Celebrated Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov, currently banned from leaving his country, has been chosen to open one of Europe’s leading theatre festivals in Avignon, its organisers said Thursday.
“We don’t know for now whether he will be present in Avignon. We strongly hope so, of course,” festival director Olivier Py told AFP.
He said the programming of Serebrennikov’s new play “The Black Monk” at the Avignon Festival (July 7-26) was set two years ago, “long before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine”.
Serebrennikov, 52, was convicted in 2020 of embezzling funds at Moscow’s Gogol Centre theatre, where he was artistic director.
He has called the charges “absurd” and supporters say he was being punished for backing LGBT+ rights, and productions that criticised authoritarianism and homophobia, and often featured nudity and obscene language.
Py said there was no hesitation in maintaining Avignon’s opening night slot for Serebrennikov — “a major artist we have wanted for a long time”.
He added they were sending “a clear sign” by opening with a Russian director and closing with Ukrainian dancers in a show by Py himself alongside singer Angelique Kidjo.
Serebrennikov was first detained in 2017 and placed under house arrest without phone or internet access, accused of stealing more than $2 million in state funds allocated to his theatre.
He was released in April 2019 but told he could not leave the country until 2023.
He received a three-year suspended sentence in June 2020 and was soon after fired from the Gogol Centre, which he had transformed into a cultural beacon.
However, in January he was allowed to travel to Hamburg, Germany for a preliminary run of his new play, which is an adaptation of a short story by Anton Chekhov.
He told AFP at the time that he had “no idea” why the authorities had let him leave, since they had blocked previous requests.
He was unable to visit Cannes last year when his latest film “Petrov’s Flu” was competing for the Palme d’Or.
One of the film’s stars, Chulpan Khamatova, recently announced that she was in exile in Latvia after criticising the war in Ukraine.
Serebrennikov continued to work while under house arrest, receiving USB hard drives with videos of rehearsals and shows via his lawyer.
In this way, he was able to stage his play “Outside” at Avignon in 2019.
Despite his problems, he has vowed not to leave Russia.
“It’s my motherland,” he told AFP. “I am a citizen of the culture… I love it a lot. I have a lot of friends in Russia. My dreams are still in Russia.”