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Endangered Belarus theatre company given UK university residency

A performer from Belarus Free Theatre in rehearsal. Photo: Nicolai Khalezin
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Underground theatre troupe Belarus Free Theatre, which has garnered support and acclaim from the likes of Tom Stoppard and Kevin Spacey, has been granted a residency at Falmouth University’s academy of music theatre arts to produce two productions a year.

Four of the founding members of the politically active company were forced to seek asylum in the UK after riots in Belarus in 2011, when the Belarusian government orchestrated a clampdown on dissidents. They still perform in secret in small, private spaces in Minsk, but company staff and audience members have been arrested, threatened, and have lost their jobs after association with BFT.

The company, which also becomes an associate artist at the university, has been given two month-long residencies each year for three years. It will stay in student housing and private accommodation while devising new productions.

BFT will perform for the first time in Falmouth on April 15 with the premiere of Red Forest, devised at the academy’s facilities. The play is a co-production with the Young Vic in London, where BFT has administrative offices and where the performance will be staged from June 12.

Natalia Kaliada, artistic director of BFT, said: “Last year we lost our underground performance space in Belarus, with the authorities wanting to level the house that had not only been our home for five years, but also the childhood house of our friend. When authorities are ready to destroy people’s houses, their memories, it means they’re afraid of those memories. At the Young Vic and now at Falmouth we have found homes, with the Cornish people and Falmouth University fully embracing us.”

Talking to The Stage, Larry Lynch, director of the academy, described it as an “absolute responsibility of artists” to stand shoulder to shoulder with companies such as BFT.

“BFT are a very important theatre company, and it’s an absolute intellectual and aesthetic responsibility to work with them. I’m desperately pleased that my university is the one that has stepped forward to build a really meaningful partnership,” he said.

The news comes after the UK release of the film Dangerous Acts Starring the Unstable Elements of Belarus, a documentary on BFT featuring footage that had to be smuggled out of the country.

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