Founded in 1931, the Romen Theatre is an institution whose history traces a multitude of cultural and political aims.
Predecessors of the theater’s repertoire included an operetta in Romani, Romani folk songs, and uniquely Romani interpretations of Russian music. From its earliest beginnings to its present programs, the theater has continued the 18th- and 19th-century tradition of Romani choirs that aristocrats had patronised in Russia. The theater itself, however, was very much a socialist project.
From its inception, the Romen Theater has been characterized both by romanticised or even exoticised depictions of Romani lives. The visual component features refined, highly stylized women’s dancing, in addition to percussive dance steps by both genders. The performers’ acting, singing, and instrumental interpretations are often charged with pathos.
During the first part of the 20th century, some of the Romani elites associated with the theater were at the vanguard of literature and other documents in the Romani language.
During the first part of the 20th century, some of the Romani elites associated with the theater were at the vanguard of literature and other documents in the Romani language. And while most of Romen’s programming focuses on stage plays and other shows presented in a melodramatic style, there is also an educational element to the institution’s mission. For example, visitors can take a guided tour to learn about the theater’s historical context.
An excerpt from a synopsis of the tour on the theater’s website promises a history lesson:
‘The popularity of Romani choral art in the center of the creative intelligentsia during the first half of the 19th century. ... Professional choral ensembles of settled Moscow Roma; the appearance of acting dynasties at the turn of the 20th century. ... The idea of creating the Indo-Romani theater ensemble; the birth of the Romen Theater on 16 December 1931. History of the theater’s development.’
The styles of music and dance that crystalised at the Romen Theater were widely popularized by the 1975 film Tabor uxodit v nebo, known in English as “Gypsies Are Found Near Heaven.” Through cultural dissemination and the emigration of Russian Roma themselves, the repertoire has had far-reaching effects on Romani stages in a number of countries.
Songs in the Romen Theater repertoire are often sung in Romani or a mix of Russian and Romani, although romans (romances) and other Russian songs are performed as well. “Raya and Her Gypsy Legacy,” an ensemble formed in Norway by a former Romen singer, provide a Russian-language example.
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