Life Without Malobrodsky: Family and Projects of the Arrested Producer


In 2017, the Russian theatre was in the focus of public attention. This is due not to great performances and projects, but to the resonant case of the Seventh Studio, whose employees are accused of embezzling 68 million rubles from the state. Director Kirill Serebrennikov, ex-CEO of the organization Yuriy Itin, RAMT director Sofya Apfelbaum and accountant Nina Maslyaeva are under house arrest. Another suspect, producer Ekaterina Voronova, was asked by the Prosecutor General's Office to be found by the Interpol. Russiangate tells the story of producer Aleksey Malobrodsky – the only one of all the suspects who was placed to a pre-trial detention center.

"I’ll tell you how everything went"

Alexey Malobrodsky and Tatyana Lukyanova have known each other for 13 years. They have been together for nine years already and more than five years ago they officially formalized the marriage. They like spending time together, travel somewhere all the time. Any trip, even to the Greater Moscow by car, is already a holiday.

“Do not put on any music or radio, just sitting side by side is very cool,” Tatiana recalls with warmth, “we have great time together. I wouldn’t say that we often communicate with our groups of friends – there is enough communication between two of us. We always travel together.” Tatiana likes to cook: “It's nice to make something tasty, beautifully served and just sit around chatting. There is always something to talk about.  

Since June 2017, neither family dinners nor trips to the Moscow Region are possible: Alexey Malobrodsky is in the pre-trial detention center called Matrosskaya Tishina on suspicion of embezzlement of money allocated by the Ministry of Culture to the ANO Sedmaya Studiya (The Seventh Studio) for the Platform project. In early December, the couple met for the second time in six months. 

The spouses have only 40 minutes by phone to communicate. Between them, there’s a dirty glass and grille. When the scheduled time ends, the connection is cut off: not a single extra minute, the machine of justice is relentless.

According to the law, the accused has the right to two visits a month. To receive them, you need a permission from the investigation, which for four months confined itself to formal replies – “the visit of Malobrodsky's wife contradicts the interests of the preliminary investigation.” Without explanation. Investigators are not required to explain and justify themselves. 

“The visit passed very quickly,” says Tatiana, “I want to talk about everything and at once. When you see a person firsthand, it's a living, direct conversation, another emotion, rather than doing intellectual work in the epistolary genre. It is very pleasant to see that the person looks fine, is alive, well and cheerful. It is important to exchange some positive emotions during the visit. Although we daily correspond through the electronic service of the Federal Penitentiary Service, we are in constant contact, exchange of information, news. There is no feeling that they are completely torn off [from each other].” 

Since the summer of 2017, their joint leisure is limited only by electronic correspondence. On June 19, the investigators detained Alexey Malobrodsky – suddenly, he turned from a witness to a defendant. The spouses did not expect this: despite the fact that searches in Gogol Center and the house of the theater’s art-director Kirill Serebrennikov were held in May, the producer remained calm.

"Metamorphoses" based on myths of Ovid (directors - David Bobe, Kirill Serebrennikov). The project "Platform" in the Center for Contemporary Art "Winzavod" (since 2013 - in the repertoire of "Gogol Center"), Moscow, 2012. Photo: Sergey Pyatakov / RIA Novosti

Tatyana remembers how she tried to find out from her husband what was going on, whether this could somehow affect him. He sincerely replied: of course, he would be summoned as a witness to testify. He would tell her how everything went. He was sure that everything was fine, he could not be incriminated.

“This is a true composure, when you still believe in good and justice when you’re 60 years old,” Tatiana grins, “but I still believe in justice. And then again, what else do you tell yourself if you do not believe in it? "

During the searches in their flat, all the equipment was taken away. The computer was given back to Tatyana only after four months (although they promised it a week later). The tablet has not been returned until now.

“He had been working for the Platform for a little less than a year, three times less than the others. At that, he was not a manager, he did not sign financial documents. He was an employee who was engaged in organization of creative projects. Why does he stay in prison for six months? When I start thinking about that, it blows my mind away completely. My brain refuses to understand this,” says the woman.

Recently, Malobrodsky’s health has deteriorated. The old sore – shoulder arthritis – begins to worsen. The doctor suggested that the cause may be a virus, but for the more accurate diagnosis, more serious tests are needed. If it is confirmed, then complex antiviral drugs will be needed as well. There is no suitable specialist in the pre-trial detention center. Tatyana gave the MRI results to the center, but they managed to lose them there. And from four applications of the arrested person with the request to run tests, only one reached the medical unit of the isolator. The surgeon came after all. He examined the shoulder and said – “you do not have scoliosis,” and left.

At the court session on December 4, Alexey Malobrodsky spoke about his health. According to his wife, after the statement, the pre-trial detention center staff started doing something: they took him to a clean medical office, collected opinions from several people. On December 9, Malobrodsky was transferred to the hospital. There, the conditions are worse than in the ordinary cells of the detention center: there is no TV, no refrigerator, food immediately goes bad. On December 11, the therapist came to him and appointed general blood and urine test.

The censors cut out a part about the hospital from the letter of the arrested husband. “He wrote a letter on two forms that he had managed to get hold of,” Tatyana explains, “I only got the second. From the context, I understand that something happened, he was transferred somewhere. It turned out that they cut out everything about the hospital.”

On December 12, human rights activists from the PMC came to Malobrodsky. They were able to get a refrigerator installed in the cell.

Honor and reputation

Malobrodsky’s track record is impressive. He held managerial positions on key cultural sites of the country: he was the executive director of the Golden Mask, the head of the Easter Festival, and managed the School of Dramatic Art. In addition, for a little more than a year he worked at the Platform, then, at Gogol Center until March 2015. After leaving the theater, he helped his wife’s creative center called Sreda. The center stages plays for children. 

At the end of the winter of 2016, Alexey Malobrodsky was invited to become the curator of the children's theater festival Marshak in Voronezh. The initiative came from Mikhail Bychkov, the creator and artistic director of the Voronezh Chamber Theater, as well as the founder and artistic director of the International Platonovsky Festival of Arts and the Marshak Festival.

“For the first time – in 2015 – Marshak was held under my supervision, but I realized that there is not enough forces or opportunities to work on both projects. My main work is still Platonovfest,” says Bychkov, “we decided to find a curator who would work on the program. They invited Alexey Arkadievich, an experienced and knowledgeable expert. In addition, they knew that at that time he did not have large projects.”

Alexey Malobrodsky made the program thanks to his connections and authority: he brought 20 performances of the most famous Russian theaters: RAMT, Ballet Moscow, Teatr.Dok, Obraztsov Puppet Theater, Russian Theater of Estonia, Karlsson Haus, Pokrovsky Chamber Music Theater, Alexandrinsky's New Stage and others.

According to Bychkov, the festival was a success. Malobrodsky was offered a contract for another year – to organize the third festival in the autumn of 2017.

"A Midsummer Night's Dream" on William Shakespeare' comedy (directed by Kirill Serebrennikov). Project "Platform" in the Center for Contemporary Art "Winzavod" (from 2013 - in the repertoire of "Gogol Center"), Moscow, 2012. Photo: Alex Yocu

“Until June, he was engaged in the festival, he collected almost the entire program. It was a wonderful program,” says artistic director of the festival Bychkov, “it would be successful anywhere. The Theater of Nations, the Vakhtangov Theater, the Uppsala Circus from Petersburg, the Riga Russian Theater, theaters of Norway and Kazakhstan, and others came to visit us. When he was arrested, I considered it my duty not to attract anyone to replace him, but finished the work myself and confirmed all the agreements reached by Malobrodsky.”

Bychkov has no plans to look for anyone for the arrested producer’s position. He is convinced of his innocence and hopes that by the beginning of the preparation of the new festival, Malobrodsky will be released and able to recollect the program: “When a person turns out to be shut out of the process, one immediately becomes aware of its significance and the importance of his work.” The art-director calls Malobrodsky not just an organizer, but an expert who excellently understands art, who, with the help of his qualifications, can render an expert opinion.

In addition, time management is very important for Alexey. “We, too, conscientiously approach the organizational issues, but from his side, we regularly received reminders, nudges and bells. “Do not forget this, I'm worried about something, you have not agreed here yet...” Mikhail emphasizes.

On December 13, the Association of Theater Critics recognized Alexey Malobrodsky as the man of the year – “For Honor and Dignity”.

“Unlike the other defendants in the case, who are under house arrest, he has been detained for six months. Many theatrical figures of Russia made speeches in support of the producer – they all called for a change in the preventive measure for Malobrodsky, whose guilt has not been proven,” the Association said in a statement.

At each court session Malobrodsky tries to explain to the judge that it is important for him to maintain the reputation of an honest professional.

“I myself, as a guarantor, tried to explain this to the so-called court, and Alexey Arkadievich quite rightly emphasizes: reputation in this industry is of decisive importance,” notes Alexander Manotkov, composer and former musical curator of the Platform. “Our field is small, everyone knows each other, the reputation is formed over the years, but can be destroyed in an instant. All these misadventures in an absolutely obvious manner only strengthened Malobrodsky's reputation. I, for example, did not at all suppose that behind the always stressed politeness and professional scruples there is also such a steel will, such a quiet dignity. No one will wish such a check, but God grant everyone power to go through it. I really hope, of course, that these tests in his life will soon come to an end.”

Inconceivable precision

Despite the peculiarities and imperfections of the system of relations between the state and cultural institutions, Malobrodsky's colleagues say: the producer has always had the competence to do everything correctly and legally.

“He is very scrupulous and honest, he cannot afford to make mistakes. Even in my letters, he corrected the commas, which infuriated me,” says Maria Tyrina, the deputy director of the gallery on Solyanka. She and Malobrodsky have a long working history – since 2002. Also, Tyrina worked with him in Gogol Center. 

“He proofread everything, signed each page, so that no one changes it, read everything fifty times. In a professional environment, he is perceived as a very responsible manager,” says Tyrina, “I regularly share my stories with him until now. He’s charging me with energy.”    

Manotskov, the former musical curator of the Platform, describes the same features. He says that the relations between the composers and directors of the theater are not simple: there is always a bargaining on both sides for favorable conditions. 

“This is an objective fact, it's not about individuals,” says Manotskov, “but it depends on personalities how the project will be implemented, how fair and correct all financial conditions will be. Malobrodsky, both as a producer and as a negotiator, has always shown himself in the best possible way. It is not a common thing that that a producer in Russia really delves into all the artistic circumstances of the work, reliably and surely leads the project to realization. Malobrodsky is just such a manager.”

Ex-director of the puppet theater in Moscow and former director of the Palace on the Yauza Grigory Papish is familiar with Malobrodsky since the mid-1990s. They have never worked together, but close communication has lasted for many years.

“He never bowed before the authorities, did not show them his “gratitude” for funding,” he said, “he always believed that the task of the Department of Culture was to finance the activities of theaters and their projects on time. And it is absolutely necessary to conduct business openly, honestly and legally. This is his main principle.”

They say that Malobrodsky was not liked in the Department of Culture – he wanted the founders of cultural institutions not only to create problems, but also to solve them.

“In the Department of Culture, it's not like he wasn’t liked, they do not like anyone at all,” Tyrin adds, “because we want something all the time, and Malobrodsky needed the most [in the early years of Gogol Center]. Then, the theater did not make money, but it needed a lot – two renovations. Of course, Malobrodsky did not get out of the Department. How can you love a man who is an eyesore and constantly wants something?”

Art-director of Ballet Moscow Elena Tupyseva, who previously worked at the Platform as curator of modern dance calls the criminal case “a contrived story.”

“Any organization or project that is created from the scratch is a very complex management machine,” continues Tupyseva, “one must immediately produce a creative result, and money from the Ministry of Culture can only come in six months. The Platform opened in October, and money came in February. Of course, the Ministry did not ask what money you use to make such cool things, how did you props and light equipment. As far as I remember, the annual subsidy was about 70 million rubles. And the incriminated 68 million rubles is almost equal to a year of work. A performance in modern dance is the cheapest genre in production and, on average, it costs 2-3 million rubles. If you take ballet, opera or drama, it’s much more.” 

Tupyseva is convinced that, because of unclear laws, the case was purposely turned into a hunt for “corrupt officials”. “I'm sure that no one has stolen any money, and there was nothing of what is imputed [to the persons of interest],” she is convinced, “because the laws are written in a peculiar way, the same situation can be attributed either to an administrative offense or to a criminal one.”

«"Hamlet" on William Shakespeare's play (directed by David Bobey, France). Gogol Center, Moscow, 2013. Photo: Gogol Center

Don’t think, otherwise you’re dead

No one turned away from their family after the incident, says Tatyana Lukyanova. Friends, and even those she thought were just acquaintances, support her as best they can. 

“Any serious life and emotional upheavals are always experienced alone, in a certain sense. No matter how supported and helped you are, there always comes a time when you are left alone with your thoughts. You have to push them, push them out, because you cannot think about it – you will not survive physically. But it is not always possible to completely block the thoughts: at some point, the gap that you keep propping up is increasing, and you are already managing it yourself,” she says. 

The producer's wife says that she can yell, swing her arms, she can be “torn from indignation” when there is some kind of injustice happening with her or her husband. Her husband, she describes as the complete opposite – a person, who is calm and reasonable.

“I have a joke about him. I often say to him: “Lesha, you are not a man, but a bright image,” laughs the woman. She says that Malobrodsky's secret of steadfastness is in “an absolutely implausible, unconditional, very quiet and deep sense of dignity.” He does not hold any grudge against anyone – in the theater environment, he has good relations with many, even if people are in feud among themselves. 

These days, she is trying to ignore everything that is written about her husband and the case of the Seventh Studio – what’s difference, “truth is the power”. She also does not seek the guilty: “if you use logic and common sense,” she says, “then nobody needs this case.” And it's not even a specific person who gave a move to the “theatrical case” – “one by one, and everything fell under the flywheel.” 

Only this flywheel cannot be reversed.

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