Yasnaya Polyana Tolstoy’s Grave © SiefkinDR

the death of ivan ilyich


This performance takes Leo Tolstoy’s novel The Death of Ivan Ilyich as a departure point. Tolstoy described it as “a direct face-to-face encounter with death”. For this transposition to performance, the title of the novel is taken literally: spectators assemble to witness the death of Ivan Ilyich. But here Ivan Ilyich is not a middle-aged man working as a high-court judge in late 19th century Saint Petersburg. Here Ivan Ilyich becomes the principle of life itself.

concept & direction
david weber-krebs
sonia si ahmed and ezra fieremans
lighting design
martin kaffarnik
clara cucchi
infinite endings
alice ciresola
commissioned by
festival wunder der prärie: care city in mannheim
thanks to
wpzimmer and c-takt
    Auguste Raffet, Personne mourante entourée de ses proches. / 6. [vignette de droite dans la partie supérieure], 19th century, lithography. Courtesy Musée Carnevalet, Paris.

How to depict death as a slow, ending process?
How to portray people accompanying – and caring for – someone dying?
How to involve a theatre audience in this process?

These, and other questions, are at the heart of The Death of Ivan Ilyich.

    Nicolas Poussin, La mort de Germanicus, 1627, oil on canvas. Courtesy Minneapolis Institute of Art, US.
    François Lemoyne, Guerrier mourant 18th century, charcoal on paper. Courtesy Beaux-Arts de Bayonne.
    Anonymous, Jeune femme sur son lit de mort, MBA-Rouen.
    Gustave Brun, La mort et le mourant, 19th century, oil on canvas. Courtesy Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dole.
    Geta Brătescu, Towards White (Self Portrait in 7 sequences), 2015. Courtesy Ivan Gallery Bucharest, and Galerie Barbara Weiss.

The research phase that has preceded the dramaturgical work included a thorough examination of the presence and iconography of death in the history of theatre and fine arts.

    Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilyich, first Russian edition, 1886

This is the beginning of The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy.

“During an interval in the Melvinski trial in the large building of the Law Courts the members and public prosecutor met in Ivan Egorovich Shebek’s private room, where the conversation turned on the celebrated Krasovski case. Fedor Vasilievich warmly maintained that it was not subject to their jurisdiction, Ivan Egorovich maintained the contrary, while Peter Ivanovich, not having entered into the discussion at the start, took no part in it but looked through the Gazette which had just been handed in.

“Gentlemen,” he said, “Ivan Ilych has died!”

“You don’t say so!”

“Here, read it yourself,” replied Peter Ivanovich, handing Fedor Vasilievich the paper still damp from the press. Surrounded by a black border were the words: “Praskovya Fedorovna Golovina, with profound sorrow, informs relatives and friends of the demise of her beloved husband Ivan Ilych Golovin, Member of the Court of Justice, which occurred on February the 4th of this year 1882. the funeral will take place on Friday at one o’clock in the afternoon.”



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