Survived cultural repression in Russia, moved to the USA and starred with Spielberg: the incredible story of Dima Koan - ForumDaily
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Survived cultural repression in Russia, moved to the USA and starred with Spielberg: the incredible story of Dima Koan

The US is coming to an end tour the play "Singing Mills", in which the main role was played by Dimitri Koan (the actor himself prefers to introduce himself as Dima). He came to America only in 2015 as a political refugee. During this time, Dima has already starred in episodes of famous American films and TV shows with Jennifer Lopez, Jessica Parker and other actors, and also played in many Russian and English-language performances of various troupes. In addition, Dima Koan, in collaboration with Anya Zitser, created a theater laboratory for Ukrainian teenagers who fled the war and to help fellow actors who suffered from Russian aggression. Dima told ForumDaily about his creative and human path.

Photo: Ksenia Kirillova

Cultural revolution

Professional choreographer Dima Koan moved to Moscow from Tyumen in 1999. The actor recalls: at that time in the capital there was a special atmosphere of freedom and creativity.

«It was a kind of cultural, sexual and technological revolution. New theaters were opened and the first gay clubs were open, the first mobile phones appeared", - says Dima.

The actor admits: during his life in Moscow, as sometimes happens with creative people, he tried to leave creativity and live a “normal life”. He got a job at a large family fitness center, where he worked with clients.

«However, in parallel with this, I still constantly had to write some scripts, conduct programs, in a word, creativity did not let go. At some point, I realized that I could no longer work at an unloved job, otherwise I simply could not stand it. I prepared a shift for myself, handed him over to the fitness center and went nowhere. I remember that during that period I sent out my resume to all the theaters that I could find", he admitted.

On the subject: Closing theaters, firing actors, arresting directors: how culture is being destroyed in Russia

After a series of auditions and interviews, the actor ended up in a children's theater, where he met the director, who invited him to join his troupe. Then the followers of invitations from other directors, participation in festivals and new creative projects. Dima Koan played at the Theater named after M.A. Bulgakov, the Meyerhold Center, the Open Stage and other theaters. According to the actor, at the turn of the XNUMXs and the XNUMXs, the theatrical life of Moscow was just seething.

Photo courtesy of Dima Koan

«It was then that the Gogol Center appeared, which, it seems to me, completely changed the cultural agenda throughout the country. Various meetings of directors were constantly held there, dramaturgical laboratories were created. To the Gogol Center Kirill Serebryanikov created the Winzavod space, where performances and art exhibitions were held", - explains Dima.

One of the highlights of that time was the theatrical festival "Territory", which included, among other things, an "experimental part", during which the participants had to put on a performance in a "living space". Such a space could be a train car, a parking lot, or any other place.

«We got the hall of the Ministry of Culture, and the play "1937", which we staged there, became a kind of prophetic. It showed a communal apartment during the Great Terror, from which gradually, one by one, all the inhabitants disappeared.", - specifies the actor.

He recalls how, at that time, directors were not yet afraid to stage bold and critical performances. One of these productions, for example, was called "Domostroy" and began with a prank on the audience. They were told that instead of the performance there would be a lecture on the values ​​of family life. In fact, the performance was a satire of the law being considered at that time by the State Duma, decriminalizing domestic violence. Dima played in it an ordinary spectator, whom the hosts call to the stage as part of a “lecture”, and, according to him, the audience did not immediately guess that it was not a spontaneous dialogue that was unfolding in front of them, but a carefully rehearsed performance.

The beginning of the repression

According to the actor, the atmosphere of freedom and creative courage began to change around 2012. It was then that the infamous "Swamp Affair" and the trial of members of the Pussy Riot group took place. Adopted in 2013 law “On the prohibition of propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors”, the influence of which Dima, being an LGBT representative himself, felt especially strongly. Repression gradually increased, and, according to him, many in the theatrical environment already at that time understood where the country was heading.

«The problem is that when you live in this atmosphere, you start to get used to it as a kind of normality and you can’t imagine what could be different. My boyfriend and I used to hide our relationship, and even his parents didn't know he was gay. Many LGBT people sincerely believed that they were sick and felt guilty about their orientation. Only when I was in America, I realized how important it is that you can just walk down the street with your friend holding hands and not expect someone to pounce on you for it.", - the actor admits.

However, even the habit of hiding one's personal life could not protect Russia from police arbitrariness. For example, once Dima was detained on the street in Moscow under the pretext of a formal document check. A drunken policeman took him to the station and put him behind bars without any reason, while he continued to drink cognac and threatened the actor with rape.

«The horror is that they can do anything, and you have no way to protect yourself if you are not a well-known media personality. One of my friends was just killed. This feeling of powerlessness pressed the hardest", - he shares the sore.

American theater

When Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and unleashed a war in the Donbass, the actor finally decided to leave the country, because he did not believe that after this something could change for the better. Yes, Dima admits, in his first years abroad, like many other immigrants, it was not easy for him. Nevertheless, from the first years he began to play in American theaters - both in Russian and in English.

Ksenia Kirillova and Dima Koan. Photo: Ksenia Kirillova

«It so happened that my first performance was in English at the Shapiro Theatre. It was about emigration and I, of course, played a Russian immigrant. In addition to me, actors from Pakistan, Brazil and other countries participated in it.", - recalls the actor.

Having become a member of the Screen Actors Guild trade union, Dima Koan began to play extras more often and even in small episodes. For example, he participated in the filming of the series "Evil", the film "The Trial of the Chicago Seven" and other well-known projects.

«I've already starred three times with Steven Spielberg, played with Jennifer Lopez and Jessica Parker", he states.

If we talk about the differences between Russian and American theater, then Dima got the impression that American actors do not dare to go too deep, as if they are afraid to touch upon a politically incorrect topic or cause discomfort to the viewer.

«I miss here sometimes the depth and honesty that we met in our theater. As I said to an American student, you can use whatever form you like, but if you have nothing to say to the audience, then the theater is useless. Our task is to convey what we have created so that it touches people", - explains the actor.

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Nevertheless, Dima continues to participate in American projects. In the English-language feature film Who Killed Pushkin? he got a small role of the poet's friend, Dr. Dahl. True, the picture has not yet appeared on the screens, and the attitude towards Pushkin against the backdrop of Russian aggression in Ukraine has changed significantly.

Children of war

Shortly before the war, actors from New York, Russia, Ukraine and Israel organized a company PM Theater. Her first performance was The Singing Mills, the release of which coincided with the start of a full-scale war. Dima recalls how, feeling the need to do at least something, the actors after the performance began to distribute badges with the Ukrainian flag to the audience. Then Dima Koan and Anya Zitser met the writer and theater critic John Friedman, who organized readings of plays by Ukrainian playwrights around the world. As part of this project, they conducted a reading of the play Natalia Vorozhbit "Bad Roads" at the LaMama Theater, and the money raised was sent to Ukrainian artists.

As part of the same project, a performance installation was held, when plays by Ukrainian playwrights written during the war were read. Some of them were literally written in bomb shelters.

Photo courtesy of Dima Koan

The next step was the creation of a theater laboratory for Ukrainian children who ended up in the United States due to the war. The result of the laboratory was the verbatim play Are we there yet, which was shown at the New York Theater Work Shop. Even now, amid touring, the troupe continues to engage with teenagers on a weekly basis and plans to show Are we there yet in September at one of the theater festivals.

«They are amazing, just incredible children: honest, open, intelligent, talented, courageous. My mother wonders how they are not afraid to go on stage for the first time. But these children have seen the war, after which they are no longer afraid of anything.", - sums up Dima.

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