Jeans Generation

Nikolay Khalezin with participation of Natalia Koliada
Belarus Free Theatre
Soho Theatre
(2008)

Production photo

"Politicians don't wear jeans, jeans are worn by freedom fighters Dictators don't like jeans they like dark suits and military uniform"

In a 70 minutes solo performance Nikolay Khalezin unfolds the socio-political evolution of the history of jeans through his personal experience.

Khalezin divulges his personal account as a child from admiration for his brother's first real jeans to efforts made to earn money to buy his own. His account of enterprising initiatives mirrors some the economic realities in Belarus including an insight into the black-market. In the course of his performance Khalezin changes his jeans three times. On each occasion the jeans mirror a phase not only in his personal life but also reflect the pressures for change despite the counter-forces applied by the governing body.

Jeans in Belarus are more that an innocent pair of trousers, they are a symbol of protest, the "militant uniform" for those fighting for democracy in a bastion of dictatorship in Europe. A dramatic hint to the almost unimaginable reality of daily life under oppression is employed in a simple "exercise". Khalezin asks the audience to shout "I am free". The audience, initially hesitant, needs three promptings before roaring in unison "I am free." Then, at once Khalezin pulls out a baton and raises it in the menacing manner over someone in the front row. It shocks. It hits home that the mere utterance of certain harmless words in totalitarian states, can be answered by a serious attack on the person.

This, autobiographical account of protest against political oppression, culminates in passionate testimony of Khalezin's incarceration with other student protesters on Human Rights day, 10th December 1998. We are reminded that many were "arrested twenty, thirty ....fifty times.. Real heroes. Real Jeans!"

Khalezin's detailed account of his emotions, thoughts and physical experience in prison is impressively in tune with the accompanying pop music in the background, controlled by an on-stage DJ. The monologue is in Russian. The over-title translation is lengthy and is not always easy to follow. The overall impact is moving.

The Belarus Free Theatre is not yet free to openly stage this play and their other production, Being Harold Pinter, in their own country. Yet the echoes of these productions should eventually reach the wider audience of the Jeans Generation.

Reviewer: Rivka Jacobson