„Miranda“, after W. Shakespeare`s „The Tempest“, directed by Oskaras Korsunovas, is intricate in a very different way. The production is a one-and-a-half-hour fist in the gut, and its impact from start to finish, culminating in a brilliant, surrealistic “coup de theatre”, has to be experienced as a pre-emptive body strike before the brain can process what has happened. It is not that Korsunovas ever entertains the idea of bamboozling his spectators: he is far too scrupulous a director for such ploys. His moves, together with those of his superb actors, are clear – mostly surprising, not always transparent, but always clear; and they are always purposeful, rather like the decisive moves made twice, suddenly, by father (Povilas Budrys) and daughter (Airida Gintautaite) on a chess board as they play not chess, but “The Tempest” […]
For analytical clarity, the production can be pared back to four layers that Korsunovas, with his great gift for synthesis, tightly intertwines. The first is the narrative of what actually happens on the stage. Prospero reads and acts out Shakespeare to Miranda, his severely disabled daughter, who is confined to an armchair. […] The inference is that she knows “The Tempest`s” story by heart, and through her heart, from Prospero’s repeated readings.
The second layer is an underlying political one, which serves as a framing device for the whole. Prospero rummages about his shelves of books not only for alcohol, but seemingly to check for bugs, as he also, swiftly, checks the telephone receiver. These clues suggesting that he might be a dissident under surveillance are contextualized by television images showing Soviet rulers on the battlements of the Kremlin (Brezhnev among them?). It is a sight too socio-politically charged to be innocent, especially in Lithuania, the first Soviet republic to declare its independence in 1990, before Gorbachev formally dissolved the Soviet Union at the end of December 1991. Snatches of dialogue in Russian from a radio Prospero turns on, as if for spot-checking or to camouflage speech, intercept the fuzz and crackle of interference in the television transmission.
Most significant is the play and replay on the small television screen, from the production’s opening moment, of the second scene of Act One of “Swan Lake”. […] It is hard to identify the beautifully dancing swan, although, given the production’s political innuendos, she could well be Maya Plisetskaya, the prima ballerina assoluta, still, of the Soviet 1970’s, the period possibly implied here. This ballet of ballets, a cultural icon of such importance in Russia, served as a hegemonic cultural tool in coerced Soviet republics, Korsunovas’s Lithuania among them; and Korsunovas makes his point about how politics appropriates art. […]
The dancing swan is associated with the kitsch statuette of a ballerina standing on the shelf of a wall cabinet, which, in a memorable moment of assertiveness, Miranda snatches up to protect from her father’s grasp. This swan is Miranda’s icon, no less sacred to her than his books are to Prospero, who, when she throws down one of them, reminds her of its worth by the tone of his deliberately accentuated two syllables, kni-ga (book), where normally only the first is stressed.
Miranda, as the captive audience of his Shakespeare reading, hardly needs such an admonishment. Ballet, books: they indicate that, regardless of how they are used by political systems, they are the weapons of freedom for individuals – freedom to imagine, freedom to feel, freedom to dare, and freedom to act, as Prospero does, and teaches his daughter to do, with love. Miranda is Prospero’s daughter, the best of him from within his soul, much as she is, in Korsunovas’s luminous insight into Shakespeare, in “The Tempest”.
The third layer concerns Korsunovas’s artistic forms, whose affinity is with Surrealism, Dada and Oberiu (essentially comprising Daniil Kharms and Aleksandr Vvedensky), touched in this instance by Bergman and Tarkovsky, and, through pop culture, by horror movies. Nevertheless, his imprint is very much his own as he builds up shock after shock in a kind of musical swell after the overture of father-feeds-daughter in an everyday living-room setting.
The series of shocks begins when the centre-back frosted glass doors blow open to shattering electronic sounds, the roar of waves (Antanas Jasenka’s phenomenal soundscore runs through the performance) and violent strobe lightning in which a gesticulating, tall, and relatively gangly Prospero performs the tempest – anticipated by water pouring down the back of the frosted glass before this bomb blast. Behind the glass, in horror-film mode or Bergmanian nightmare of the unconscious lurks an indistinct figure, which, once the storm is unleashed, is recognizably Prospero.
The production’s motif of freedom threads its way into the fourth layer of Korsunovas’s tight interplay, which is its allegorical-symbolic layer. It is here that the full significance of his reference to “Swan Lake” comes into its own for, although the production is about freedom, it is also about love. Suddenly, in another bolt from the blue, four ballerinas dancing on pointes crowd the doorway. The music is Odette’s theme, linking the beginning and the end of the ballet, as of the production, and Miranda, still in her nightdress, is one of the ballerinas, partnered by Ferdinando (now performed by a true ballet dancer), still wearing his scarf. The surrealism of this is a knockout, and it evokes powerful emotions precisely because freedom, here, goes hand in hand with love. It is all the more potent because, not too far back in the temporal scale of the production, the soundscore features the fluttering of bird wings. When listened to carefully, it sounds like the flutter of a bird pinned down – a caged bird, perhaps; but, either way, when Miranda dances, the symbolic link to her is unmistakable.
The call seems sinister, given the preceding political innuendos; and the history of the Soviet Union is littered with night calls that preceded the disappearance of people who were murdered or incarcerated in gulags. Most likely, Shakespeare’s island is Korsunovas’s metaphor for the gulag, and this bigger gulag is a second metaphor that overlays the first, which is the “gulag” of the world inhabited by Prospero-father and Miranda, glimpsed in their living room.
In whichever way different spectators perceive the production’s coda, Korsunovas channels their gaze to what, in effect, irrespective of its potentially satirical edge, is his love poem to a fearless Miranda, who takes her chances with life. She gets up on her feet and dances off with her Prince, providing a crystalline and unsentimental sign of hope in, and for, Korsunovas’s black universe. It takes an uncommon spirit to win on the stakes of this production, but it is done, and won.