Monday, October 28, 2013

The Italics Are Mine

I like to read good books. I like that kind of book you can lose yourself in. The kind you can disappear into, become part of another time and another world.

There are many wonderful passages in this autobiography by Nina Berberova (1901 - 1993). I'll just post here the latest paragraph that struck me, as I continue to read this book. It begins on page 165 with a mention of Pavel Muratov and then segues into an impression of the theater:  

He was a frequent guest at our place. There was a time when he came every evening. He liked it when I sewed beneath the lamp (there is something about this in his story 'Scheherazade', dedicated to me). In Khodasevich's notes his name often appears in succession -- with Boris Pasternak or Nikolai Otsup or Bely. I lived with him through my strongest theatrical experiences of the time: Pierrette's Veil, in which Chabrov appeared, and Princess Turandot (in Vakhtangov's production that visited Berlin). Chabrov was an actor and mime of genius; I can refer to him in no other way, his magic and great, sparkling talent were exceptional. Fedorova (later to become mentally ill) played with him, and Samuil Vermel played Pierrot. I remember even now every detail of this striking spectacle -- nothing has impressed me so much as this Veil -- not Mikhail Chekhov in Strindberg, Jean-Louis Barrault in Molière, Zacconi in Shakespeare, Anna Pavlova as the Dying Swan, Ljuba Welitsch in Salomé. When Chabrov and Fedorova danced the polka in the second act, and the dead Pierrot appeared on the little balcony (Columbine does not see him, but Harlequin already knows that Pierrot is there), I understood for the first time (and forever) what real theatre is; and even now a shudder goes up my spine when I remember the Schnitzler pantomime performed by these three actors. Such theatre does something to the spectator, changes us, affects our later life and thought; becomes a kind of sacrament, swallowed and assimilated. The second recollection -- Vakhtangov's production, is less strong: there was more of the actual show and less of the irrational shudder. We also more than once sat in the tavern Zum Patzenhoffer with Chabrov -- he was a friend of Bely's (and at one time of Scriabin's).

Knopf, 1992 

"The eloquent testimony of a doomed artistic generation, captured as indelibly as it is in Nabokov's fiction."--The Boston Globe


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  3. This book now has me intrigued.