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Legendary Russian Theater Director Bows Out After Conflict With Actors

Yury Lyubimov: "This theater is finished for me and there is no way back."
Yury Lyubimov: "This theater is finished for me and there is no way back."
MOSCOW -- Yury Lyubimov, one of Russia’s most celebrated directors, has confirmed that he is stepping down as head of the theater company he founded almost half a century ago.

On July 15, the 93-year-old will officially quit the post he has held at Moscow’s Taganka Theatre since 1964 after a blistering row over salaries and work ethic came to a head as the troupe toured the Czech Republic.

Lyubimov spoke to reporters after a week of scandal that overshadows his glittering 47-year career at the helm of the Moscow company.

"This theater is finished for me and there is no way back," he said. "You need to understand, anything can happen in the world. Husbands divorce their wives. In this case, I don't want to work with them."

Speaking at a press conference in Moscow, Lyubimov harshly criticized the work ethic of the actors.

"[The actors] don't want any change. They want to continue working badly and lazily, yawning [in rehearsal], barely showing up for rehearsal while I keep waiting for them," Lyubimov said. "This is a breakdown in discipline, and it's a sickness that affects our whole country."

Dramatic Week

The biting comments capped a turbulent week for the theater group, which began after Taganka actors were reported to have refused to rehearse ahead of a performance in the Czech Republic of Bertolt Brecht’s play “The Good Person” until they were paid.

Tatyana Sidorenko, one of the company’s leading actresses, said tensions over their pay had been simmering out of the public eye at the theater company for “many years.”

But she denied the troupe had refused to rehearse or perform and insisted they had only demanded their pay.

“We have lived in conditions of hatred for many years. We are hated. Actors are not basically valued," Sidorenko said. "And what do they say about us artists? Not one good word. And this is how we live. We kept silent because we know what theater means. All this simmered away, and we tolerated it and tolerated it."

'End This Conflict'

On June 28, Russian Culture Minister Aleksandr Avdeyev urged actors at the famed theater in central Moscow to make peace with their director. “I want this conflict to come to an end,” he said. “It will be very sad if he leaves.”

The following day, Lyubimov fired 20 of the theater’s actors.

The white-haired theater legend has retained near-mythical status in Russia’s highly esteemed theater community, despite crossing the Soviet authorities in the early '80s.

Lyubimov was particularly well known for his work with cult figure Vladimir Vysotsky, although a play Lyubimov later put on in 1980 about the actor and bard after Vysotsky’s death was blacklisted and banned by the authorities.

In 1984, Lyubimov was stripped of his Soviet citizenship for giving an interview to the British daily "The Times" while he was on tour in London. He was subsequently rehabilitated and made a hero’s return to Moscow four years later. He continued to dazzle the public with his productions after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

RFE/RL's Russian Service contributed to this report

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