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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yasulovich's Silences Speak Volumes




When Igor Yasulovich was asked recently about a role he was rehearsing, he shrugged his shoulders and said, "It's too early to say anything. I'm still working."


The actor then paused and added, "And after the show comes out, there will be nothing more to say. It will all be said on the stage."


Yasulovich wasn't being coy. He just has a way with silence. In fact, he always has.


His performances in two of this past season's most talked-about productions, Anton Chekhov's "Tatyana Repina" and Kama Ginkas' "Pushkin. Duel. Death," both at the Theater Yunogo Zritelya, were remarkable for the intensity, depth and variety of emotions they portrayed with only a minimum of spoken text. But if we go back to the actor's beginnings, it becomes clear that it all started long ago.


The first theater Yasulovich joined back in 1962 was the Rumnev Theater of Pantomime. Later, as a member of the Theater Kinoaktyora, the actor created one of his most memorable roles ? a silent Chichikov in a nonverbal version of Nikolai Gogol's novel "Dead Souls" under the title of "The Travels of Chichikov."


"Pantomime has been a defining factor in my life," Yasulovich, who is now 58 years old, says. "The physical side of my roles has always been precise."


That certainly was true of Yasulovich's exceptional work as the groom Sabinin in Valery Fokin's world premiere production of Chekhov's early play, "Tatyana Repina." In this strange and mystical piece, Yasulovich essentially played his character's inner world, giving form, if not speech, to a man's frantic state as he approaches the altar for marriage.


"Tatyana Repina" may not have been one of Fokin's best productions, but it was a stylistically intriguing work that provided an ideal vehicle for Yasulovich's talents. The actor made the most of the possibilities.


In "Pushkin. Duel. Death," Yasulovich again was brilliant in the part of Pushkin's close friend Pavel Nashchokin. This production was conceived to express the impossibility of ever achieving a satisfactory response to the question: Who was Alexander Pushkin? The 12 characters gathered like disciples to discuss Pushkin's personal life after his death in a duel; they increasingly obscured the poet's nature the more they attempted to communicate through words.


But Nashchokin, in Ginkas' interpretation, was a man of few words. Amid the cacophony of opinions, facts and gossip offered by the surrounding characters, it was his silent figure that brought home the director's central message: Words are pointless; the closest we can come to understanding another person, especially a great poet, is when we perceive him through emotions.


Yasulovich, who has a rare capacity to communicate intelligibly through expressions, pauses and gestures, was a revelation in this role.


There were several actors who impressed this season ? my short list would include Alexander Filippenko and Konstantin Raikin in "Hamlet" at the Satirikon; Sergei Artsibashev in "The Shepherd" at the Theater Na Pokrovke; Oleg Tabakov in "Room of Laughter" at the Theater Yunogo Zritelya; Ilya Bledny in "The Inspector General" at the Dzhigarkhanyan Theater; and Yury Lakhin in "The Lion in Winter" at the Satirikon ? but Yasulovich's turns as Sabinin and Nashchokin win him my vote for the season's top actor.


Yasulovich, however, seems as proud of the work he did three decades ago as of his recent accomplishments. For him, the 37 years of his acting career add up to a unified whole.


"I can proudly say that with 'The Travels of Chichikov' we strongly influenced the theater process of the time," he says of the show, which ran from 1966 to 1970. "It's not that others stole from us, because what we were doing was in the air. But after our show, it seemed that every show that took itself seriously had some element of pantomime in it."


At the Theater Kinoaktyora, where he acted from 1964 to 1993 while also performing in over 100 films, Yasulovich played the leads in several plays ? Chatsky in "Woe from Wit," both Dromios in "The Comedy of Errors," and Octavio in Lope de Vega's "The Idiot Lady." The actor's best known feature film credits include "Autumn Temptations" and "Ruslan and Lyudmila," and he was also part of the cast of the popular television series, "Petersburg Secrets."


Yasulovich admits that the Theater Kinoaktyora was not the best home for an actor interested in dramatic theater. It was founded in the 1950s essentially as a stall in which to occupy film actors between calls from the studios.


"It was always on the periphery of theater," Yasulovich explains. "Theater people didn't take it seriously. Spectators came to it as if they were coming to a zoo to gawk at famous film stars. I always wanted to be a part of a real theater, but it never quite happened."


That is, until 1993, when he received an invitation from Genrietta Yanovskaya to perform the role of Shabelsky in her production of Chekhov's "Ivanov" at the Theater Yunogo Zritelya. Shortly thereafter, he joined Yanovskaya's troupe and has remained there ever since, performing in several of the theater's shows. In addition to the eccentric Shabelsky, Yasulovich's best work with Yanovskaya was as Kuligin, the quixotic, ridiculed town intellectual in Ostrovsky's "The Storm."


Yasulovich's fortunes took another leap upward in 1998. First came his powerful outing in "Tatyana Repina," followed by his commanding performance in "Pushkin. Duel. Death." Now both Fokin and Ginkas have tapped Yasulovich to play in their next productions ? Ginkas' dramatization of Chekhov's story "The Black Monk" will open in October, and Fokin's production of a dramatization of Gogol's "Old-World Landowners" opens in December.


What is it like working with three of the top directors in Russian theater today?


"Oh, I wouldn't compare them," Yasulovich laughs. "Somebody's feelings are bound to get hurt. I can only say that it is different with each of these three directors. It's not easy. But I like to work hard. I like it when there's heavy physical work."


Yasulovich knows a thing or two about directing. He graduated from the State Institute of Cinematography in 1974 with a degree in directing and shot two children's movies in the 1970s.


In 1998 he and Alexander Titel were nominated for a Golden Mask award as co-directors of the opera "The Marriage of Figaro." This production grew out of a course he led at the musical theater department of the Russian Academy of Theater Arts, where he has been teaching since 1993 and is still in repertory at the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Musical Theater.


Not surprisingly, perhaps, Yasulovich is drawn to musical theater by its intensity.


"They say that opera is the highest art and it's probably true," Yasulovich says. "When you see the masters you realize that it's a whole different temperature of existence. A dramatic actor can pause, draw things out and gather his strength. But a musical actor must exist more intensely, he has to respond when the notes dictate it."


In his own acting, Yasulovich often comes close to combining the precise intensity of the musical theater with the freedom of improvisation that a dramatic actor enjoys.


He takes pleasure in telling of his early 1960s television film debut as the French painter Nicolas Poussin.


"When I watched the rushes and saw what I had done, I was horrified," he asserts. "I made so many faces and was so active it was monstrous. I suppose some actors know it right away, but I only realized then that I had to be more restrained."


Now Yasulovich cites the title of a book by the actor Sergei Yursky as a touchstone for actors.


"What's Yursky's book called?" he asks. "'He Who Holds the Pause'? That's a perfect definition of one who has achieved acting mastery."