De Kersentuin

± 2h

14/05 – 20:30
15/05 – 20:30
16/05 – 20:30
17/05 – 15:00

In the twenty-five years they have been treading the boards, the members of tg STAN have remained faithful to their critical and undogmatic approach to theatre and society. In 2015 they are returning to Chekhov, this time tackling his final and most enigmatic play, a work that has left its indelible mark on the history of theatre: The Cherry Orchard . The question of knowing whether the play is a comedy or a drama, and why Chekhov was persuaded that is was definitely a comedy, has occupied generations of creators. Nine actors, four of whom have just left drama school, tackle this literary monument that has held an almost fatal attraction for performers for more than a century. If The Seagull is the perfect play, The Cherry Orchard could well be the perfect “anti-play”. The present barely exists, stifled as it is between a nostalgic and romantic preference for the past and a fragile aspiration for an uncertain future. So why stage The Cherry Orchard in 2015? Because they can!

Anton Chekhov

By & with
Evelien Bosmans, Evgenia Brendes, Robbie Cleiren, Jolente De Keersmaeker, Lukas De Wolf, Bert Haelvoet, Minke Kruyver, Scarlet Tummers, Rosa Van Leeuwen, Stijn Van Opstal, Frank Vercruyssen

Thomas Walgrave

An d’Huys

Decor in collaboration with
Damiaan De Schrijver

Technical team
Tom Van Aken, Chris Vanneste & Tim Wouters

Stage technician
Gregory Abels

Thanks to
Cynthia Loemij, Woedy Woet & Kopspel vzw

Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Théâtre Varia

STAN (Antwerp)

Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Festival d’Automne à Paris, Théâtre de la Colline (Paris), Théâtre national de Bordeaux en Aquitaine, Le Bateau Feu (Dunkerque), Théâtre Garonne (Toulouse), Théâtre de Nîmes

Supported by
Vlaamse Overheid

Subtitling with the support of

This project is co-produced by
NXTSTP, with the support of the Culture Programme of the European Union

Jolente De Keersmaeker, Sara De Roo, Damiaan De Schrijver, Sigrid Janssens, Ann Selhorst, Renild Van Bavel, Veerle Vandamme, Frank Vercruyssen, Thomas Walgrave & Tim Wouters

tg STAN is attached to
Théâtre Garonne (Toulouse)

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STAN presents
The Cherry Orchard
A Comedy

“The next play I write will definitely be funny, very funny, at least in intention.” (Chekhov to Olga Knipper, 7 March 1901)

Chekhov worked on The Cherry Orchard for years, ponderously, hesitantly, changing tone, all the while struggling with his health. He had been suffering from chronic tuberculosis for years and was now in rapid decline, often too tired to go on writing. On 28 July 1903 he wrote to Konstantin Stanislavski from his dacha in Yalta on the Crimean peninsula: “My play isn’t ready yet, it is progressing slowly, which can only be explained by my laziness, by the wonderful weather, and by the difficulty of the subject.” At the Moscow Art Theatre the manuscript was awaited with impatience, excitement, and anxiety, and on 27 September, Chekhovwrote to his wife, Olga Knipper: “My dear horsey, I have already wired to say that the play is ready, that all four acts are complete. I am now making a fair copy. I have managed to make them living people, but what the actual play is like, I don’t know.” And on 15 October: ‘Play sent. Healthy. Kiss. Regards, Antonio.’” The manuscript was ecstatically received in Moscow. On 19 October, Olga wrote: “What a thrilling day yesterday, my darling, my beloved! I couldn’t write to you, my head was fit to burst. I had been expecting the play for two days and was becoming incensed that it had not arrived. Finally, yesterday morning it was brought to me. (…) When I had finished reading it, I ran to the theatre. Fortunately, the rehearsal had been cancelled. (…) If you had seen the faces of all those people bent over The Cherry Orchard! Naturally, everyone insisted on reading it aloud at once. We locked the door, removed the key, and began.” The Cherry Orchard would eventually premiere on 17 January 1904. It would be Chekhov’s last play. He died a few months later, on 4 July 1904 ...

In The Cherry Orchard, all the elements of a typical Chekhov play are present: a continuous movement of characters, a tempo and intensity that constantly change; dialogues that randomly appear and are unrelated, abruptly interrupted by seemingly irrelevant interventions or information; important data or feelings that are shared almost without notice; the elegance of the details; the economy of words – Chekhov remains the master of the economic expression – the open structure, a dramatic field rather than a dramatic line, no exaggerated emotions, no boasting, no important truths. The truth in this piece is modest, simple, indirect; it is rooted in the familiar rhythms of our lives. Nothing is inflated, the proportions are familiar, and yet everything is transformed, thanks to an imagination that allows us to penetrate deeply into the strangeness of the everyday. “A True Comedy of High Seriousness”, as American writer Richard Gilman called it.

Chekhov’s method is often compared to that of a composer or a painter: a brushstroke here, another one there, extend this line, a sudden spot, the gradual filling-in of an area, marks, blemishes, dark and light, rubbing out, building up, ... on 11 May 1889 he wrote in a letter to his brother Alexander: “Drastic rewriting need not unsettle you, as the more of a mosaic the result is, the better.” Thus, a dramatic field …

And yet, however many attempts have been made to understand the play, The Cherry Orchard remains an enigma and Chekhov cannot be pigeonholed. Since the beginning of its performance history, this play has been torn between interpretive polarities: naturalism or poetry, realism or symbolism, social lament or prophecy, comedy or tragedy… Not infrequently motivated by ideological short-sightedness, the play has already been called everything: a political indictment, a poetic-melancholic image of time, a nostalgic contemplation, an ode to progress, a social satire. The characters are constantly, depending on what emerges, favouring some ideology or another. Is Lopakhin now a hero who stands for progress and company affiliation? Or is he an upstart peasant with no manners, blinded by profit? Is Lyubov a spoiled and selfish brat who represents the past glory of the old landed gentry and could better perish with her entire clique as swiftly as possible? Or is she a sensual and irresistible ode to fragile humanity and the essential uselessness of our lives? Does she stand as a symbol for the right to that uselessness, for the right to beauty, to everything that has no economic value, to culture? Is Trofimov an enlightened spirit or a verbose wiseacre who is also idle? Or could it perhaps be that moral judgments are not addressed? Does Chekhov make his own mind known through his characters? Or does he just let them speak? Are the opinions those characters share with us also the ‘themes’ of the play? Or are they just opinions that are expressed in the play? Could it be that the many layers of human activity are simply displayed in all their complexity? That the play does not completely reveal all his secrets, that the characters will not explain to us why they do what they do… ?

Chekhov is no doubt fondly chuckling in his grave and whispering softly in our ear: “All this, and everything else … or not … Find out for yourself.”

It is certainly clear that this play is as elusive as life itself.

In 1904, Russian poet Andrei Bely wrote in an essay on The Cherry Orchard that he doesn’t identify Chekhov’s method as a technical instrument,but rather speaks of what we ourselves might call his ‘glance’, “as it falls with unparalleled clarity on the most minute particulars, on the extreme momentariness of our experience. It’s this approach toward the humble, the casual and fragmentary, the scorned – the very basis of the revolution Chekhov brought about in the theatre – which sets free the previously unknown, what we might call the music that hasn’t yet been heard. An instant of life taken by itself as it is deeply probed becomes a doorway to infinity. The minutiae of life will appear ever more clearly to be the guides to Eternity. (…) In The Cherry Orchard, Chekhov draws back the folds of life and what at a distance appeared to be shadowy folds turns out to be an aperture into Eternity.” *

Anton Pavlovich Chekhov has left an indelible stamp on the history of theatre, and his prose, letters, and plays are still among the finest in world literature. His grasp of man’s innermost feelings is unparalleled, his insight into human behaviour unequalled. He was a moral revolutionary; he has taught us to look at people as they are, big and small, strong and weak, good and bad, corrupt and grand … he remains master of the drama of the undramatic, and will forever belong to that small group of authors who are essential to our quest as human beings, whose perspicacity can continue to help us preserve or recover our individual and collective mental health…

So why create The Cherry Orchard in 2015? That is why… or that is why... or that is why… or …

To Olga Knipper on 20 April 1904: “You ask: What is life? You might as well ask: What is a carrot? A carrot is a carrot, and we know nothing more…”

* Chekhov’s plays: An Opening Into Eternity, by Richard Gilman
This entire text is indebted to Richard Gilman.

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Theatre company STAN, an acronym for Stop Thinking About Names, is a collective formed by Jolente De Keersmaeker, Damien De Schrijver, Sara De Roo, and Frank Vercruyssen, who met in the late-1980s at the Antwerp Conservatorium. There they worked with Matthias de Koning from Maatschappij Discordia, who acquainted them with another, less dogmatic vision of theatre. The company operates on the democratic principle that everyone participates in decisions on everything, from text selection, décor, and lighting to costumes and posters. STAN places the performer in the centre and strongly believes in the principle of the sovereign actor: s/he is both player and maker. Nothing is rehearsed in the conventional sense of the word; the largest part of the rehearsal process takes place around the table. Once the choice of the play is made, the text is edited and retranslated to arrive at a new script. Only in the final days before the premiere do the players take the floor, but the idea really only comes to fruition when the spectators are seated in the hall. STAN nurtures a firm belief in the ‘living’ power of theatre: the performance is not a reproduction of something that is learned, but is being created anew every night, along with the audience. A STAN performance is therefore not a finished product, but rather an invitation to a dialogue.

STAN stands for text-theatre and relies on an extensive and diverse repertoire. High on the repertoire list is the work of classic playwrights such as Chekhov, Gorky, Schnitzler, Ibsen, Bernhard, and Pinter. Dusting off texts from the history of theatre and bringing them into the here and now through a rereading, through placing them in a contemporary context. Besides the classics, STAN often chooses the work of contemporary authors such as, most recently, Yasmina Reza, and writing assignments are often given to authors such as Willem de Wolf, Oscar Van den Boogaard, Gerardjan Rijnders, et al. But the choice may also fall on collages of texts, whereby we start with dramatic texts or short stories, sketches, screenplays, philosophical tracts, and novels. STAN starts from the belief that theatre is not an elitist art, but rather a critical reflection on how all of us live; our beliefs, our concerns, our outrage. World Repertory offers – like no other – insight into the human condition and presents the keys with which to access the complexity of this world. STAN thereby often seeks the paradox of comedy: through humour and lightness, tragedy is often more palpable and more intense.

Each of STAN’s players is part of the collective, but also draws their own course. In addition to seeking a common affinity, there is also the room, and the need, to meet and interact with guest musicians and other theatre companies. In the past, STAN has often worked with Maatschappij Discordia (NL), Dood Paard (NL), Compagnie De KOE, Olympique Dramatique, and Rosas. For The Cherry Orchard the company has engaged nine guest actors. It had already done performances with Robbie Cleiren, Bert Haelvoet, Stijn Van Opstal, and Minke Kruyver, but this time, five young, recently graduated actors are joining them on stage: Rosa Van Leeuwen, Evelien Bosmans, Evgenia Brendes, Scarlet Tummers, and Lukas De Wolf.

STAN not only occupies a very special place in the Dutch theatre landscape, but has also become a much-invited guest abroad, as well. Over the past two decades, the company has built up a strong repertoire of foreign language presentations and has toured extensively in Europe (France, Spain, Portugal, and Norway), and on other continents (Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro, New York, and Québec), with the foreign versions of their Dutch creations, as well as with the French or English versions they created abroad. In the autumn of 2015, the French version of The Cherry Orchard will be on tour in France, and the English version will be seen for the first time at the Dublin Theatre Festival.

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