Russian Institute of Theatre Arts (GITIS)The shining stars of Russian performing arts

The shining stars of Russian performing arts


GITIS has produced a formidable cast of directors, actors and dancers. How have they shaped the institute’s reputation? 

The Russian Institute of Theatre Arts (GITIS) may be the largest and oldest theatre school in Russia, but it is its alumni who have built its reputation as a pioneer in the performing arts. From great theatre reformers to Oscar-nominated actors, it boasts an impressive cast of former staff and students that few other schools can match. 

Among the first GITIS graduates were legendary actors Olga Knipper and Ivan Moskvin, and Vsevolod Meyerhold, who helped to co-found the renowned Moscow Art Theatre with the father of “method acting”, Konstantin Stanislavski, in 1898.

GITIS rector Grigory Zaslavsky explains the significance of these early students, who studied under “the most important figure in GITIS history”, Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko. “Soon Meyerhold and Knipper, before becoming Anton Chekhov’s wife, appeared on his course. Nemirovich-Danchenko began to look for a man with whom he could create a theatre worthy of these great and new actors,” he says. That man was Stanislavski. 

GITIS has also counts many celebrated directors among its alumni. “Today, the most famous Russian theatre director in the world is our graduate and academy professor Rimas Tuminas,” says Professor Zaslavsky. Tuminas graduated from GITIS in 1978, and has won awards for productions including Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin and Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya.

Polish director Jerzy Grotowski, who believed in “poor theatre” – where a performance focuses more on the skill of the actor than on costumes and sets – also learned his craft at GITIS and earned plaudits for his avant-garde theatre during the 1960s and 70s. Lithuanian director Eimuntas Nekrošius graduated in 1978, and went on to win many awards for his work and perform across the globe.

Back in Russia, Leonid Heifetz became artistic director of the Central Theatre of the Soviet Army before directing numerous plays for Moscow theatre and national television. Another notable graduate is Anatoly Vasilyev, who studied direction under Andrei Popov and Maria Knebel (a student of Stanislavski) in the late 1960s – he is now an internationally acclaimed director and a professor of Russian theatre.  

Musical theatre owes a great debt to GITIS, too. One of the most esteemed graduates from this faculty is Russian opera director Boris Pokrovsky, who was stage director at the Bolshoi Theatre between 1943 and 1982. “His students teach today at GITIS, while one of his former students, Dmitri Tcherniakov, has staged performances at the likes of La Scala and the Royal Opera in Madrid,” Professor Zaslavsky says. Tcherniakov graduated in 1993 and has won four of Russia’s prestigious Golden Mask awards for his opera direction. Among the graduates of GITIS’ dance faculty is Alexei Ratmansky, who went on to study at the Bolshoi Ballet School and is now artist in residence at the American Ballet Theatre in New York. 

GITIS graduates can also be seen on film. In 2018, Kazakh actor Samal Yeslyamova won the best actress award at the Cannes Film Festival for her role as a single mother in Sergey Dvortsevoy’s My Little One. Recently, Dylda (or Beanpole), featuring GITIS acting graduate Viktoria Miroshnichenko, was shortlisted for best international feature film at the Oscars in 2020, as GITIS’ legacy continues to expand into the future. 

Find out more about GITIS.

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