means

In homage to the world of theater, the gallery of the International University is mounting an exhibit of two celebrated theater artists who also happen to be father and son: Alexander Petrovich Vasiliev, a well known Russian set designer, and his son, Alexandre Alexandrovich Vassiliev, a costume designer and fashion historian.


The paintings of Vasiliev senior and the costume designs of the younger Vassiliev are part of a show appropriately called "The Theater, My Love." The theater is not only a love for the two artists but a passion, as their displayed works demonstrate.


Alexander Petrovich, a scenographic artist and set designer who died in 1990 at the age of 79, was an accomplished easel painter whose oeuvre included more than 400 paintings in various genres -- portraiture, still life, collage -- all inspired by the theater. Some of these works are included in the exhibit, -- among them a self-portrait and several paintings with the painter's association with the theater as their theme. In "Intermission" and "Recollections of Amsterdam," he uses a vivid palette in the foreground, peopled with dramatic characters and set against somber backdrops. "Intermission" offers a glimpse of backstage life: Two actors, both half-dressed, one wearing a hat with a feather from his last or next scene, relax between acts over a game of chess and a cigarette.


Equally intriguing are the sketches of Vasiliev's son -- who goes by the French spelling of his name, Alexandre Vassiliev -- and who is a flamboyant personality, both in the Moscow beau monde and abroad.


The 40 pen-and-ink drawings on display are drawn from Vassiliev's work on productions of the operas "The Marriage of Figaro" and "Luisa Miller" and the ballet "The Sleeping Beauty," all staged abroad.


Vassiliev's costume designs are not just plans for dressing different characters, such as Carabosse in the "Sleeping Beauty" or members of the choir in "Luisa Miller." They are also decorative compositions in their own right. Some look as if they just came from the drawing board, with swatches of fabric still pinned to them.


Vassiliev paints the characters in the style of caricature -- with crude and exaggerated physiognomies and thick, out-of-proportion limbs. But the clothing they wear shows loving attention: bold contrasting patterns, tassels, sashes, frills and ruffs and wigs.


A chunky Princess Florine from "The Sleeping Beauty," in her bright blue tutu, is rendered with just such droll and mischievous detail. Another character sports a tremendous embroidered 18th-century jacket with spectacularly ribboned high-heeled shoes. Sketched with swift, bold strokes in pen and ink, the outfit demonstrates Vassiliev's knowledge of historical designs.


The winner of numerous awards, Vassiliev, who is also a fashion critic and historian, was born in Moscow in 1958 into a family of theater professionals. His mother, Tatyana, was a professor of dramaturgy and an actress, and his uncle, Pyotr Vasiliev, was a well-known director. From 1976 to 1981, Vassiliev studied at the Khudozhestvenny Theater Studio in Moscow. He chose to go into costume design early on, creating costumes for such productions as "The Seagull," and "Uncle's Dream."


In 1982 he emigrated to Paris, where he finished his postgraduate studies and started to make a name for himself. He now lectures on costume history at the Sorbonne and at other universities around the world and designs costumes for opera and ballet.


"The Theater, My Love" runs until the end of January at the gallery of the International University, 17 Leningradsky Prospekt, 3rd floor. It is open every day except Sunday from 10 A.M. to 6 P.M. All of the works are for sale at prices ranging from $300 to $450. Tel. 250-3441. Nearest metro: Belorusskaya.