Managing a Dream. You only need the desire
2015-01-20 | Text: Aydar Fahrutdinov | Photo ©: Sechenov.com | 3291

Many considered the opening ceremony of the 2013 Universiade in Kazan to be the best in the history of the Games. This extremely complicated undertaking, both artistically and technically (over 400 people were involved in the installation of infrastructure alone), was the work of a Russian company. The executive director of the opening and closing ceremonies, Alexey Sechenov, told us what the people who make such powerful, captivating productions are made of.

 

– Alexey, how would you describe what your company does?

We decided to put it this way: “We do not merely produce: we create.” By “create” I have in mind the importance of the idea – both as a helper and an adversary. Without a doubt, I base things on my own feelings about the world around me. Those feelings change over the years, along with the environment, with the experience I’ve built up, all the things I’ve read and seen – in other words, it depends on an enormous number of details and ultimately basic knowledge, trial and error. Out of that forms a philosophy, an idea which needs to reach the viewer. The viewer is the next crucial element in the category ‘creation’. It’s extremely important for me that I create something that will get a reaction from the audience. It’s not that important whether I’m creating something and showing it to only thirty or forty people, or many thousands; what’s important is that it changes their worldview, affects the viewer, his internal potential, their inner feelings. If the viewer says to themself as they’re leaving the production: “I’ve changed – I’m a new person – now I’m going to live differently”, then that’s the effect I’m talking about. That means the show has done its job.

No matter what artists and other creative people tell you, what the viewer thinks is extremely important to them. As much as I would like to live in my own little art world and make l’art, I don’t feel satisfied unless it gets a response from the audience.

There are an enormous number of ways to affect the viewer – both through ideas and through form, which plays a very big role in art. That’s why I am always trying to combine the two. It’s like two lines – even if they do intersect, then it’s only at one point. The one line is art, the other mathematics, and somewhere up there they have to join. That’s the principle behind a good, smart, proper work of art in which everything comes together at one point.

– When you’re putting on a show, you can affect the viewer on several levels simultaneously – through ideas, through visuals, through audio… There can be a lot of different levels.

Every genre’s good, so long as it’s not boring. For me that’s the formula of creation – it shouldn’t be boring, not under any circumstances. I’m not one of those people who tries to get an idea across to the viewer through a long pause. The action should unfold just as fast as life in the modern world. The viewer is a person, the person lives in a society, and that society sets the tempo and the rhythm – wouldn’t you agree? Over the past century our world has changed, and our feeling of time has changed with it. A second has remained a second, but in that second people have started doing and seeing much more than they did a hundred years ago. The second thing that I want to say on this count is about events. Once again, living in society, you follow several actions all at once. And if you take the platform where our show unfolds, then there I also try to have several actions unfolding simultaneously, or at least alternating very quickly. Then viewer interest never dies. When today’s viewer sees an immobile actor in a Rodinesque Thinker-like pose, he already sees practically nothing – for him that stage is empty. The greatest directors of the 70s could draw out a single shot for ten minutes, but now a viewer couldn’t make sense of that. They couldn’t make sense of it because it knocks them out of sync. “And for that reason, no matter how I unfold the action, I try to stay in the rhythm in which the viewer is immersed. It’s comfortable for them, and they easily take in the idea presented to them in that way. They don’t have to sneak into the production as if it were another world – they enter into it as if it were their own world, thanks to the appropriate tempo and rhythm. At the same time I’m absolutely sure that the viewer is able to look at, observe, and analyze the world we live in today. The Universiade show is a world of its own, one that we created. With its own laws, its own gravity, with its own wind rose, with its own precipitation. And you have to treat it as such.

– Do you somehow take into account the interests and values of viewers who are, for example, from different age categories?

Artistically speaking – no, but I would like to add: the word “interesting” does not belong to the temporal parameters of a person’s life, but it does have its own layers. There are great works of art which you will watch with interest for a long time, no matter if you’re a child or you’re ninety years old, each time finding some new, something all your own… That’s something to strive for, I think.

– When it comes to the technical side of the presentation – mechanisms, techniques… You tell the team what should be where, and the team finds a way of making it happen?

Not at all… We don’t have a bare written script: it wouldn’t mean anything. But we have symbiosis – the simultaneous creation of literary, directorial, and technical scripts. It’s pointless to think up things as a director that are impossible to create as a technician. It depends on many factors – on the size of the platform, on the number of viewers, on the budget, but only to a lesser extent. Yes, I live with strict budgets, but does that mean the form should suffer? I’m not going to write in the credits: “I had a small budget.” That’s impossible, so we always have to think up some sort of move. Though it doesn’t matter what move we pick, because the effect can’t suffer for it – it has to be the same as it was when it was conceived.

– How do you work with the concept from the very beginning?

It’s crucial to formulate the initial idea very precisely, for oneself most of all. Further on you begin to feel that it’s influencing your life. You begin to feel its physicality. If this happens, then that means we’re going to write a script on that theme. Sometimes you get a sense of easy excitement, and sometimes it’s a difficult birthing process. But the important thing is that you begin to grow closer to it, to embrace it, and it embraces you…

– What was your internal formulation of the idea for the Universiade?

A formulation like that has to be very short. I’ll put it this way: a dream is an engine. The Universiade show was built on that. Since then not that much time has passed, but that idea has gone further: “Stop dreaming, start living.” That’s a big step in terms of an idea.

Universiade-2013 in Kazan.

– Are you saying that someone can understand how you’ve changed as a person by looking at the shows that you create?

Of course. Because there’s always an element of openness, of honesty, a great deal of interpretation of some events or other, things that I’ve lived through. If a work of art doesn’t have some opinion as its foundation, then the viewer has nothing to relate to because, again, a work of art is a symbiosis. If you take the Universiade – how many elements were put in that show? History, literature, the modern world… We needed to put all of that together into one whole and create some sort of action, like in a book, where one chapter is followed by another.

With any technique – with literature, with directing – you need to create an idea so that you can amaze and convince the viewer. In life we often relate to amazing things as if they were ordinary. The sunrise, for example, is an incredibly captivating, complicated thing, where a bunch of things come together into one second, and there’s beauty. It has a very precise mathematical form. But we’re used to it. That’s why, when producing a script, you have to find an effective means of convincing the viewer that it’s right, that your harmonic world exists, and therefore, convince him of your idea. I can’t depict action in the Marianas Trench, but I can try if I ever need to show how people talk at a depth of 11000 meters.

At the Universiade there were an enormous number of actions going on every second. It means nothing to the viewer, since he only sees the result. For instance, a winch has to be lowered at this or that speed so that some image appears in one place or another, actors have to appear in a certain place, the platform below has to be cleared of these decorations and fitted out with those… A lot of everything going on every second, all of it an enormous bundle of techniques.

– When it comes to the technical side of the presentation – mechanisms, techniques… You tell the team what should be where, and the team finds a way of making it happen?

Not at all… We don’t have a bare written script: it wouldn’t mean anything. But we have symbiosis – the simultaneous creation of literary, directorial, and technical scripts. It’s pointless to think up things as a director that are impossible to create as a technician. It depends on many factors – on the size of the platform, on the number of viewers, on the budget, but only to a lesser extent. Yes, I live with strict budgets, but does that mean the form should suffer? I’m not going to write in the credits: “I had a small budget.” That’s impossible, so we always have to think up some sort of move. Though it doesn’t matter what move we pick, because the effect can’t suffer for it – it has to be the same as it was when it was conceived.

Universiade-2013 in Kazan.

– How do you deal with risks? The whole world is watching, and suddenly something doesn’t work…

Every person deals with risks in their own way. But I would like to say: risks have been there, are there, and will always be there. Without them we would have never launched a rocket, never built a nuclear power plant, Pierre and Marie Curie would have never discovered radium… If you’re a real artist, then you need to think of risks as progress. I always tell clients that we are moving forward, and there’s no need to recreate a show I’ve already done. From a technical standpoint something new will be more complicated and riskier, but it’ll be more interesting, too!

When you create something, in any case you calculate the risk-level as much as you can and come up with a back-up system in case there are mistakes. During a show I’m worried about every part that didn’t break during rehearsals. Everything should break once, and when that happens, that evening we sit down and figure out why. I don’t give a damn that a part broke, but I do need to know why it happened, especially if everything went okay during rehearsals. If no one can tell me that, then that’s truly catastrophic for me. I have to feel every nut and bolt. When the show begins, I get the feeling that the entire world of the show lives inside me, and I feel every winch, every instrument, every mechanism, and I feel responsible for all of it.

– The show has begun. Fifty thousand people are watching it live, and a few million more are watching it on TV. What do you feel at that moment?

Nothing. I have to watch everything going on very carefully, and if something doesn’t go just right, then I have to react instantaneously. We taught the world we created to breathe and walk – it does that automatically. But if it forgets how to breathe, I have to hook it up to artificial respiration; if it forgets how to walk, then I have to screw on an artificial leg. That’s the plan.

– Is there always a team that is ready to solve these problems instantly?

A team is, first of all, you. No one makes a move without you – the decision has to be made by you. It’s a moment where there’s no place for doubt, which is a truly awful thing. You have to say exactly what has to be done. Everything after that is simply execution. But, to be completely honest, it has never come to that. If problems did arise, then they were resolved by the back-up – and it works automatically. My lightning-quick reaction might only be needed if plan B doesn’t work.

– So that means it’s like during maneuvers – there are always back-up channels?

Always. The viewer pays money to watch our show, and he shouldn’t become part of a mistake. He should enjoy what he paid a thousand rubles [for about 24 US dollars]. Otherwise, what do you get? Me and my ideas went and messed with the family budget, and I didn’t give them anything in exchange? What kind of relationship is that? No, I have to earn those thousand rubles or, even better, earn fifteen hundred.

– If you watch video archives of rock concerts, it’s easy to see how technology has moved forward. Do you have any idea of how everything will look in ten years or so?

I try to follow all of that, of course. All signs are that emphasis will be on 3D, and we are already learning to work with those technologies. While creating the new show we not only made all of our decorations in 3D – and you can see it just by putting on special goggles – but also went a step further, creating a thing that immerses you in this three-dimensional space. I can see how the light falls, feel that I’m the main hero in this or that corner of the platform, or feel that I’m the viewer sitting in, say, the fourteenth seat of the seventh row. That’s important – it’s a significant step forward.

And as for technologies in general… My reasoning is constant and eternal: “The truth is out there.” One new effect means nothing to me. Joining technologies that, maybe, don’t even have anything to say about one another – that’s the key. Let’s take, for instance, ordinary tulle and create a serious of moves, putting you behind a screen made from the tulle. When you stand behind the tulle, I can see you, but the viewer can’t. But if I shine some light on you, an image will appear on the tulle in front of you, and to the viewer that’s a kind of magic. All I did was just take a light projector and point it at a curtain. Initially there were no effects as such, there was no ready-made base. But there were separate things out of which we had to make a show. It’s their combination that makes it possible.


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