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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

St. Pete Sweeps Golden Mask Awards

Perhaps it was "Putin power," waves of energy wafting in from St. Petersburg, that hung over the recently concluded Golden Mask theater festival. Or maybe it was just a repeat occurrence of what is becoming a tradition. Whatever the reason, St. Petersburg theaters and performers walked away with the lion's share of prizes for the third year in a row at the festival's award ceremonies at the Maly Theater on Monday.

Of the 24 Golden Masks handed out in competition categories, 11 traveled home to the northern capital. Moscow artists claimed six awards, while five other cities shared the remaining seven.

Traditionally a big winner, St. Petersburg's Mariinsky Theater once again marched off with a stack of red velvet boxes carrying the attractive mirrored and ceramic plaque of a winged masked face.

The Mariinsky hauled in four prizes in the field of opera - "Semyon Kotko" as best production; Yury Alexandrov asbest director; Valery Gergiyev as best conductor; and Semyon Pastukh as best designer. Gergiyev's victory was his fourth in as many years.

In the field of dance, the Mariinsky also took the jury prize for its production of "Sleeping Beauty."

Among the drama nominees, "The Father," produced by the Bolshoi Drama Theater of St. Petersburg, produced two winners - Sergei Dreiden and Yelena Popova as best actor and actress.

Dreiden's victory caused some debate. Many had expected Moscow's Oleg Tabakov to be tabbed best actor for his work in "Room of Laughter." However, even though this show by the Tabakov Theater was named best production, both the actor and its director, Kama Ginkas, were passed over when the individual prizes were handed out.

Ginkas was shut out for the third time in four years, despite having two shows nominated.

But Dreiden and Popova were an unbeatable pair in "The Father." As the warring husband and wife whose battle for control of their daughter shatters their home, both actors wrapped their passions and temperament in an outer shell of restraint and decorum. In the confines of the two characters' complete incompatibility, the performers found a remarkable rapport.

Another surprise of sorts was the naming of Lev Dodin as best director. His production of "Chevengur" for St. Petersburg's Maly Drama Theater received mixed responses. Throughout the first of three shows last Friday, a trickle of spectators left the auditorium, while before the curtain calls began there was a near stampede for the exit.

When accepting his award Monday, even Dodin admitted that his victory was unexpected.

"Really," he said when the audience laughed. "I mean it."

The actors, critics and designers making up the festival jury, however, evidently concluded that the overall high professionalism of Dodin's theater justified singling out the director himself. And, indeed, while "Chevengur" - an exploration of why utopias so appeal to Russians - may add little new to Dodin's work as a whole, it bears the seamless stamp of an artist who is a master of his craft.

Not surprising was the awarding of best designer to Emil Kapelyush. In recent seasons he has created many of St. Petersburg's most effective sets and he designed two shows in this year's festival.

His winning design for the Komissarzhevskaya Theater's "The Tempest" mixed fantasy and functional efficiency in a construction suggesting the ship that carried Prospero and his daughter to their desert island.

The biggest crowd pleaser was the writer/director/performer Yevgeny Grishkovets of Kaliningrad who pulled down two prizes for his production of "How I Ate a Dog." (The Russian idiom "to eat a dog on something" is roughly the equivalent of "to write the book on something.") Grishkovets was cheered raucously when awarded the innovation prize and the critics' prize.

"How I Ate a Dog" was a fine one-man show whose taking-off point was the experience of a young man in the Russian navy. While all of the incidents that Grishkovets narrates and acts out are scenes from life in the navy - for instance, his sharing a meal of dog with a Korean shipmate during a Korean holiday - what makes this show work so well is its insight into the universal qualities of human nature. The style of performance is something in the vein of what is known as stand-up comedy in the West.

Grishkovets affectionately toys with our follies, our vulnerability and our pride in a 90-minute monologue that seems to wander loosely from topic to unrelated topic, but whose randomness is, in fact, a statement in itself. Our world, the writer/actor seems to be declaring, is a place in which everything is connected. Only by sensing the interrelationships of disparate elements of human experience can we appreciate properly what we see, know and feel.

The inclusion here of ''feelings'' is crucial, for Grishkovets purposefully and unabashedly dips into sentimentalism. In fact, he calls himself a ''new sentimentalist.'' While I can imagine a time when that label will become a burden to the artist, for the present it sets him apart from the field and allows us to see him as one who boldly has rejected the hip cynicism that colors so much in the contemporary world of pop culture and art.


Other Winners

Drama Jury Prize: "Cynics," Minusinsk Drama Theater

Innovation Prize: "Voices of the Unseen," Helikon Opera, Moscow

Best Opera Singers: Svetlana Kolyanova of Krasnoyarsk and Valery Gilmanov of Novosibirsk

Operetta Singer: Ivan Korytov of Krasnoyarsk

Ballet: "Symphony in C major" and "Agony," Bolshoi Theater, Moscow

Dancers: Nikolai Tsiskaridze and Svetlana Uvarova, both of Moscow

Contemporary Dance Performance: "The Bed," Class of Expressive Plastic Body Movement, Moscow

Contemporary Dance Choreographer: Tatyana Baganova, Yekaterinburg

Puppet Show: "Zolushka," Doll's House, St. Petersburg

Puppet Actress: Elina Ageyeva, St. Petersburg