Der blaue Vogel comes to London, 1923

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In the 1920s, Der blaue Vogel (The Blue Bird) was a theater/cabaret founded by Russian émigrés living in Berlin. Their performances combined Russian folk songs, modernist theater, and satirical sketches. Three of the men active at The Blue Bird were L. E. Duban-Tortsov, a former Moscow Art Theatre actor; Jasha Jushny (also written Sasha Yuzhny or J. Yuzhny); and the director André Andrejew (1887-1967). It was Jushny who took the company on a European tour in 1923, reaching London’s Scala Theatre in October.

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The Entire Blue Bird Company, [1923]. Lithographed poster. Printed by J. Weiner Ltd., London. Theater Collection GAX 2012- in process

One reviewer noted, “There are no people like the Russians for making us feel artistically ashamed of ourselves. We Westerners … have been taught to forget the evidence of any drama other than the fidgety compositions of our own stage. And then … Russia will send over one of her operas, her ballets, or her vaudevilles, and after the first gasp all our critical standards have to be adjusted to make room for the new-comer—at the top.”

“…The latest came from Moscow by way of Berlin. It is the Blue Bird Company under the direction of Mr. Yuzhny, who presents what is really a glorified cabaret performance consisting of a heterogeneous mass of singing, dancing, and mimic turns, with a running commentary from the director at the footlights.” (Manchester Guardian, October 5, 1923)

Another reviewer was less enthusiastic, “The ear, practically every time, comes off worse than the eye… . The Volga Boat Song, like a page torn from Gorky, is a cry from the depths. Only an artist with a strong sense of humanity and pity could have conceived those seven outcasts in their rags straining at a barge rope against a sunset sky… . As music supplies the basis of these “dramatizations,” surely it ought to be treated less as an intruder in the theater and more as an honored guest.” (The Christian Science Monitor, October 27, 1923)