Russian film director, who fled Russia after criticizing the war in Ukraine, denounced the ‘murder’ of his former theater.
The Gogol Center theater, one of the last bastions of artistic freedom in Russia, has closed its doors with a defiant final show called, I Don’t Take Part In War.
The emotional play on Thursday night, protesting against the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine, marked a dramatic end of an era for the Russian capital’s ever-shrinking opposition and intelligentsia circles.
Previously run by rebel director Kirill Serebrennikovwho left Russia after criticizing Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine, the Gogol Center staged daring plays for a decade, often testing increasingly strict laws and Moscow’s sharp conservative turn under President Vladimir Putin.
The final performance on Thursday night had some of the audience in tears when actors recited poems by Soviet poet and soldier Yuri Levitansky, who was born in what is now Ukraine.
The final play’s name was taken from one of Levitansky’s emblematic verses: “I don’t take part in war, it takes part in me”.
As the show ended, the theater’s outgoing artistic director, Alexei Agranovich announced, “The Gogol Center is closed. Forever.”
On Wednesday evening, Moscow authorities announced a change of management at several Moscow’s top theaters including Sovremennik and Gogol Center. The Gogol Center would get its old name back – The Nikolai Gogol Drama Theater, the authorities said.
Serebrennikov, who was artistic director of the Gogol Center between 2012 and 2021, accused the authorities of “murdering” his former theater that he had built into a national cultural beacon.
“Yes. Gogol Center has been shuttered. That’s it,” Serebrennikov wrote on the messaging app Telegram.
“From the point of view of art, this is not just sabotage – this is murder.”
He said the change of leadership was punishment for the venue’s “honesty” and an “attempt at freedom”, including efforts to protest Moscow’s war on Ukraine.
The 52-year-old director was caught up in a high-profile fraud case that his supporters say was punishment by the Kremlin for challenging the Russian authorities.
Another prominent Moscow theater, the Sovremennik, will also have a change of management, authorities said.
These changes are seen as part of an increasing crackdown on any dissent since President Putin sent troops into Ukraine.
On Thursday, Serebrennikov addressed the audience via video link from Avignon in southeastern France.
“The Gogol Center is an idea, the idea of freedom. Freedom is not dead. Freedom lives on as long as we live,” he said.
In his address, Serebrennikov pledged that, despite the closure in Moscow, the theater’s mission would live on.
“There was this building. There will be another,” he said.
“I hope, someday, the war will end and the beautiful Russia of the future will emerge.”