Uzbekistan has a strong background in drama, music and dance. As in so many areas of Uzbek culture, there are two broad sectors: indigenous Uzbek performing arts (with classical and folk subsections) and international/European arts. There is no sharp divide between foreign and indigenous traditions: they overlap and intermingle in structure, motifs and performance techniques. Moreover, individual performers will often be equally skilled in the Uzbek and Western classical traditions.
This flexibility reflects the inclusive nature of Uzbek culture – its ability to absorb external influences without losing its individuality. The theatre repertoire is a good example for this eclectic approach: it includes plays by Sophocles and other classical Greek authors; by Western writers – not only the masterpieces of Shakespeare (popular with audiences and actors alike), Molière and other great European playwrights, but also modern works by writers such as Tennessee Williams, Albert Camus and Edward Albee; Russian classics by Anton Chekov, Leo Tolstoy, Nikolai Gogol and Alexander Ostrovsky; and of course, the full range of works by leading Uzbek playwrights. The language of performance is Uzbek or Russian.
The repertoires of the opera and ballet companies are similarly varied. The standard of performance in all the performing arts is high. In the opera world, for example, several Tashkent-trained singers have won international awards and are establishing major reputations abroad – notably Dmitri Vargin, Jenisbek Piyazov, Umid Israilov and Barnoknon Ismatullaeva. The same is true of ballet dancers and choreographers.
There are more than 10 theatres (opera, drama and ballet) in Tashkent and at least one in each of the main provincial centres. The repertoire changes regularly. Visitors should not fear the language barrier – going to the theatre in Uzbekistani is a rewarding experience, not only for the quality of the performances, but for the opportunity to see the architecture (often with beautiful interior decorations), and to experience something of the cultural life of the city. The history of the theatres is also interesting, reflecting the changing political situation over the past century.
But you do not need to go all the way to Uzbekistan to see Uzbek theatre!
Orzu Arts Theatre Company: Founded in 2012, this London-based company aims to give Western audiences a chance to experience the colour, vivacity and skills of Central Asian performing arts. The director is the Kyrgyz-born (1978) Yuldosh Juraboev, he received his professional training in Tashkent State Arts Institute and later worked in several of the Tashkent theatres mentioned above. He moved to London in 2007 and with his Central Asian group has staged a number of highly acclaimed shows in the UK and other European states.