Acclaimed, then detained: Kirill Serebrennikov's path to fame

Acclaimed, then detained: Kirill Serebrennikov's path to fame

Not free yet

The renowned Russian director has spent almost 20 months imprisoned in his apartment after being placed under house arrest in August 2017. He was released on Monday, but he still faces trial. Serebrennikov is accused of conspiring to embezzle state funds of the theater he manages, but the charges are widely viewed as politically motivated. If convicted, he could spend up to 10 years in prison.

Acclaimed, then detained: Kirill Serebrennikov's path to fame

Initially a star of Putin's avant-garde

The director gained his mainstream renown thanks to the state's blessing, as during the mid- to late 2000s, Putin agreed to develop a bold and experimental arts scene. Serebrennikov, who was born in 1969 and had studied physics before directing plays and TV films in southern Russia's Rostov-on-Don, was noticed by Russia's Minister of Culture when he started working in Moscow in his 30s.

Acclaimed, then detained: Kirill Serebrennikov's path to fame

Creator of an avant-garde hotspot

Serebrennikov was appointed as the artistic director of this small state-run theater in 2012 and turned the Gogol Center into one of the most popular venues for Moscow's liberal intelligentsia, bringing together theater, contemporary dance, music, cinema and classes. In May 2017, Russian authorities had the multidisciplinary arts complex raided and arrested three employees of the theater.

Acclaimed, then detained: Kirill Serebrennikov's path to fame

The tides shifted

Serebrennikov staged various successful productions at the Gogol Center, such as an adaptation of Lars von Trier's "The Idiots" in 2015. In reaction to the massive protest movements against Putin following the elections of 2011, the state's ideology changed. The Minister of Culture was replaced by a conservative nationalist in 2012. The Orthodox Church's influence on the Kremlin became stronger.

Acclaimed, then detained: Kirill Serebrennikov's path to fame

International success

Meanwhile, Kirill Serebrennikov's acclaim had started spreading internationally, with his films screened at the world's top festivals and his theater productions also touring abroad. He was invited as a guest director at Berlin's Komische Oper in 2016, where he produced his interpretation of Rossini's comic opera from 1816, "The Barber of Seville."

Acclaimed, then detained: Kirill Serebrennikov's path to fame

A metaphor on growing obscurantism

Serebrennikov also directed the film "The Student," which screened at Cannes in 2016. An allegory for the country's growing conservatism, it portrays a student who drags his school into disaster after becoming a religious fanatic. The director had also started directly criticizing the state's treatment of LGBT community in the country and Russia's seizure of Crimea in 2014.

Acclaimed, then detained: Kirill Serebrennikov's path to fame

Homophobia at the Bolshoi?

In July 2017, the Bolshoi Theater's sold-out premiere of the ballet "Nureyev," portraying the famous ballet dancer of the same name, was cancelled at the last minute. Rumors started circulating that influential Orthodox authorities didn't approve its depiction of homosexual love and wanted it reworked. Serebrennikov was already in his fourth month of house arrest when the piece finally premiered.

Acclaimed, then detained: Kirill Serebrennikov's path to fame

Punk biopic celebrated at Cannes in absentia

He was directing this movie in St. Petersburg when he was arrested on the film set on August 22, 2017. The next day, Serebrennikov was sentenced to house arrest in Moscow. "Leto" (Summer) is a biopic portraying Soviet rock icon Viktor Tsoi and Leningrad's underground culture of the 1980s. It competed at the Cannes festival in 2018, but the director was not allowed to attend the premiere.

Acclaimed, then detained: Kirill Serebrennikov's path to fame

Nonsensical charges

The detained director obtained prominent support worldwide, including at the 2018 Cannes film festival (picture). A clear demonstration of the absurdity of the embezzlement charges against Serebrennikov and his colleagues at the Gogol Center came when prosecutors claimed a production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" had never occurred — even though it had won many awards and went on to tour abroad.

Acclaimed, then detained: Kirill Serebrennikov's path to fame

Theater without director

Based on four short dramas by Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, "Little Tragedies" is just one of the classics Serebrennikov tackled. It premiered in September 2017, just a few weeks after his arrest. The production included references to current events and the director's absence, such as excerpts of the poem "October 19," which was also the date Serebrennikov was due to appear in court.

Acclaimed, then detained: Kirill Serebrennikov's path to fame

A modernized fairytale in-progress

Another Serebrennikov production was scheduled to premiere at the Stuttgart Opera in October 2017, a few months after his arrest. His interpretation of "Hänsel and Gretel" was to feature footage shot in Rwanda. The opera house nevertheless offered an incomplete version of the work, which was subtitled "A fairytale about hope and misery told by Kirill Serebrennikov."

Acclaimed, then detained: Kirill Serebrennikov's path to fame

Directing under house arrest

While detained in his two-room apartment without access to the internet or a phone, Serebrennikov managed to stage elaborate productions, providing his instructions on USB sticks to his assistants. His latest opera, adapted from Verdi's "Nabucco," premiered at Hamburg's Staatsoper in March. Even though he was freed from house arrest on April 8, the director is still not allowed to leave Moscow.

Renowned Russian film and theater director Kirill Serebrennikov has been freed from house arrest, but the prominent Kremlin critic still faces trial. His successful career reflects the changes in Putin's ideology.