Above the clear blue sky

Friday, 3 September, 2010

Talented young Russian ensemble

Edinburgh 2010 – C venue –  4-30 Aug (not 16,23) 22.30

The world premiere of SSR Productions Moscow-based company’s new project, “ Above the Clear Blue Sky “ happened at the Edinburgh Festival a week later than planned. Weather conditions in Russia were so hot the tarmac melted below the clear blue sky and grounded the company in Moscow airport.  “Above the Clear Blue Sky “ is a strange piece of work. The opening is elegantly set, as if we are in the clouds, being sung to by moving clouds. The actor-singers are voluminously clad in white stretchy material through which they demonstrate their strong movement skills while singing in mellifluous harmony. From here we could have gone anywhere, had it been truly  “a musical”, but it is not.

The show comprises a series of songs selected from different genres, adapted by the arrangers to be sung in feature solo lines and multiple part harmony. Ray Charles‘ “Georgia on my Mind”, The Beatles’ “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “Because”, Queen‘s “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Fly away on the Wings of the Wind” from Borodin‘s opera “Prince Igor”, J.S. Bach’s “Prelude” , Michael Jackson‘s “Black or White”, “Agua de Beber”,& “New Born” by Muse, and a Russian rock ballad “Above the Clear Blue Sky” are sung in rapid succession, though not necessarily in this order. The bravura vocal performances were accompanied by recordings of their normally live band and a series of short films, created specifically for the show, projected on the white set.

Each number was splendidly harmonised and sung with dynamic shaping, like a well trained choir, but told no consecutive story. They sang “ Bohemian Rhapsody” with confidence and style and did a beautiful rendition of “ Can’t Buy Me Love “ which emphasised the lyrics to be heard anew, but their style was most perplexing. It was a bit like The Swingle Singers meets the Barber’s Shop Chorus in a Church Hall. If this had been advertised as a Concert and performed in the Queen’s Hall in September they might have provoked rave reviews. As a late night performance in the Edinburgh Festival it was a strangely pitched conundrum.

It is a stunningly well arranged and sung musical performance with some well choreographed sections. It’s a joint production by six recent graduates of The Russian Academy of Theatre Arts, Astemir Apasanov, Vadim Dubrovin, Olga Godunova,  Seseg Khapsasova,  Nikolay Novopashin,  Olga Ponomareva, Choreographer, Burukin Dmitry, manager and actress Valeriya Koltsova, director Alexey Rubinstein, and music arrangers Grigory Auarbah, Gelsiat Shaidulova, and Nikolay Novopashin but it seems to have ironed out any Russian characteristics to become some kind of Pan European eclectic offering of Westernised modern style. The costumes revealed from under the white are all rainbow coloured and very modern while the characters of each of the performers seems to have been held somewhere in the 1940’s.

Seseg Khapsasova, a very talented young woman who graduated from composer and choir department of a specialized music school says, “ Ensemble is a body that breathes and sings as one! I want the world, meaning the system, to change! Then the mankind will be happy!! Will go the musical way… and forward!”

She, like all the young cast, is a prize winning Performance Arts graduate who has been participating in Festivals and Competitions for much of her life to reach this stage. Perhaps their classical training is yet to mellow into personal, funky style which might still blend all their differences into the desired Oneness while establishing a new energetic blend of 21st Century performance style which is not quite so clean cut.. Their command of the English language is excellent. Their diction is clear and remarkable. They smile gloriously and they co-operate with one another seamlessly moving from one number to another, from one mike to another, from one partnership to another. The sound created was often surprising and always professional.

The Company wishes, with the help of the songs, “ to speak of love, friendship, loneliness, and of that one day when the whole world stops, while people see each other, hear each other’s heartbeats and feel with every cell of their body, all that remains alive on this planet.” These sentiments are in accord with those of the European Rainbow Family and The Rainbow world wide. How-ever this super-clean, very urbane ensemble might learn much of how to relax into brilliance from seeing and hearing “ Bacca Beyond “ do their set on the stages of Festival Fields. Each of the individual voices is given a moment to shine, and shine they do. The quality of the performers and the material is second to none. I’m just not sure the full concept has yet been realised. Currently I’m not sure if they are a company destined to do a wonderful musical or a set of young people who would like to win the Eurovision Song Contest, sounding more English than Russian.

Olga Ponomareva, is one of “Russia’s Talented Children”,  Astemir Apasanov, so far has always taken the first prize. Grand Prix at the super finals of the TV singing contest “The Morning Star”, first place at the international young talent festival “Hopes of Europe”, grand prix of the Russian national contest “Blue Bird”, first place at the “Russia’s Talented Children”. Vadim Dubrovin, won the grand prix at the Music World 2004 Italy Festival Internacionale Fivizzano.. Nikolay Novopashin, Nikolay graduated from the Academy of Arts and Culture with a degree in music conducting. She’s a winner of Russian and International musical festivals and competitions. Olga Godunova, participated and was the winner of musical contests, such as “Open Europe”, “People’s Artist 3”, was a participant in the semi-final of the international contest of pop singers “New Wave” in 2005. Burukin Dmitry did ballroom, Latin, modern and jazz dancing more than ten years.

Valeriya Koltsova,  a 23-year-old graduate of the Russian Academy of Arts is a workaholic who can’t imagine her life without coffee, cafes, and acting! She is an actress and a manager for the Above the Clear Blue Sky show. Anna Dudina, their Executive Producer, originally comes from a Siberian town of Omsk, and having lived most of her life in Moscow, she is now settled in the UK about to embark on a postgraduate course in Culture, Politics and Management in London. Alexey Rubinstein was born into a family of actors. He produced and directed “The Self-Murder”, The show got four stars from Scotsman and five stars from British Theatre Guide. It would be rare for a Western Theatre Company to be composed of such luminaries, especially such a young company.

SSR Productions is a Moscow-based company, created by artistic director Alexey Rubinstein in 2008. Its main focus claims to be “ on search and reflection in the theatrical art of vital topics and plots, on the union of quality and innovative forms in theatre and on discovering the new generation of Russian playwrights, directors, composers and artists. The person and the society, sense and meaningless of life, the individual and power, ethnos( ethnic peasant culture ) and urbanism, wars and religion, ethics and immorality – these are the topics relevant for the new theatre”  to be realized by the  company. Artistic integrity and topicality are their stated creative and ideological reference points.

In this production I would say they have found the new generation of Russian artists. Their ethnic roots though seem to have been discarded while they explore the relationship between the individual and the collective in a musical manner. They are deeply interested in Peace and Harmony which is not surprising for young people who have grown up in Eastern Europe where war was always in their consciousness and all young men were trained in the Russian army, sent to the places where struggle was happening on their borders and concerned for the political fate of their nation through the years of transformation which resulted in the disintegration of the Berlin Wall. Perhaps it is just the first necessary step in the building of a new musical theatre which can thrive without state funding and tour the world, allowing our young people to see where classical discipline can take a group of young people willing to share the limelight and show love.

Cast: Astemir Apasanov- actress/singer, Burukin Dmitry – actor/singer, Vadim Dubrovin – actor/singer Olga Godunova – actress/singer,  Seseg Khapsasova – actress/singer Valeriya Koltsova- actress/singer,  Nikolay Novopashin – actor/singer,  Olga Ponomareva – actress /singer,

Company: SSR Productions; Choreographer, Burukin Dmitry; Manager – Valeriya Koltsova; Director Alexey Rubinstein; Music Arrangers Grigory Auarbah, Gelsiat Shaidulova, and Nikolay Novopashin

Executive Producer – Anna Dudina,



( c )Lilian Kennedy Brzoska 2010

reviewed Friday 20th August 10


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