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Amadu Mamadakov: I would like to unite our nations

Amadu Mamadakov will come back to Tuva again

The poster of a Moscow theatre introduces him as Merited Artist of Republic Tuva, yet he has been to Tuva only once. He is a great teacher and a talented director, but he is mostly known as an actor. He lives and works in Moscow, but his whole soul belongs to Gornyi Altai. He was born in a tiny village, but the whole country knows him.

He is a son of his nation, yet all the Asian republics consider him one of their own. The list of works of Amadu Mamadakov, the Merited Artist of Republics Altai and Tuva shows many theatre roles, yet he is remembered for films “Zvezda” (Star) and “9 rota”.

One year ago, on a proposal by the administration of Tuvan theatre, Amadu Mamadakov produced Goldoni’s play “Servant of two masters”, but he was not awarded the title of Merited Artist of RT for the production of the play, but for the brutal truth of the Afghan war in the film “9 rota”.

What roles can an Asian play on the Moscow stage?

— Amadu, are you a free artist or a servant of art?

— I am an actor of Aleksander Kalyagin’s theatre “Et Setera”. I was on probation for three years – just to prove that I can act. I proved it. Already for 10 years, I have been busy with various plays. I work on myself a lot, too. I have no right to make mistakes in front of Russian-speaking audiences, and I constantly practice stage speech. My accent still “sticks”, and for that reason I need to thoroughly work on pronunciation.

New directors frequently come to our theatre, and we actors are always under high tension, because we have to bring to life whatever is “sitting” in the head of a director whom we have never met before. We get it together, work for that period, the theatre puts on the production, and then we do it all over again with another new director.

— But what roles can an Asian actor play on the stage of a Moscow theatre, which has a repertory of plays with roles of people with a Slavic appearance?

— I have not been a “wallflower” because of my appearance. Since the roles of Sidorov, Ivanov or Petrov are based on humor, why should not an Asian actor be able to play them? All depends on how the director wants to present the role to the spectator. But I also have some main and episodic roles: a preacher, a Lebanese boy, and others. In one play, I played paired with Kalyagin.

— Your works “Midsummer night’s dream” with Altai actors and “Servant of two masters” (in Tuvan – “Dengerlernin aibychyzy”) on the Tuvan stage have certain resemblance to one another. Is that your trademark, to turn the classics into a contemporary play?

— I work with contemporary material too, but only the classics offer such a volume of material and so many possibilities. So I take the classical material, and work it up in my own way. I don’t know – some like it, some do not. The important thing is that the audiences like it. In general, plays have to be taken at the level of feelings. Reason prevents actors from loosening up to the full.

— Some scenes in the play “Dengerlernin aibychyzy” were incomprehensible. Aside from the story of a clever servant, there was another level – the theme of the Altai princess Ukok from the famous burial.

— Yes, that is so. The Ukok theme is always very emotional for me. I was at the place of her burial. In Altai, I produced a play “Chirchik”, from which I took a monologue and gave it to Truffaldino in “Dengerlernin aibychyzy”. The pain of the Ukok princess traveled from my Altai play to the Tuvan one. I wanted to bring Altai and Tuva together. Our nations have so much in common – folk costumes, customs, and even izig-khan (hot blood sausage). Our ancestors were nomads, and they stole each other’s fiery horses. Ukok and Arzhaan are from the same Scythian epoch. Our nations continue to be related even though we once became separated by mountains. My compatriots live in your country; they started families there and stayed there to live.

Natural physiology of Asians

— What did Tuva become for you? Was it a possibility to make money, or…?

— The visit to Tuva was not about making money, it was an opportunity to create. I succeeded in gathering together a team of people of the same views here. In the capital, young directors are all over the place, searching, and they do not know how to defend their diploma works. And at the same time there are huge theatre buildings, a functional system, and remarkable actors out in the republics. Why not work with that? Many live and work in Moscow just to pay homage. But to be able to get to know other valuable things, you have to leave Moscow. Before the visit, I soaked up all the good and bad things about Tuva from the Tuvan sites, I read different opinions, went to listen to new presentations of Tuvan music. At the same time I was looking for material for the production, looked at photos of Tuvan actors, got to know them, and so on. And the heavens wanted that everything fell into place with my work schedule – the group Huun-Huur-Tu showed up in Tuva, and so did the khuresh wrestlers Maadyr Mongush and Aldyn-ool Kuular, and the famous throat singer Kongar-ool Ondar. Everything tied neatly into a single knot.

— You realized some of your creative thought in Tuva, but did you get any ideas to realize yourself in your own native country?

— I have been doing that. I do not drop my classmates, I always find time to come to produce plays. Friendship is based in study, and in theatre, it is important to keep one’s willingness to study and learn, so that actors would understand that they are the backbone of the theatre, part of the creative process, its epoch.

As a director, I try to get the actors to look at each other with new eyes, and to discover something new, hitherto unknown. I do not make differences – this one is good, that one is bad. Each one is an individual personality, a different talent. You have to love the actors, without love, the play won’t turn out well. If the actors like it, and love it, they will work. Now, this is the reason why they like Asian actors in higher theatre schools. It is said that they come in very pure, unspoiled by civilization, and with a tremendous faith in the theatre school. The instructors say that Asians are, by nature, organic people. It is all from the earth. For example, in my Altai studio of 17 people, all are favorites, already “stars”. Those from Shchepkinski theatre school perform everywhere.

— All theatres, without any exceptions, experience a creative crisis from time to time. You, as a person on the side, can see more objectively how things are with our theatre.

— A crisis is unavoidable. A theatre will come to that sooner or later anyway. It is a normal process. It is necessary to understand where we are going or what we are moving towards, and to search for new forms. We have to “sniff” to what is going on out there, beyond the Sayan mountains. A theatre has to co-operate, to work with other theatres, with festivals. A site can be started for that, to use contemporary technologies. The stage of your theatre is wonderful from the energetic point of view, practically anything can be done there. I saw the shamaness Ai-Churek do a kamlanie there on Shagaa. It was the first time that I saw the audience undergoing purification rituals on the stage. And all that seemed so natural and harmonic for Tuvans. Your theatre reminded me of the Small Theatre, where I trained.

Cinema – the mirror of life

— In contemporary Russian cinema, actors with Asian appearance are, as a rule, players of the secondary level. And even if the role is that of a positive hero, he is naïve, simple, in other words a child of nature, of the type “mine-yours no understand” or “me good hunter”.

— There is such a type. I am always fighting with that. Somebody listens to my: “Hey, guys, let’s forget the type-casting and try to do it differently”, others do not. Maybe it has its own politics, I don’t know. When Sergei Bodrov’s film “Mongol” came out, you could feel a certain cold attitude towards it, maybe because they do not like history to be presented in a way like this.

So it is easier to leave Genghis Khan in the usual form of the Mongol-Tatar yoke? Sure, you could say that. It is not within my power to change the customary portrayal of an Asian in the contemporary Russian cinema. Other people decide that, I am simply a worker, an actor who works on his role line, which was written and edited a long time before I appeared in the project.

— Is that why, for example, in the film “9 rota”, your hero is mainly a chewing, bleating creature, whom they now and then address as “twerp”. Didn’t you find it offensive?

— There were seven variants of the film. A lot did not get into the final version. There is always a lot of filming, and a completely different movie results in the end. Your lines get cut out because they abandoned that subject line, which is more important. So because mostly the scenes with me were cut, I remained at the level of the Chukchi. So what am I supposed to do, fight them and complain “Why did you montage it like this, why didn’t you finish my story line?”

The Afghan soldiers were telling us: “You sit for a few months on top of a mountain with the same few people. You play cards for lice, waiting if maybe a helicopter with supplies will show up or not. Then you see that on the other side of the mountain your comrades are being killed, but you can’t get there to help. All that is left is to bury them later.” The film “9 rota” showed relationships which are normal among 18-year-old kids who have not been burdened by any education or upbringing. Yes, they called each other obscene names, cursed. Ordinary masculine, soldiers’ vocabulary. And then they all died. That’s war.

Unfortunately, cinema is secondary in this. Don’t we offend one another in real life? You come here, and here they call the Russians names, you go there, and they call us names. With time, of course, it will balance out, but so far we have what we have. Moscow is a stone jungle, nobody makes any ceremonies with you, no matter what race you belong to. You have to learn to survive.

— And do you have a movie role that you really like?

— My first movie is the one dearest to me. It is a film about the Great Patriotic War, “Zvezda” (Star). It taught me to love Russia. I get an especially sharp feeling for my native land when I am in a foreign country. That is where I understand that I have a Russian mentality. The other day I returned from China, got out of the plane, and I said to myself; “Glory to God, I am back in Russia, I am home.” Such piercing movies turn you into a patriot.

My last movie is a four-part film “Zashchita” (Defense). Because of the crisis, the filming was interrupted. The film is about how in 1946, the soldiers who came back from the front had to learn how to survive all over again, this time in prisons and GULAG camps. I play an Altaian there.

To create without disrupting

— And are you planning to repeat Tuva in your life?

— Definitely, I think. In Moscow, practically everything is already counted in money, life is changing very fast. Deeper in the country, these processes are much slower, and because of it, much more is preserved. You have powerful energetics, a lot of information which has to be sorted out and protected from information thieves. (He shows a pin in the form of a coiled feline predator from Arzhaan-1). Or it will turn out just like this pin, which is not made by you, but by others. That means that they took the rights to manufacture this symbol and are making money from it. The same thing is happening in Altai. According to economic indices, Altai is one step before Tuva, but it is coming to Tuva too, it is unavoidable. I repeat one more time – with the development of economy comes the process of destruction of spirituality, ecology, and traditions.

I would very much like to help you, in any way I can, to avoid these losses. To be able to share your pain and worries.

Sayana Ondur,, translated by Heda Jindrak
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