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Theatre & Cinema



The Establishment and Development of Azerbaijani Theater Azerbaijani Theatre is closely connected with the activity, life, festivities, wedding traditions, and outlook of the people. Ancient traditional ceremonies, such as "Sayachy", "Novruz", and "Gevsech" encompass theatrical elements such as choruses, dances, various archetypical characters, and dialogs in dramatic plays. The most important moment of the ceremony of Novruz, in the game "Kosa-Kosa", is the pattern of the theatrical plays. The game is characterized by a plot, dramatic moments, and actors in masks who wear special clothes. The episodes "Khan-Khan", "Dancing of Mutribs" ("mutrib" means "a boy in woman's dress"), "The Competition Between the Bride and Mother-In-Law" and others performed at wedding ceremonies reveal the importance of elements of games and performance. The elements of a stage theater are also strong in a widespread ceremony "Yugh", at the meetings of Ozans and Ashugs, in the scenes of "Zorxana", and in rope-dancers' shows.


Performances, which were present in ceremonies and games, played a great role in the development of independent national theater. The most widespread "Kosa-Kosa", "Garavelli", (one of the forms of stage theater), "Kilimarasy", "Shah Selim" (puppet shows), etc. testify that the national theater of Azerbaijan developed independently. Some of these performances were based on a predictable plot and were of game-like in nature, while others consisted of a satirical repertoire, reflecting a more mature stage of the national theater of Azerbaijan.


The national theater of Azerbaijan was marked by its realism and connection with the working masses. The repertoire of the national theater involved small ethical shows (fars). Such shows as "Kosa-Kosa", "Tapdiq choban" ("The Foundling Shepherd"), "Tenbel qardash" (" Lazy Brother", a three-act comedy), etc. were popular amongst the people. These performances are notable for their optimism. They mainly reflect everyday life and agriculture. The comedy developed into satire, criticizing the defects in people's work, life, and psychology.


Under the rule of the Sefevies (in the 16th century), which advocated Shiism as an official religion, used different methods to influence the consciousness of the people. In that period, the religious performance "Shabih" was widespread. This performance, along with the positive influence of the development of the professional theater of Azerbaijan, also created conditions for the appearance of a number of actors.


Folklore theater played a great role in the development of the professional theater of Azerbaijan.


The history of Azerbaijani theater dates back to the staging of "Lenkeran khanin veziri" (Vezir of Lenkoran Khanate ) and "Hadji Gara" by M.F.Akhundov in March and April of 1873. These were performed by pupils of the school of realism with the close participation of N. Vezirov and A. Adygozelov (Gorani) and were the stimulus for the establishment of the national theater.


Leading intellectuals of Azerbaijan and teachers later graduating from the Gory Seminary staged various performances in Shusha, Nakhichevan and other cities (it is interesting to note that they simultaneously played a number of roles in each performance). Leading teachers and intellectuals, led by U.Melik-Hagnazarov arranged shows in clubs and in Khandemirov's theater in Shusha during summer vacations. They mainly staged comedies by M.F.Akhundov ("Khyrs-quldurbasan", "Musyo Jirdan ve dervish Mesteli shah").


Creations by M.F. Akhundov were also performed. The comedies, for example, were staged in Azeri starting in 1876. The most prominent among the leading intellectuals were N. Vezirov, the author of a number of comedies and vaudevilles, B. Badalbeyov, A. Velibeyov, F. Kocherli, H. Sarydjalinski, Mukhtar Muradov, I. Shefibeyov, the famous singer Djabbar Qaryaghdyoghlu (Shusha), M. Sidgi, Dj. Mamedguluzade's brother Mirza Alekper, playwright E. Sultanov (Nakhichevan), R. Efendiyev (Nukha), etc. From 1870-1880 the amateurs working in different cities of Azerbaijan gradually gathered around the workers of the Baku theater. Therefore, Baku theater livened by the late 1880s, in whichled to the establishment of a permanent theater team. In 1887, the theater team in Baku was led by H.Mahmudbekov, S.M.Ganizade and N.Veliyev. They strengthened this team and transformed it into a troupe that started its career as the staff of an independent theater in 1888.


Since 1890 N.Narimanov made a great contribution to implementation of the requirements of realism on the stage and to the development of the theater with sound ideas in Azerbaijan. He regarded the theater as one of the important means for spreading the leading ideas of the time and for raising the self-consciousness of people and used the theater as a tribune for expressing ideas. N.Narimanov attracted the highly intellectual young people to the theater troupes and at the same time played principal roles in a number of performances. H.Zerdabi created the first professional theater troupe "The first Muslim theatrical troupe" in Baku in 1896. The union of actors was established for the first time in Baku in 1897.The repertoire of Azerbaijani theater included the plays of national dramatists as M.F.Akhundov, N.Vezirov, H.Vezirov, N.Natimanov, A.Haqverdiyev, Dj. Mamedguluzade and ohers and was also enriched by creations of Russian (N.V.Gogol, I.S.Turgenev, L.N.Tolstoy and Western European classics (V.Shakespeare, F.Shiller, H.Heyne, Y.B.Molyer). From its very establishment Azerbaijani theater adhered to the ideas of democracy and enlightenment. Along with the comedies of M.F.Akhundov, such plays as "Musibeti Fakhreddin" ("Misfortune of Fakhraddin"), "Avoiding rain, caught in a rainfall by N.Vezirov, "The ruining house", "An unhappy young", "Agha Mukhamed Shah Gadjar" by A,Hagverdiyev, "Nadanlig" ("Ignorance"), "Nadir Shah" by N.Narimanov exposed the traditions of feudalism, despotism and tyranny of capitalism.


The organization of Muslim Theater Actors was established in Baku in 1906. It was led by famous theater worker Dj.Zeynalov. Despite prosecutions and material difficulties the organization diligently staged different plays and expanded its repertoire. At that time theatrical circles and troupes were created in a number of working districts of Baku ("The theatrical circle of Balakhany", "Zeal"). The troupe "Zeal" included A.Rzayev, Dj.Hadjinsky, etc, beside its direct founder M.A.Aliyev. The troupers not only prepared performances but also attracted the audience.

Due to the lack of means for renting an appropriate establishment, the performances were shown in a salon "Granvio" of the trade passage. The play "Ignorance" by N.Narimanov was staged there in 1906. Following the revolution of 1905, it was permitted to establish a number of organizations while those operating secretly emerged on the surface. These included the cultural and educational organization "Nidjat". Establishment of a theatrical troupe under this organization in 1907 played a great role in the development of the theater of that period. The professional theatrical troupe, including the professional actors as H.Arablinski, S.Ruhulla, A.Veli, was created at that time under the organization "Hidjat" in 1908 and it had its permanent cloakroom and properties.

The trope demonstrated the performances twice or thrice a week at Taghiyev's theater and in working districts. Such plays as "The unhappy young man", "Agha Mohamed Shah Gadjar" by A.Hagverdiyev, "Nadir shah", by N.Narimanov, "Pehlevani-Zemane" by N.Vezirov, "Gaveyi ahengar" by Sh. Samin, "Runners" by F.Shiller, "Almensur" by N.Neynen, "Othello" by W.Shakespeare , "A physician" by U.B.Molier, "The inspector", "Wedding" by N.V.Gogol, "The former wine-maker" occupied the most important place in the repertoire of Azerbaijani theater at that time.


A new cultural and educational society "Shafa" and a theatrical department under this society were established in 1910. Yet the theatrical trope of "Shafa" was weaker compared with "Nidjat". However, the actors of Nidjat's trope gradually transferred to Shafa". D.Bunyadzade, poet Samed Mansur, actors Dj. Zeynalov, A.M. Sherifzade took an active part in the activity of the society and from time to time actors from Nidjat as H.Arablinski, M.A.Aliyev, S.Ruhulla, H.Sarabski were invited to take part in the theatrical shows. The troupe of Shafa not only arranged performances but also dealt with cultural and educational issues related to the theater. The troupe celebrated the 25th jubilee of Dj.Zeynalov's creative activity in 1911, the 100th jubilee of M.F.Akhundov in 1911, the fortieth anniversary of N.Vezirov's theatrical activity. Shafa was characterized not only by performing its shows in towns and villages of Azerbaijan but also by arranging tours to other countries (South Caucasus, Central Asia, North Caucasus, in the cities of Iran, Astrakhan, Kazanda, etc). On the whole, both Nidjat and Shafa made a great contribution to strengthening of the organization and creative activity of the Azerbaijani theater.

The staging of masterpiece by U.Hadjibeyov "Leyli and Medjnun" -the first creation of the national opera in January 1908 (by a new calendar-January25), laid the foundation of professional musical theater of Azerbaijan. Within the first year of the establishment of the theater U'Hadjibeyov's musical comedies created in 1908-1913 "Leyli and Medjnun", "Sheikh Senan", ":No matter this or that", "Arshyn Mal Alan" dominated the repertoire of the theater. The following years were marked by enrichment of theatrical repertoire with such creations of Z.Hadjibeyov (musical comedies "Ashug Garib", "Young at the age of fifty", "The Married Bachelor"), M.Magomayev ( "Shah Ismayil", "M.M.Kazinovsky (musical comedy "Vurhavur"), M.Dj.Amirov (opera "Seyfalmulk")Yet, despite the absence of its own repertoire the musical theater was in need of professional performers. Musical performances were mainly performed by theatrical artists H.Arablinski (director), A.Huseynzade, A. and Y.Olenskayas, R.Darably, A.Anaply etc along with opera singers H.Sarabski, M.Mamedov (Bulbul), H.Hadjibababeyov, H.Teregulov, M.Baghyrov, A.Aghdamsky. Musical and drama theaters were not delimited and both musical and drama creations were included in the repertoire of troupes (musical performances dominated in 1910th).


The staging of the comedy "Oluler" ("The deceased") by Dj.Mamedguluzade in 1916 proved the maturity of the Azerbaijani theater. The play that stood against ignorance and superstitions, lie and tyranny was a great success. The union of Muslim Artists was founded in Baku in 1917. A.M.Sharifzade was elected the chair of the union. The union, uniting all theatrical troupes, produced performances based on friendship. Howver, this union survived only up to 1918. The entrepreneurs of Mayilov theater did not give the actors an opportunity to appear on the stage. Most of the actors went on tours. Only the trup of U. and Z.Hadjibeyov brothers operated permanently. The troupe involved the actors of theater, opera and operetta. The theater of Azerbaijan which reflected the leading, democratic ideas played a great role in the cultural development of people. However at that period the theater did not reached the high level of the scene ethics.



The history of the film industry in Azerbaijan began on August 2, 1898. The first movies were newsreel documentaries ("Fire of the Bibi Heybat Oil Gusher", " Oil Gusher in Balakhany", "Festival In City Park", "Caucasian Dance", etc.) and one short motion picture ("You're Caught Up").

The first film distribution offices were established in Baku, Tbilisi and Yerevan by stock companies (trade houses) founded by the Pirone brothers in the Caucasus in 1915. That same year, the company started the production of Azerbaijan's first feature film, "The Reign of Oil and Millions", based on M. Musabeyov's novel of the same name, with the help of the financing of oil tycoons. Film director B. N. Svetlov was invited from St. Petersburg to produce the film. The landscape scenes were shot in Baku and suburban villages, while the indoor scenes were shot in a Tbilisi studio. The role of Lutveli bey was played by N.Arablinsky. The first comedy in Azerbaijan was produced based on the "Arshyn Mal Alan" opera by U. Hajibeyov in Baku in 1916. The full-length movie "Celebrations of the Anniversary of Independence of Azerbaijan" went on screen in 1919.

The Photo and Film Organization of Azerbaijan (PFOA) was establishment in 1923. The PFOA was involved in nationalization and integration of photo agencies, cinemas and movie distribution offices, owned by individual businessmen. The PFOA was at that time also operating the cinemas Teyyare, Edison, Million, Ladya, Medenchi and others in Baku.

The PFOA-produced bi-serial "The Maiden Tower Legeng" (film director - V. V. Vallyuzek) was screened in 1924. The film producers highlighted Eastern exotics in this ethnography-oriented movie.

In 1925, Sh. Mahmudbayov initiated the establishment of a studio under the PFOA for training film directors and actors in Azerbaijan. This is the studio where J. Jabbarly, M. Mikayilov, A. Tahirov and others studied. Such prominent film directors as V. I. Pugovkin, I. A. Shevchenko. N. M. Shengelaya, M. E. Chiaureli, as well as cameramen G. M. Lembek, V. R. Lemke, A. V. Galperin, I. S. Frolov, A. M. Feldman, L. L. Kosmatov, V. M. Shneyder and others were invited to Baku, while D.Dzhabbarly, A.M.Sherifzade and others were involved in movie production for the purposes of improving movie production quality and the development of national resources.

The PFOA was later known as "Azdovletkino", (1926-1930),"Azerkino" (1930-1933), Azfilm (1933), Azerdovletsenayesi (1934), Azerfilm (1935-1940) and The Baku Film Studio (1941-1959). It was named J.Jabbarly's Azerbaycanfilm studio in 1961.

The struggle against ignorance and illiteracy, the revolution, and rights of women were the main subjects of Azeri films in the 1920s. The most successful ones were Bismillah (1925, film directors - A. M. Sherifzade and A. Valovo), "A House On the Volcano" (1929, film director - A .I. Bek-Nazarov, in cooperation with Azerkino ), "Hadzhi Gara" (1929, film director - A. M. Sherifzade), as well as "Sevil" (1929, film director - A. I. Bek-Nazarov), which pictured the image of an Azeri woman struggling for freedom.

In the twenties of XX century local cameramen and reps of foreign movie companies were shooting in Baku documentary films and newsreel on life of city, oil mines. In 1920 first newsreel titled "Official march of 9 golden Army in Baku" was shot. The same year newsreel titled "First convention of eastern nations" was created. Next years newsreels on certain events were prepared: "3rd anniversary of Soviet Azerbaijan" (1923), "Fire in Surakhani oil mines" (1923), "Funeral of Nariman Narimanov" (1925), "Arrival of M.Frunze to Baku" (1925) and etc documentary films, as well popular science films started to be produced.

In 1925 director A.M.Sherifzade completed shooting of the film "Journey to Azerbaijan" on cultural and economic life of republic. In the twenties, beside historical documentaries, production of newsreel "Azerbaijani screen" started (4-5 issues a year) in Azeri cinema that was familiarizing the audience with successes of republic in economic and cultural fields. These years talented directors such as M.Mikayilov, A.A.Litvinov, A.A.Makovsky, cameramen like V.P.Lemke, A.Valovoy, A.Tolchan, I.S.Tartakovsky were working in Azeri documentary. B.V.Pumyansky, S.Badalov, V.Yeremeyev, A.Hasanov, E.Elekberov and others started to work in this field in the thirties. Movies of these masters reflected life of republic, kolkhoz construction, successes in cultural field, equipment of oil industry with new technique in first five years and etc. Efforts in field of creation of image of perfect man in frame of documentary were artistic achievements of that time.

The movies produced in the early 1930s are features picturing contemporary life, the history and socialist revolution, such as Latif, Ismet (1930, 1934, film director - M. Mikailov), The Diamond and The New Horizon (1936, 1940, film directors - A. Guliyev and G. M. Braginsky), The Baku Residents (1938, film director - V. V. Turin), The Villagers (1940, film director - S. Mardanov).


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