Russian literature 'has become a part of British and American life'

A screenshot from 'Love' with Greta Garbo.

A screenshot from 'Love' with Greta Garbo.

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The inauguration ceremony of the UK-Russia Year of Language and Literature will take place on February 25 at London’s Royal Festival Hall. Mikhail Shvydkoi, the Russian presidential special representative for international cultural cooperation, says the year-long event is proof that Russian literature is an ‘integral part’ of world culture.

A screenshot from 'Love' with Greta Garbo. Source: Press photoA screenshot from 'Love' with Greta Garbo. Source: Press photo

London’s Royal Festival Hall is preparing to host the inauguration of the UK-Russia Year of Language and Literature, a year-long cultural collaboration between the two countries that will feature a range of different programs and events devoted to Russian and British literature and language.

The official opening on Feb. 25 will be marked by a special concert to accompany a screening of the 1927 film Love with Greta Garbo, based on Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. Composer Aphrodire Raichopoulou has written a score for the film for the concert, which will be performed by violinist Vadim Repin with the accompaniment of the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

"We wanted to show that Russian literature has become a part of British and American life and is now an integral part of world culture, said Mikhail Shvydkoi, the Russian presidential special representative for international cultural cooperation.

Mikhail Shvydkoi, the Russian President’s Special Representative for International Cultural Cooperation.Mikhail Shvydkoi, the Russian President’s Special Representative for International Cultural Cooperation.

"Today it is important to keep in mind that Russia is a country with a great literary tradition, which is singular yet open to the world, and primarily this tradition is linked to European culture and Christian values."

The event represents a decision by the two countries to continue the collaboration that led to 2014’s year of cultural exchange between the nations, as part of which more than 200 events took place in both Russia and the UK. The "Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age" exhibition dedicated to this year can still be visited in the London Science Museum – the spacesuits, capsules and moonwalkers will be on display until March 18.

Chief Executive of the British Council Sir Ciaran Devane and Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport John Whittingdale will participate in the inauguration of the Year of Language and Literature. According to Shvydkoi, this is very important because some time ago British officials did not attend such events.

Shakespeare takes the Moscow metro

Despite the complex political relations between Russia and the UK, the Year's organizers hope that the program will be realized in full.

Special consideration will be given to the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth. The Moscow metro is planning to launch a Shakespeare train featuring quotes, excerpts from his plays and sonnets. An equivalent train will appear in London with quotes by Russian authors.

Shakespeare in Moscow Metro. Illustration by Bella Leyn / British CouncilShakespeare in Moscow Metro. Illustration by Bella Leyn / British Council

Russia will be broadly represented at the London Book Fair. "We will try to show the novelties that have appeared in Russian literature in the last years, the young authors who still have not been presented to the foreign audience, such as Guzel Yakhina," said Shvydkoi.

The Year's organizers will also pay particular attention to collaboration between translators, writers and publishers who promote Russian literature in the UK.

"I think that the British book industry will receive a new impulse because in my view, there are many writers who deserve the attention of the world community, including the one in Britain," said Shvydkoi.

From Russian poetry to language Olympics

The PushkinInBritain International Festival of Russian Poetry, which usually starts on the poet's birthdate (June 6), will be bigger this year.

Other events organized include Russian Language Olympics, which will be held in some UK schools, as well as a large number of interuniversity and scientific conferences dedicated to the study of the Russian language and Russian literature, and meetings between historians studying the problems in cultural relations between Russia and the UK.

Meanwhile, an entire series of Russian film classics will be shown in British theaters.

"We all know that the War and Peace TV series has just been released in the UK. Everyone will have their opinion about it, but it was doubtlessly shot with a lot of love for Russian literature," said Shvydkoi.

There are also several events that, while not directly part of the Year’s cultural program, will nonetheless serve to intensify the impressions of Russia's language and literature in the minds of the British.

On March 17 the National Portrait Gallery will inaugurate a portrait exhibition prepared by the Tretyakov Gallery. The exhibition can also be considered part of the Year of Language and Literature because most of the paintings are portraits of Russian writers.

Meanwhile, in the summer the Bolshoi Theater will tour in London. According to Shvydkoi, even in the most difficult periods of Russian-British relations the British have always been interested in Russian ballet.

Shvydkoi added that Russian-British relations have been developing for the last 500 years. There have been heavy moments, but there has also been mutual support, such as in WWII.

"There are various political situations, but cultural relations is something eternal,’ he said. “Outside of the UK we stage Shakespeare more than anyone else, while the UK more than anyone stages Chekhov. Bernard Shaw like no one else expressed his affection for this great playwright, subtitling his play Heartbreak House thus: A Fantasia in the Russian Manner on English Themes, obviously referring to Anton Chekhov."

   
   
   

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