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THEME | 2017

Modern Danish drama served in Russia

In March 2017, the Russian publishing house Tsentr Knigi Rudomino published eight modern Danish plays translated into Russian. At the request of the publisher, Birgitte Hesselaa has written the preface to the anthology, and namely Danish drama has been the key for Birgitte Hesselaa to get under the skin of St. Petersburg. She is looking forward to a great, appetizing serving for young Russian students, instructors and dramatists.

“The book has nothing to do with me. But the director of the Danish study in Moscow, Elvira Krylova, received a request from the publisher Rudomino, who would like to make an anthology about new Danish drama. And I thought it was amazing,” says Birgitte Hesselaa while smiling.


Birgitte Hesselaa was invited to write the preface as well as the introduction to texts and help to select these eight Danish dramatists has been past Birgitte Hessela’s table. The book, according to her, mainly refers to theater and literature students at universities and at the theater academy and to Russian theater people. “You can imagine that young instructors in Russia would love to come up with something new and different,” she says.

You can imagine that young instructors in Russia would love to come up with something new and different

And in that context, it is alpha and omega that the material has been translated and is served and ready, says Birgitte Hesselaa. “The release is a very welcoming appetizer. It’s simply a gift to get all these texts translated and the very best will of course be if it results in new Danish drama being set up in Russia. It is unknown where and when. It may happen next season, or it may take years before an instructor from maybe Irkutsk or Yaroslavl reads it and becomes interested and will put it up.”


Birgitte Hesselaa brings danish Drama to Russia


Birgitte Hesselaa’s interest in Russia began a long time ago. For a long time, she has been interested in the big Russian writers – Tolstoy, Turgenev and especially Dostoyevsky. But it was not until 2007 she got the opportunity to visit Russia, and since 2010 she has been an annual guest at the cultural residence of the Danish Cultural Institute.


Birgitte Hesselaa had no doubt that her long-standing experience in dramaturgy, both in theory and practice, could be the key to getting in touch with something else and something more than the tourist’s St. Petersburg. It has now been seven years since Birgitte Hesselaa has worked to spread the knowledge of Danish drama.


There have been many exciting collaborations with Elena Krasnova from the State University and with Natalia Skorokhod from the Theatre Academy in St. Petersburg. By 2015, Birgitte Hesselaa got her own little breakthrough at the Alexandrinsky Theatre. “Alexandrinsky Theatre is one of the old, fine institutions. In 2013, the theatre opened a new, small scene, which was initially led by new people who were incredibly interested in opening the stage to Europe,” says Birgitte Hesselaa.


The release is a very welcoming appetizer. It's simply a gift to get all these texts translated and the very best will of course be if it results in new Danish drama being set up in Russia

“I had a dream that the Russian theater audience should meet the new Danish drama, in which there have been a huge bloom in the 1990s. My idea was to get the Danish dramatists to Russia, both because they could see their lyrics set up and played by the Russians, but also that they could talk to the instructors because they would probably meet an interpretation and set up their pieces which would be very different from Denmark”, she continues.


In 2015, it became possible to do a whole week with presentations of new Danish drama, with seminars, public discussions, etc. All thanks to cooperation with the Danish Cultural Institute and with Natalia Skorokhod, who is head of the Russian drama education and attached to the Alexandrinsky Theatre. And of course, with an invaluable help from actors and instructors at the Aleksandrinsky Theatre’s new scene. Finally, we must not forget the highly skilled translators from the state university in St. Petersburg, which had translated the texts and during the Danish week itself, was of great help as interpreters.


No more socialist realism, please!


Birgitte Hesselaa has experienced large differences in the perception of the role of modern in drama in Russia and in Denmark, and especially when it comes to realism and social criticism, Russia is still influenced by the Soviet requirement of optimistic socialist realism. “The picturesque expression, the symbolic, the amazing and the non-realistic theater, on the other hand, has both a strong and highly developed artistic tradition in Russia”, says Birgitte Hesselaa.

The picturesque expression, the symbolic, the amazing and the non-realistic theatre, on the other hand, has both a strong and highly developed artistic tradition in Russia

The Danish dramatists who experience the largest interest in Russia, are those who in terms of shape differs from realism, and it is namely them who had their breakthrough in the 90ies. “For example, Peter Asmussen, whose texts are widely played in all of Eastern Europe. His drama is very minimalist, almost abstract, and very musical. And it is my experience so far that his artistic form blends well with the Russian world”, says Birgitte Hesselaa.


The next project is about Dostoevsky


Birgitte Hesselaa teaches dramaturgy and comparative literature at the People’s University in Copenhagen, and it is Russian literature that is on the program in the coming period. For the next year and a half, she writes on a book about Dostoevsky’s novel “Crime and Punishment”.


“It will be a kind of reading guide, because one does not exist in Danish, a book with a lot of information, but it is also going to be a real analysis and interpretation of Dostoevsky’s novel”, says Birgitte Hesselaa. It is expected that the book will be completed during the fall of 2018.





Birgitte Hesselaa has released “The Dramatic Breakthrough”, Gyldendal, 2009, which deals with the new break in Danish drama from the 1990s and beyond.


Birgitte Hesselaa is a study leader and lecturer in comparative literature and dramaturgy at the People’s University in Copenhagen. She is a graduate of Cand.phil in Danish from the University of Copenhagen and worked as an external lecturer at KU and RUC and as a dramaturg at The Royal Theater, on TV2 and at Danmarks Radio.
The anthology consists of the following plays by 8 Danish dramatists:


  • Lasse Bo Handberg og Martin Lyngbo “Forførerens dagbog”/”Дневники обольстителя” by Søren Kirkegaard.
  • Peter Asmussen “Ingen møder nogen”/ “Никто никого не встречает”.
  • Astrid Saalbach “Pietà”/ “Пьета”.
  • Caroline Cecilie Malling “Bag hegnet”/ “За забором”.
  • Thor Bjørn Krebs “Baronessen, Blixens sidste kærlighed”/ “Баронесса. Последняя любовь Карен Бликсен”.
  • Nikoline Werdelin “Liebhaverne”/”В погоне за миражами”.
  • Lærke Sanderhoff “Klumpfisken”/”Рыба-солнце”.
  • Line Mørkeby “Lykke Bjørn”/”Я боюсь быть просто собой”.


With support of the Danish Arts Foundation


Text by Tanja B. Itenov

Translated from Danish by Katrine Pedersen

The book was published in March 2017