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Rosencranz and Guildersten Are Alive. Crying. In Memoriam: Yevgeny Arye

Yevgeny Arye. May 2021. The last TV interview. With kind permission of Dmitry Brickman (C).
Yevgeny Arye. The last interview. May 2021.

With special thank you to Dmitry Brickman for kins kind permission of using the photographs from the last TV-interview of Yevgeny Arye ( Israel, May 2021). 

Yevgeny Arye. May 2021. The last TV interview. With kind permission of Dmitry Brickman (C).

As it is known, for operating doctors, the most difficult thing bordering on mission impossible, is to operate on their relatives. The closer a relative is, the harder is the task. It is the same with writers who are in need to collect their thoughts for writing a coherent In Memoriam for close friends who are like relatives. Mission impossible, really. 

Just a couple of months ago, at the time of Zhenja, Yvgeny Arye’s 74th birthday, I was thinking: when would we be able to see each other again? It is not on every of his birthdays that I was occupied with such thoughts during the two thirds of my life, almost forty years that we knew each other. But this time, last November 2021, I was occupied with these thoughts which appeared around his birthday date, November 28th, as if out of nowhere. As if. Now we know that it was this last November when Arye became seriously ill, not with covid which he did overcome before. Some real life premonitions applied. 

It is such a telling weather today, windy snow non-stop. It is not a kind of snow which makes people happy. It is a kind of snow which makes people grieving. The weather is similar in New York today. So telling. So encompassing. Zhenya family’s grief in New York is encircled by acute grief and yet more acute disbelief of his friends in so many places on earth, in Israel, Russia, Finland, UK, US. There are such cases of people passing which compel one’s mind to comprehend it, in vain. In vain. 

In the middle of the 1980s, Yevgeny started his career as a theatrical director. I saw his first steps on that way from a very close distance. I still remember it as it happened just yesterday. This kind of memory when it is imprinted in one’s inner world is not happening often. It happens when people or events one remembers are special. Zhenya was special. He was super-thoughtful – not surprisingly for those who knew that he came to theatre being graduated psychologist from the best university in Soviet Union, Moscow University which did provide a very high quality of education indeed, especially in such disciplines as psychology. So Arye came to theatre as a formed thinker. This placed him  in a special position among his colleagues. He was – often subconsciously – perceiving everything in front of him while working, and everyone, too, not only as a theatrical director, but first of all, as a professional, trained psychologist. He saw deeper, and he felt in a more complex way than his colleagues. He was always closer to an individual soul, would it be a personage, or an actor or actress who are playing them, than other directors who might be geniuses in their profession, but they  did not possess that additional dimension of a shrewd analyses of human psyche that Zhenya had, due to an objective reasons. 

Arye treated people warmly also because of his nature as an organic and professional psychologist. He had a warm aura and comforting ambience of a man who would really listen to you and who would care. It is a rare gift in life, and it is doubly so in arts where individualities and talents are competing per definition.  

Zhenya knew exactly what he wanted to do in his artistic career – and how to reach there. He chose the best possible Soviet theatrical director, Maestro Tovstonogov who led the best drama theatre in the USSR in the 1970s and early 1980s, Bolshoi Drama Theatre, BDT in Leningrad, as his teacher. I know in detail how truly difficult it was for Arye to be an obedient student of the man who was a superb professional, but also the person who was organically incapable to take into account anyone but himself. With a perfectly clear understanding of all difficulties, occurred almost daily, and seeing through his difficult teacher, realising and analysing the thorns in his way in a real-time regime, Zhenya, a formed adult,  decided to stay as a student of Tovstonogov, till the end of his term. He knew what he was up to, and he went through a far from easy way towards his mastership. Maybe, only Arye himself knew about all his personal sacrifices on his way to his goal, to work as a theatre director. And to be a free man – importantly so. When his demanding teacher who actually did value Yevgeny highly, but could not do a thing about his character and temperament, invited Arye to work with and for him, Yevgeny declined the honour. He told me explaining the unheard of decision that once he would agree, he would become ‘an eternal assistant’ of the great director. And that was certainly not the goal he had in life. 

Yevgeny Arye. May 2021. Israel. Last TV interview. With kind permission of Dmitry Brickman (C).

His two first works in the mid-1980s as a guest director in Maly Drama theatre in Leningrad, MDT, now world renowned theatre of Europe led by the great Lev Dodin, The Happiness of Mine, and The Bench, were emotional love stories. Zhenya has put so much of his own soul into the both performances that people were streaming into the theatre to see it non-stop for all the years that the performances were on stage. His soul was shared with all the actors in those not very crowded works, The Bench featured just two actors, him and her, and The Happiness of Mine a handful of actors, and all the actors who did performed into these works were co-charged in the way of a direct humane emotional ongoing communication with the director, and themselves were throwing their personal innermost to the breathless public at every single performance. I witnessed it personally for several years, and it was the one of the most open, honest, dangerously so because of nakedness of a soul, interaction I saw in theatre in any country. Zhenya was a proponent and master of that overwhelming openness of one’s emotional inner-life on stage. It was not an easy thing to do. His teacher maestro Tovstonogov did not teach him that. He taught him a director’s craft. But this personal openness on stage of genuine emotion of an actor or actress which made a theatre the truth and which was projected towards the audience in an incredibly risky openness – and won the audience because of authenticity   of that real, not staged love and grief, and laugh, and memories, and remembrance, and tears, and attentive look into the somebody’s, anybody’s soul, that was Zhenya’s own understanding of life and theatre. And theatre as his life. And his life as a theatre to which he did devote himself completely, becoming at later stages also co-author of  set-design of his works, mastering music which he always felt as extremely important part of life, and mastering his works as a wholesome product of one man, making a recognisable author theatre. 

Zhenya loved literature and poetry and knew it extremely well. More, he felt it, it was personal, the literature and poetry was an absolutely personal thing for him. We were brought this way. He gave me a gift of Joseph Brodsky. I heard the name, but was not that familiar with many of Brodsky’s works at the time when the future Nobel laureate was completely banned in his native country. It was Zhenya who made me familiar with Brodsky’s genius in detail, and I always remember that great gift from my friend. 

He adored Tom Stoppard. We all did. But Arye loved him in the way of his own – wholesomely, deeply, with his personified vision, his detailed plan for his favourite play of Stoppard, Rosencranz and Guildenstern Are Dead . How did he dream of making that performance! It was his idea- fixe in the mid 1980s. It was not an easy plan to realise in the USSR, even if it was the late Soviet period. Stoppard with his chique smartness, with his irony, with his open support of Soviet dissidents, was not the author whose play would be allowed for the stage by the specially designated offices regulating the cultural life in the Soviet Union. But we were lucky to live in the end of the Soviet failed dream, and in 1990 Arye was able to realise his dream, on the stage of Mayakovsky theatre in Moscow. How much did he put into that performance. Anyone who saw it, identified with our hopes, complexes, dreams, failures, fantasies of the intellectually capable people who were forced to live inside a very tightly regulated territory, metaphorically, too. I think that Arye and his great actors who also has put their innermost into that great performance – thank heavens that it has been recorded – did put into that brilliant play of the Tom Stoppard more than the great playwright, our all’ who worked in theatre at the time, indisputable love, meant in his paradoxical eternal story of re-visiting Shakespeare’s heroes and seeing our world by their eyes in the landscape of our time. 

There is no surprise that Rosencranz and Guildenstern Are Dead, which has become such a hit in Moscow in the 1990, has become the essential performance for Yevgeny Arye, embodiment of his interconnection with a stage, his realised dream, his vision, the symbol of  his success. 

In an inner theatre slang, a director can be ‘realised’ or not. This is the most severe, most demanding, no-nonsense rating among colleagues. Yevgeny Arye was considered as ‘realised’ director with and because of his Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead performance in 1990. Since then, he was regarded as a true, proven master by his demanding and professional colleagues. This was a milestone for him, not only professionally, but personally as well. And in his life, personal was professional, and professional was personal. 

Thirty year of his life Yevgeny Arye dedicated to Gesher theatre which he organised with a group of actors who came with him to Tel-Aviv in the beginning of the 1990s. It was a unique phenomenon which will be written into the record of cultural life of modern Israel for good. First  set in as a Russian-language speaking actors theatre, starting from a scratch in all and every way, soon becoming a revelation from Israel on the world theatrical scene – due to Arye’s vision and craft of his actors, Gesher has become a beloved cultural magnet for thousands of people in Israel, first Russian-speaking audience which was justly enthusiastic for a high-level performances they were able to enjoy, but then equally so for a Hebrew-speaking audience, because Gesher has developed its Hebrew-speaking troupe and for many years now there are performances conducted in both languages. Gesher has become a jewel of cultural life in Israel, and it does present Israel in the theatrical world internationally on a high level. It never was an easy undertaking, in all and every sense. But Gesher’s founder felt his responsibility for his people, for his theatre, and he really tried so very hard, along with his good and devoted team, that it did pay off. 

Zhenya was a great Jew, absolutely organically so. He discovered the whole richness of our history and culture a bit late in his life, it is true, as it was the case for many Jews in the Soviet Union. But when he did, he embraced it wholeheartedly, and he did everything he could – and more – to bring his loving and caring understanding and devotion to it in everything he did on the stage of the Gesher theatre, some other theatres as well. And all painful mattering  threads of our Jewish history were reverberating in himself. I know it in detail and from a very close distance, and I know that his heart was full with our Jewish talent, our pain, our memory, and that memory was very pure, and pulsating, living. The love to our people was Zhenya’s nature. And it was  of absolute importance for him.

The last year, 2021, was the year of the Gesher jubileum, the theatre’s 30th anniversary. What do you think my friend Zhenya wanted to do to mark such an important time-mark? He was about to restore his Rosencranz and Guildenstern, of course. For anyone who knew Zhenya well and long, it was the most expected thing for him to do. 

Actually, he always wanted to do it, during these thirty years that he lived and worked in Israel and New York. He did not do it, because he was advised against it due to the fact that there would not be enough public interest in the intellectual play of Stoppard. I wish he would do it. I know he always wanted it. He lived that play all his life. 

Being an internationally renowned master of stage, Arye was regularly invited to work in Moscow. He liked it, and he did a very good job at the most famous and most demanding stages in Russia, such as Sovremennik, Mayakovsky Theatre, Bolshoi Theatre. 

He was also teaching at the Juilliard School in  New York, and I saw his students and their work there. I found them in love with their master, and being overwhelmed by his demand to be sincere, not just professional, on stage. They tried very hard, and they were facing also a personal, not just a professional challenge that followed from now could be called as Aryeh’s Method ( he would laugh his head off this note and dismiss it completely, I know): be intellectually and emotionally honest on stage, put your own emotional innermost into your personage, not to be afraid to show your ups and downs to the people. Theatre is about an open heart. 

Yevgeny Arye. May 2021. The last tv-interview. Israel. With ind permission of Dmitry Brickman (C).

An eight months before his passing, in May 2021, Aryeh was saying in his last big video interview ( to Dmitry Brickman, as a part of Brickman’s popular Children’s-Non-Children’s Questions  project) that the result, the outcome, the essence of one’s life is what has left of him in the matter of one’s creative products, so to say. He mentioned Mozart who in Zhenja’s view ( and mine too) is very much alive hundreds of years after his passing  because people are crying listening to Mozart’s Requiem any time it is performed, does not matter how many centuries has and will pass. He also mentioned some lucky writers which are in the most preferable position from this point of view ( I always agreed with him on that, as well).

Yevgeny Arye and Dmitry Brickman. May 2021. The last Arye’s TV – interview. With kind permission of Dmitry Brickman (C).

Zhenja said: “ There is nothing of you left, there is nothing even of your dust  left, but there is your music, your books, which people are still listening and still reading. What do you mean: one is gone? One is still here, in this very lucky case”.  Absolutely true. But then my friend went on: “I am sure that nothing like that will happen to me and anything that  I have done”. This was a bitter making of balance. But I knew while seeing my friend on a screen that he meant it, that it was not a pose of a narcissist which he never was, even remotely. He was just organically for himself critical towards his legacy, his theatre works. He always was a doubtful one, towards himself in a double portion. 

I think that Yevgeny Arye will live in our memory as a phenomenon of a special man. Kind, educated, organically intelligent, erudite, deeply cultured person in the best sense of the word, which is  a very important and mercilessly disappearing, vital, as it happens, quality of a person in our current reality, does not matter where we live. Zhenya’s world was complex, multi-layered, very rich emotionally and intellectually. He was a man-planet, complete, inviting, attractive to so many people for different reasons. He was humane, emotional, and dignified.  He was special. And this is how he will be left in our memory. Long time, dear Zhenya. When people are remembering another person as a planet, it is a very special – and very rare – legacy. Then Rosencranz and Guildenstern are not dead. They are alive, very much so. And crying. 

 

January 20th, 2022

About the Author
Inna Rogatchi is internationally acclaimed writer, scholar, artist, art curator and film-maker, the author of widely prized film on Simon Wiesenthal The Lessons of Survival. She is also an expert on public diplomacy and was a long-term international affairs adviser for the Members of the European Parliament. She lectures on the topics of international politics and public diplomacy widely. Her professional trade-mark is inter-weave of history, arts, culture and mentality. She is the author of the concept of the Outreach to Humanity cultural and educational projects conducted internationally by The Rogatchi Foundation of which Inna is the co-founder and President. She is also the author of Culture for Humanity concept of The Rogatchi Foundation global initiative that aims to provide psychological comfort to wide audiences by the means of high-class arts and culture in challenging times. Inna is the wife of the world renowned artist Michael Rogatchi. Her family is related to the famous Rose-Mahler musical dynasty. Together with her husband, Inna is a founding member of Leonardo Knowledge Network, a special cultural body of leading European scientists and artists. Her professional interests are focused on Jewish heritage, arts and culture, history, Holocaust and post-Holocaust. She is running several projects on artistic and intellectual studies on various aspect of the Torah and Jewish spirituality. She is twice laureate of the Italian Il Volo di Pegaso Italian National Art, Literature and Music Award, the Patmos Solidarity Award, and the New York Jewish Children's Museum Award for Outstanding Contribution into the Arts and Culture (together with her husband). Inna Rogatchi was the member of the Board of the Finnish National Holocaust Remembrance Association and is member of the International Advisory Board of The Rumbula Memorial Project ( USA). Her art can be seen at Silver Strings: Inna Rogatchi Art site - www.innarogatchiart.com
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