Independent Uzbek told to move out by landowner
Tashkent’s Ilkhom playhouse, which has long been a sanctuary of free speech, experimental theatre and culture within dictatorial Uzbekistan, this month received a letter telling the theatre to vacate its building.
When it was founded in 1976, the Ilkom was the Soviet Union’s first independent theatre and the only one that did not depend on state funding.
It says it could be forced out of its home for up to two years because of renovations by the new building owner, Ofelos Plaza.
The threat has sparked an international campaign to protect it under the Twitter hashtag #SaveIlkhom.
Government intervention has already provided a reprieve but supporters say more should be done to preserve the Ilkhom as a cultural landmark, given its decades of experimental theatre and social criticism under Soviet rule and through the dictatorship of former president, Islam Karimov.
Ofelos Plaza initially demanded the Ilkhom permanently leave its basement. After hundreds attended a public discussion about the theatre’s future, the Uzbek government stepped in to handle negotiations with the landowner, which agreed not to permanently evict the theatre.
“My memories of this theatre go back to my childhood, when my parents brought me here, the theatre was still mostly underground, and it was really considered lucky to come here,” said Irina Bharat, the assistant general manager. “In those days, the shows started at nine or 10 in the evening, after all the other productions at the other theatres had ended. And the repertoire was completely different from Tashkent’s theatres and the entire Soviet space. It is the first independent theatre of the entire Soviet space. There are no equivalents,” added Bharat, who has worked at the theatre since 2005.
The Ilkhom is considering buying its building although no price has been made public.
The second approach is to pressure the Uzbek government to designate the Ilkhom as a cultural site.
“It’s hard to imagine how the theatre would continue without that space,” said actor Tyler Polumsky. “The Ilkhom is years of psychological, spiritual energy swallowed up in that space, in the atmosphere of that building. Moving it elsewhere is out of the question, something irreplaceable would be lost.”
Artyom Kim, a director and composer, said: “Can you imagine if a letter came to the Moscow Art Theatre telling them to vacate the premises? … The big issue is we don’t even discuss what we are becoming,” Kim said in reference to rapid urban redevelopment.
An Ilkhom performance. Picture credit: YouTube