Blok’s ‘The Twelve’ Becomes An Analogy For Ukraine

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By Chris Devonshire-Ellis

The Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg have been holding a premiere of a performance of Aleksander Blok’s poem “The Twelve” in ballet format, containing music by local composer Boris Tishchenko – whose family herald from Ukraine.

The poem, written in revolutionary Russia in 1918, details the struggle of a revolutionary group of 12 Red Guards as they struggle through a vicious winter night. Shots are fired, bystanders die. They shoot dead the prostitute girlfriend of one of the twelve, in a scene where it becomes apparent the 12 are an allegory for Christs disciples – the prostitute is Mary Magdalene.

More violence ensues, including a harrowing last supper scene, where the 12 are routinely shot dead yet raised back to the living only to be shot again as the struggle between the opposing revolutionary forces continues. Finally, it is revealed that the 12 are being lead by Christ Jesus himself as in the ballet, they ascend into heaven.

Both genius and blasphemous, the poem has long been controversial – the Red Guards were largely atheist; having them portrayed as followers of Christ was extremely dangerous to Blok from both the Bolshevik and Orthodox sides.

And so it is today, where a little-understood conflict with Ukraine once again pits family members and lovers against each other, violence breaks out, and the pseudo new Ukrainian side believe they act with the zealousness of martyrs. The ballet also portrays the de-humanization of the ordinary Russian people are mere obstacles to be discarded in the search for redemption – a chilling reminder of how ordinary Russians are now being dehumanized by the situation in Ukraine – a situation now endorsed by the European Union and United States, encouraged by Kiev to deny them everything from travel to education to access to their own money.

It remains the preserve of the choreographer, Alexander Sergeev, and composer Boris Tishchenko about how much of the current Ukraine conflict is mirrored in ‘The Twelve’ – however the images of violence, distorted views, the degradation of humanity and the belief that one of the two factions is supported by divinity – either in the form of the United States, or God – is chillingly accurate.


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