In his staging of The House of Bernarda Alba, Andrea Novicov makes people move in such a way that there seem to be at least two bodies concealed within. His whole life has been devoted to movement both on and off stage.
DE I: Andrea, how come you live in Switzerland, but your surname, Novicov, is distinctly Russian?
Andrea: Let’s start with the fact that my grandfather was an Imperial Russian officer and a very passionate supporter of Russian monarchy. He fought for the White Army in the Civil War and left Russia in 1918. My late father was born on the journey that our family made to the West. So that’s how I got my family name from ‘White emigrants’.
DE I: How did your parents find their way to Argentina?
Andrea: My father followed a well-trodden path: Southern Russia, Istanbul, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Italy and finally Argentina, where he met my mother whose family had arrived there from Northern Italy. My father was a real thrill seeker, a wanderer always in search of new adventures and motivated by his love of risk. The generation of people who were in a similar position to him after the revolution were remarkable for their constant moving from place to place and a permanent state of search. My father changed his occupaions many times. He loved travelling, got involved in commerce and even was a spy. By all the same he continued to be nostalgic about the Romanov times.
DE I: Who did he spy on/for?
Andrea: He never told me the details of that aspect of his life, but I can say for sure that between the 1950s and 1970s his anti-communist position certainly had him involved in Eastern Europe. He worked for “Free Europe” and often spent time with dissidents from Eastern Europe and Russia.
DE I: What touched you most about Spain where the action of the play takes place? Or was it just a way to travel to the countries where your parents had been?
Andrea: Let’s put it like this: I was following a family tradition. Returning to memories about my father, he was really a wanderer who would call home wherever he was at the given moment. He knew 9 languages. And whenever he arrived somewhere new, he would immediately start looking for a job. After I left Argentina, I lived in lots of other different countries: Italy, Switzerland, Germany… Constantly rushing around from country to country develops a chromosome which gives one the ability to adapt to the way of life almost anywhere. Spain – Spain, life is a habit which allows you get a sense of orientation in this world. For me it’s based on an animal instinct. You have to feel everything, understand everything immediately, what’s a priority, what’s less important. I can assure you that I could adapt equally as well to any other country, be it Norway or Finland.
It just so happened that my attention was drawn to the work of one Spanish writer. Discovering a new writer is like discovering a new city. I definitely have some skills in that area. To find out everything you can about a city, you have to study its centre, then study the main streets which stretch out from it, and then diversify into less well known sectors to find their peculiarities, their colors and scents which allow you to really experience everything. It’s the same with a work of literature: it’s interesting to feel its rhythm, sound, emotions, and to understand the author’s position on things. My theater is a visual theatre where everything moves just as in any city.
DE I: In theory, the moment has to come in life when it’s too frightening to start from scratch. One’s mind begins to compare past experiences with current ones. You are now here in Russia. Is this your first trip here?
Andrea: No, not my first. I’d start by saying that each time you break away form your roots, it has both positive and negative effects. You have to adapt to a new situation, and that keeps you in a state of constant mobilization and intensified attention. On the one hand, you become more fragile. But that trains you, it teaches you never to be passive. I think that comparison is one of the fundamental conditions for feeling and evaluating. Being a wanderer, eternally on the move is a great advantage. Right now I’m in Russia, and I can feel her much more completely because I know what Spain is, for example. Italy I can open up for myself though knowing Argentina, and so on. Experience also is a factor, an attachment you feel to one place or another. And that is how your weakness displays itself. If you start to love something, how you absorb information changes too. So avoid being the victim of your feelings, you have to consciously admit to yourself, ‘yes, I’m in love, but I remember that this is temporary. I can’t stay here too long or everything else will die.’
DE I: What form would you choose to best illustrate what the Russians/Slavs are like?
Andrea: It is difficult to answer that question. First of all I don’t know from what I’ve seen, what is modern, and what is the result of Soviet times. I’ve noticed a lack of smiles and quite a lot of rudeness. But is that a Russian character trait or the result of a solidarity that was passed down? Here everyone has this unruffled, impenetrable expression as if everyone around is an enemy. That’s my current impression but I can’t interpret it. What I just said to you is an impression I got from the streets over the past 3 days. But there is also the ‘literary’ Russia, a country that is desperate, melancholic, a little bit off-guard, lazy – a mix of ‘Oblomov’ and ‘Don Quixote’. A country of ideas which are born of huge imagination, or vodka, or out of something altogether different.
DE I: What other works would you like to stage?
Andrea: Maybe something by the modern American author Don DeLillo who psychoanalyses American society. In which individuality clashes with the most powerful means of communication. That is the topic that interests me.
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