A Midsummer Night’s Dream Ulan Ude, Buryatia Russia 1995

Shakespeare’s play with shamans, Soviet Generals, and the gods of the Central Asian lakes and forest.

Buryatia is the Buddhist nation in Russian Siberia. Sheep-herding nomads have lived there for centuries on the shores of the vast Lake Baikal combining ancient Shamanism with the Buddhism of the Dalai Lama.

Summer in Buryatia is short, four weeks only, when the woods erupt with wildflowers. The Buryat production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was staged with Siberian motifs: shamans, forest lovers, the Swan Goddess as Titania, The Grandfatherly God of Lake Baikal as Oberon. Hippolyta was an Eskimo, Theseus a Soviet General who spoke in Russian.

The body of the text was in Buryat. “Pyramis and Thisbe”was played in bad Russian, with rude Buryat asides. The Buryat language is melodic and sounds like running water. The play was translated by an 80 year-old blind poet who recited his Buyrat verses standing up while his peppy 70 year-old wife read a flowery 19th century Russian version aloud to him.

The Buryat composer, Vlad Pantaev, wrote a haunting score played on traditional string instruments . It was his daughter Irina, the Siberian super-model, who arranged for the production, hand-delivering a proposal to the theater in Ulan Ude. They were already considering a Midsummer and were pleased at the coincidence.

The photograph on top is Oberon. Note fur and striped boxer shorts. Photos below: Puck and a fairy, both shamans;  Hippolyta and Theseus.

The color photographs have sadly faded. The production was unforgettable.

Midsummer Night’s Dream is beautiful like the Siberian summer. We understand in this way the fascination of Shakespeare: hot, filled with humor,the dynamic portrait of our life, seen with the eyes of an American director.       Pravda Buryatia