Yana Ross, Interpreter of Chekhov
Upon turning 40, Yana Ross experienced a revelation – she had found Anton Chekhov:
“Suddenly his plays were so crystal clear, so brutal, so relevant and necessary. I look at his writing as one continuous play. Similar characters, themes, worries and frustrations follow a certain pattern, and I find it thrilling working on such dense and interconnected dramaturgy. That's why I cannot stop. Three Sisters will be staged in Vilnius and Cherry Orchard in Warsaw in the next 2 years for me.”
Ross, 43, is nowadays among the most famous names in the European theatre life. After graduating from Yale School of Drama in 2006 and working with many different theatre groups, she has carved a handsome career for herself. Last year she attended Tampere Theatre Festival as the director of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. Continuing the trend, this year’s program includes her version of The Seagull, performed by Reykjavik City Theatre. How did the companionship begin?
“Iceland knocked on my door, literally, when I was working on Our Class in Vilnius. An actress Gudrun Gisladottir (who plays one of our Ninas in The Seagull) contacted me and asked to observe rehearsals. She took a break from Iceland and spent two months with us, during which time she became a mascot and a dramaturg for us. She brought up my name when she returned home, and I got an invitation from Reykjavik City Theater's artistic director Kristín Eysteinsdóttir, who had already seen my Uncle Vanya from Uppsala.”
As with all the groups she has worked with, Ross has developed a close relation to her Icelandic friends. She even calls them a family – one among many for her. The fact shines through in The Seagull, which has attracted praise especially in virtue of the actors’ seamless teamwork. One reason for this is Iceland’s small size and close-knit social world. The nationality of the actors contributed also to the content of the play:
“As I work in different cultures, my method is to look at the play against the local context, through the people who live in that particular landscape. How do they respond to the play? This is why our Seagull takes place in Iceland. This is why the picnic in the first scene is blown away by a strong wind and people nail paper plates to the table, because the need to be outdoors is so strong and the connection with nature is part of survival. It is Icelandic summer, heat wave is at +12C!”
Chekhov is known not only for his plays but also for his novels. A characteristic feature of both is that it’s difficult to find anything extraneous to the plot in them. In her direction, Ross also pays careful attention to the smoothness of details:
“With Chekhov, there are no accidents, that's for sure. He worked with medical precision. This is why we question every sentence and every detail in production. There are absolutely no empty gestures. It is a score, a symphony, and one must hear the right tone and key to play it well.”
Ross takes perfecting her plays seriously. At the end of the interview it would be interesting to know which one of them she considers her best.
“It is a hard question to answer. Not the best, but perhaps the bravest and most risky performance I made is Franz Xavier Kroetz Request Concert. It is a one-woman silent performance where the audience is free to move around, and we never know how they will connect with themselves and our energy. It is always a thrilling but exhausting performance.”
Request Concert was performed last year at Tampere theatre Festival, with phenomenal success. Time will tell whether The Seagull can match it. It’s a high bar to cross but, after all, that is the only way Ross would have it.
The Seagull TTT Suuri näyttämö Friday 5.8. 19.00 Saturday 6.8. 12.30 (performed in Icelandic, subtitled in Finnish and in English)
– Jaakko Reinikainen