Officially the Kyrgyz Republic (Kyrgyz: Кыргыз Республикасы; Russian: Кыргызская Республика), Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked and mountainous country located in Central Asia, bordered by Kazakhstan to the north, Uzbekistan to the west, Tajikistan to the south-west, and China to the east.
Traditional Kyrgyz Puppetry
Rudiments of puppetry can be discovered in certain Kyrgyz (Kirgiz) rites and folk games, especially kuurchak oyun, “play with dolls”, and tak teke (dancing mountain goat).
Kuurchak oyun is a kind of “home theatre” performed by girls standing on the pillows piled up in the corner of a yurt (sheep-skinned cone-shaped hut). The puppets are very simple, a wooden crossbar with the head wrapped in a piece of cloth. Performances were given for family affairs and celebrations, for example a wedding. In this case, the show was done by girls from both the bride’s and the groom’s villages.
The tak teke performance was played to the accompaniment of the komuz, a traditional Kyrgyz three-string lute instrument. A small podium was placed before a musician, and a wooden puppet, an effigy of a mountain goat was “danced” by means of strings fastened to the hand of the musician plucking the cords of the instrument. At times, a single goat might be replaced by an entire herd. This puppet is also known in Kazakhstan and other neighbouring countries as well as in parts of Iran (see Teke).
Among those who practised the tak teke performance, Adymkalai Baibatyrov is well known, and also credited with “inventing” (at least introducing) glove puppetry to Kyrgyzstan. In the corner of the yurt Baibatyrov performed his kuurchak oyun plays behind a folding screen, above which his glove puppets performed scenes from local life. His most popular show was The Poor Man Ivan the Djighit (“brave warrior”).
Soviet Era Puppet Theatre
When Kyrgyzstan was established as a full republic of the Soviet Union in 1936 as the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic, Adymkalai Baibatyorov joined the orchestra of the first theatre, founded in 1930 in the then named Kirghiz Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. The first professional puppet theatre was set up in the Kyrgyz capital Frunze (now Bishkek) in 1938 and the company based its repertoire on that of Russian director Sergei Obraztsov, including the then famous The Magic Galoshe, and At the Wish of the Pike. The first original play was Zarlyk and the Giant (1939) by the Kyrgyz playwright O. Sargabishen (Sarbaghichev). In 1945, a well-known director and founder of two puppet theatres in Moscow, Viktor Shvemberger (1892-1970), who evacuated from the Russian capital after the German invasion at the outset of World War II, joined the existing company, helping it evolve into a professional troupe. In 1946, an acting company was formed to play in Kyrgyz (a language related to Turkish). The best-known production was Talas the Hunter, based on Kyrgyz epic tales.
Puppet Theatre Since 1990
The Bishkek Republican Puppet Theatre has preserved its status following Kyrgyzstan’s breakup with the USSR in 1991. It still has two acting companies performing in Kyrgyz and Russian staging plays for both children and adults.
- Syrymbetov, Altynbek. Kyrgyz kuurchak teatry [The Kyrgyz Puppet Theatre]. Frunze (Bishkek): Adabyat, 1989, 107 pp. (In Kyrgyz)