by Aleksei Goncharenko
(Translated by Dassia Posner)
Maxim Udintsev played his most recent roles at the Ekaterinburg Puppet Theatre without the help of puppets, not as an actor, but as a first-rate pupppeteer. Onstage, Udintsev himself transforms into a puppet. The characters he inhabits in Bobok and Bashmachkin are surrounded by puppets. He involuntarily imitates them in movement and mannerisms, whether as the writer with an over-active imagination from Dostoevsky's story or as the feeble civil servant from Gogol's tale. Ivan Ivanovich from Bobok ends up at a graveyard where puppets play the roles of corpses who hold on to life through inertia. Akakii Akakievich from Bashmachkin daydreams about his lost overcoat, encircled by death-dreams populated by phantom-puppets. Actor and puppets blend organically on a single stage, as if shaped from the same dough.
The show Pictures from an Exhibition runs without a single word to an arrangement of Mussorgsky's music. Columbine, Pierrot and Harlequin stroll about, play with puppets, are sometimes funny, and sometimes cruel in their banter with one another. Udintsev plays Harlequin. His character-destroyer constantly meddles in the touching relationship of the lovers. He has a sly glint in his eyes, the abrupt movement of a deft figure, the harmony of a music box mechanism.
Puppeteers are often compared with musicians. Udintsev plays jazz. He is sparing in his movement and fascinated by changes in rhythm. And this is not only in the roles he plays "live," but also with a puppet in his hands, hidden from the audience behind a screen; the role of the Scarecrow in The Emerald City of the Land of Oz is one example. Udintsev's characters always love to travel into the unknown, and, in this case, there is no difference between the magical country imagined by Baum and the phantasmagorical worlds of Russian writer-philosophers of genius. His characters are all clowns from behind the looking glass.
Ekaterinburg Puppet Theatre: http://www.uralkukla.ru/