Author: Valentina REZNIKOVA Baku
An exhibition of props and puppets from the puppet show "Leyli and Mac-nun" has opened at Icari Sahar [Baku's Old City] and will continue until the end of June. This is the result of two years' work by the Puppet Theatre run by Tarlan Gorcu. A director, arts manager and artist all rolled into one, he created his own company at the end of the 1980s and has been able to keep it together since then. The company has expanded and now includes a relatively large staff of artists (once there was just one! - author's note), actors, sound engineers and everyone you would expect to put on a show. Along with the theatre managers there are also people, like Gorcu, who were there at the beginning. They are the artist Elman Mirzayev, the actor Hikmat Huseynov and many others involved in this unique phenomenon.
This small world
And it all began with an adventurous idea by Gorcu, who first had the idea of setting up a puppet theatre for adults in Baku. This was not so easy, because not all the bureaucrats warmed to this idea, believing that this was not typical of the ethnic traditions even of street theatre. But Tarlan had no intention of giving up on his idea, and there are some good people in this world. First, he was offered a small room at the Puppet Theatre. And he started to carry out his idea of producing Uzeyir Hacibayov's operetta "Arsin mal alan" ["The Cloth Peddler"]. Then he had to "move" with all the paraphernalia of the theatre to a tiny apartment in Bayil district. The main part of the work was also moved here. He would look for fitments for his sets and imagine the lighting and found a lamp which would shake the audience by turning into a round flashing sphere right before their eyes! And he would be obsessed by all this, forgetting about eating and sleeping, isolating himself from the real world and spending days in this small creative space.
But dreams fly quicker than deeds and it turned out that creating puppets wasn't so quick and easy. You have to remember that puppets, like Papa Carlo's Buratino should come from an ordinary piece of wood. But you can't carve a head out of every tree and give it all the detailed facial features, a body, details of feet and arms, the neck and fingers. And if you remember that the facial features and fingers of male and female puppets must look different, then you can imagine how much time goes into making ordinary puppets that are just ordinary stock and not a specific character!
And what if there are ten characters or more? And each needs its own costume, shoes, hair style and…individual facial features! Female characters need finery. More than that, every character has some objects which in the theatre are called "props" (a book, a musical instrument); in a show there are details of an interior or a dwelling (a carpet, a window-pane, a lamp) or the area in which the action takes place! So, in a theatre like this, it is impossible to calculate precisely to the day when just the "technical" side of the situation will be ready. And it is only then, when this part of the preparation has been done, that you can start working with the actors, adding the music and the lighting and preparing for the first run. And, again, it is impossible to calculate how much time it might take to prepare the show itself when an actor needs to "get into" the character of the puppet.
The result of delicate workmanship
The theatre, thanks to its chairman Azar Neymatov, performed its first production "Arsin mal alan" in a room at the Union of Theatre Workers, which had "settled" there for a while. The show turned out to be entertaining, beguiling, very bright and…festive! As a visiting card of the emerging art of the theatre in Azerbaijan at the end of the 20th century it was shown in various countries. It was a triumph everywhere, appreciated and recognized with awards. Today, the theatre, thanks to the attention given by the country's First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva, has a permanent home in Icari Sahar. The Puppet Theatre not only has its own premises, which is now being completely refurbished, but for two years has received municipal status and accredited to the Administration of the State Historical-Architectural Reserve Icari Sahar within the Cabinet of Ministers of the Azerbaijani Republic.
The current exhibition is also a record of the lengthy creative preparation towards the idea of an artistic presentation of a production based on the national classical works of Nizami Gancavi and Mahammad Fizuli "Leyli and Macnun", and a creative desire to acquaint future audiences with an aspect of the traditional crafts of Azerbaijan, which are reflected in the art of sets, costumes, character puppets and props. All these are works of art that are worthy of being not just a part of a future show, but also exhibits in an independent, interesting and in many ways informative exhibition. And it is good that the people of Baku and visitors to the city will have the opportunity throughout June to see all of this before the exhibits "disappear" into theatrical space and turn into one of Tarlan Gorcu's productive ideas come to life.
The action in the show will unfold against a background of deep black space so that the handling of the puppets can be seen. The sets will also be changed in front of the audience. For the first time, the style of the famous Qajar painting is used as iconographic material in "Leyli and Macnun". A similar exhibition was first held successfully in Vilnius, Lithuania, in the summer of 2014, and then in Poznan, Poland. The exhibition is dedicated to the glorious memory of Daniz Gorcu, Tarlan Gorcu's daughter, who died tragically at the age of ten in an accident at an amusement park.