Growing up I had this idea, that cultural cradle of Tashkent is right in the center of the city – behind magnificent walls of Alisher Navoi Theatre of Opera and Ballet. Naturally, just few days after arriving to Tashkent I found myself on its glossy marble steps. Grand yet simple, it gave back to me those wonderful childhood memories, promise of magic and celebration. Growing up, part of the family New Year tradition was to go holiday play for children the theatre hosted.
The theatre itself started out as an Uzbek musical theatre approximately in 1902 and by 1930s theatre and its repertoire outgrew the old building. Among numerous competing projects was one by Aleksei Shusev, mastermind behind Lenin’s mausoleum on the Red Square. His project won the national competition where the submissions were anonymous. The theatre’s construction started in 1939 and was put on hold during the war in 1942. At the time large number of famous local Uzbek masters took their part in the building’s construction. When war ended among people working on finishing the construction were imprisoned after the Soviet –Japan conflict Japanese war prisoners. Majority of their work can be seen on the facade of the building. Alisher Navoi Theatre, one of the most unique monuments of Soviet Uzbekistan, was completed in 1948 and ever since then hosted numerous talented musicians and performers.
September is the start of the theatre season and I had a chance to choose from some great options. I decided ballet “Thousand and One Night” would be a fun way to celebrate my coming back to Tashkent. Since the event was set for Friday evening and Saturday is considered a work day in Uzbekistan (yep! most people have 6-day work week) I had hard time finding someone to come with me as I bought two tickets. Family friend’s neighbor/friend Amina volunteered to join in, to which I am grateful. It adds more “flavor” to the whole experience to have someone else share their emotions and thoughts on the whole performance.
Amina and I both enjoyed the decorations, the technique and the overall experience of the ballet. Majority of the visitors were men and women in the age bracket best described as 50+, and we were part of the much smaller 20+ group. Whether it was due to it being Friday evening (Saturday is a work and school day for most people in Tashkent as I mentioned before) or the nature of the performance, I don’t know, but the lack of younger people in the audience was disappointing to my new friend who is in her “teens”. “I wish there were more people my age, instead they enjoy all the wrong things”, she said adding that most of her classmates most likely not been in theatre for years condemning their choices in maximalist fashion.
Since I mentioned the demographic I should also probably tell about two curious incidents that happened during the performance. First one was something that staggered me first – a lady sitting right in front of me was Skyping the performance! I could not believe my eyes, though it was curious. But then, as the action progressed she whispered to the person who might have been watching the ballet somewhere across the globe (it was bright on the video), that “did you see her dance, I think that’s it for her part”. On that the televised event ended. And no, no one has reacted to this behavior, not even a stink eye. Then, a second curious even occurred during the second act another lady right next to me had a phone ring. Loud ringtone zipped through the orchestra, yet unfazed by it my neighbor picked up a phone, informed the person on the other line loud enough for them to hear over the music that she is in the theatre and managed to continue the conversation after that for a good minute! I did give her a stink eye and a passive aggressive “wow” I have learned from living in Seattle, and figured that direct critique would be highly inappropriate since she is much older than I am (and respect for elders is everything here) plus no one else seemed to mind. Looking back at it and after going to a few different theaters I just concluded that this is rather a norm. Good or bad, I do not dare to judge.
The theatre was under restoration for the past few years and was freshen up. It got a new buffet and upgraded restrooms. I was happy to see that façade’s as well as inside of the building’s integrity was saved. I say that because many historical buildings that had undergone the restoration in Tashkent in the past 20 years often lost most of their historical features in place of new cement and plastic. Navoi Theatre has avoided that faith.
Walking out of the theatre and stepping into the pool of light from the newly featured illumination we headed straight to the fountain in front. The fountain was just as big and beautiful as I remember it and I was grateful that they turned it on for the evening event. I did not have a coin with me to toss it in, but I still made a wish that one day I will be back.