Traditional Azerbaijani theatre displays have their roots in daily-activity, daily-life and festivities including wedding traditions. Azerbaijani people believe that it is important to enact representations their philosophy and culture, thus they often portray traditional ceremonies, such as “Sayachy”, “Novruz”, and “Gevsech”. These usually encompass theatrical elements such as choruses and dances, familiar characters and narrative.
The National Theatre
The National Azerbaijani Theatre originated in the mid 19th century, by Mirza Fatali Akhundov; the first Azerbaijani playwright, a prominent thinker and philosopher. According to records, the theatre was primarily realized so that he could show a public comedy piece. Professional ‘spectacles’ became common around the same time.
The National Theatre of Azerbaijan was marked by its realism and connection with the working masses. It’s repertoire involved small ethical shows (‘fars’) such as “Kosa-Kosa”, “Tapdiq choban” (“The Foundling Shepherd”) and “Tenbel qardash” (“Lazy Brother”, a three-act comedy). These became very popular. These performances are notable for their optimism. They mainly reflect everyday life and agriculture. The comedy developed into satire, humorously criticising the defects in people’s work and life.
The first professional spectacle in the Azerbaijani language was displayed on March 23, 1873. Students of the ‘Real School’ played the “Vizier of Lankaran Khanate”; a play by M.F.Akhundov on the stage of Baku Public Assembly.
The second spectacle, “Haji Gara” (Miser’s adventures); another comedy by M.F.Akhundov was displayed in the hall of Baku Public Assembly, on April 17, 1873.
However, the organisation of these professional spectacles stopped shortly after creators disbanded the group. Spectacles arose again later in Susha, where the ‘Real School’ was originally opened in 1881. During school summer holidays, students would put on vocal concerts at a music school.
19th Century Avant Garde
The 19th century theatre in Azerbaijan can be described as ‘cutting edge’. Consequently, on one occasion in the Theatre of Susha, a play had to be disbanded for its content: In 1982 H.Vazirov.’s “Marrying – Not Slaking The Thirst” was broken up by religious spectators in the audience who thought the display was crass. The actors had to escape from the back of the theatre. It wasn’t until 1895 that the play was recognised for its success with general members of the public and displayed in public.
Another notable performance by H.Vazirov , was in 1904, when amateurs staged a version of ‘Othello’ by Shakespeare. Vazirov was both a translator and performer in the piece.
20th Century Theatre
Nationalisation of theatres set in after establishment of the Soviet power in Azerbaijan. The content of plays and spectacles became funded by government and accordingly controlled by the state. At the same time, many actors who had a career in the performing arts were enlisted into the USSR troupes.
In contrast, in 1920, a United State Theatre including Azerbaijani, Russian and Armenian drama and opera theatres was created. By 1922, the Azerbaijani drama troupe was transformed into the Academic Drama Theatre. Later, in 1923, a Russian satire-agitation theatre, transformed into the Baku Labor Theatre which specialised in displaying short plays, parodies and the everyday.
Today Azerbaijan champions a wide range of expressive arts, which are well received by audiences. Historic institutions continue to exist and flourish, including the Theatre of Opera and Ballet, in Baku and the Theatre of Musical Comedy. In addition, there are also more contemporary theatres aimed at a younger audience including The Young Spectator Theatre and The Puppet Theatre.
To know more and to visit a theatre in Baku, please see the links below:
The film industry in Azerbaijan dates back to 1898. In fact, Azerbaijan was among the first countries involved in cinematography; notably only a few years after the first showcase by the Lumière brothers in 1895.
The first films recorded in Baku were unsurprisingly, documentaries about the oil industry (“Fire of the Bibi Heybat Oil Gusher”, ” Oil Gusher in Balakhany”, “Festival In City Park”, “Caucasian Dance”, etc). At the turn of the 19th century, this bay town on the Caspian, was producing more than 50% of the world’s supply of oil. Even a short feature film was made about the supply; “You’re caught up”.
By 1915 The Pirone brothers had set up a network of three production houses in the Caucusus; located in Baku, Tbilisi and Yerevan. Azerbaijan’s first ever feature film “The Reign of Oil and Millions” based on a novel by M Musabeyov was financed by some local oil tycoons. This film featured beautiful landscape scenes across the rural villages surrounding Baku. Although the oil industry was the catalyst for this film network, the film production company went on to producing many other films for public entertainment. These included the first comedy in Azerbaijan, based on the “Arshyn Mal Alan” opera by U. Hajibeyov in 1916. The full-length movie “Celebrations of the Anniversary of Independence of Azerbaijan” followed on screen in 1919.
20th Century Development
During Azerbaijan’s period within the USSR, films were produced at great rate, with Russian producers especially took advantage of Azerbaijan’s environment and landscape.
In particular, there were a great number of films created in Azerbaijan in the 1980’s when the private sector started to rise in film production.
Film directors began to open their independent film studios in Azerbaijan too. These included: Rasim Odjagov – the studio “Odjag”, Eldar Guliyev – the studio “Gaya Film”, Ogtay Mirgasimov – the studio “Yeni Film”, Zaur Maherramov – the studio “Yaddash”, Fira Kurbanova – the studio “Birlik”, Firudin Humbatov – the studio “Metropol”.
By 1990 nearly all public sector funding for film had dried up in the USSR and as such, entrepreneurs provided the sole funding for commercial films. Despite this, 1991 was shown for the most films being produced in Azerbaijan. There were a total of 40 documentaries and 10 feature films shot at the time. Up to 90% of funding came from private funding.
Noteworthy films from the 1990’s to include: ‘Ring of happiness’ by the director Ramiz Azizbeyli and producer Sadraddin Dashdemirov. It was the first independent film in Azerbaijan. The film attracted such number of viewers that it helped to cover all expenditures of the film production and made a profit. ‘Yarasa’ by the director Ayaz Salayev and the producer Saday Ahmedov, was the first internationally acclaimed film. It was awarded the “Grand Pris” of The Angers Festival (France) and took part over 20 International Film Festivals in total.
Guild of Professional Film Directors
Azerbaijan regaining political independence in the 1990’s was a crucial time for protecting the film industry that had just begun to grow wings. In May 1999, The Guild of Professional Film-Directors was created in Azerbaijan. Its aim is to protect film for visual and audio authors. This organisation has since protected aspects of film production for the continuation of national and international development of cinematography.