Foregrounds ’13 – Vassiliva

Taken from the Russian folk tale “Vassilisa the Beautiful”, Vassiliva is a reimagining and creative reworking of the play into a more accessible theatrical framework.

The original story concerns itself with a young girl who is given a magic doll to assuage her tears from her mother, who tragically dies when young Vasiliva is only eight.

The doll awakens when fed morsels of food and then comforts the young child as she comes to terms with her grief.

Vassiliva’s father, a wealthy merchant, decides that it is better for his child to have a mother. Though he has the pick of the town, he decides to marry a widow with two daughters of her own, both of whom are of similar age to Vassiliva.

As it turns out this woman is far from what she first appears and while she is pleasant and caring while the father is there, her true self comes out while he is away at work. She and her daughters bully and mistreat young Vasiliva. Jealous of her beauty, they send her out to work in the heat of the day and feed her only stipends of their meals. Somehow Vassiliva manages to stay fit and healthy and attractive, while they become more shrew-like and bony.

The secret to her continued good looks comes from the doll she has. Each evening she feeds the doll and tells him her woes. The doll consoles her and tells her to sleep and that all will be well. When she awakes the work has all been done. The doll also tells her how to make a special cream that will protect her from sunburn.

The stepmother decides to rid herself of Vassiliva once and for all when suitors start arriving for the beautiful young girl. Conscious that her own daughters will never get a good match with Vassiliva around, she determines to get rid of her in the forest where the old with Baba Yaga lives.

Despite her being sent to the forest everyday, Vassiliva remains healthy and Baba Yaga never comes to eat her as she is rumoured to. The reason for this protection is again the magic doll, which continues to do her work for her and protect her from danger.

The stepsisters conspire and create a ruse whereby Vassiliva must go to Baba Yaga and request some fire as all of their lantern have run out. She does so, and wanders into the wood to find Baba Yaga’s hut.

En route she comes across three riders, one dressed all in White, another Red and a third all in Black.

Upon reaching the hut she is taken in and told that she will be given the light and not eaten if she can perform tasks set to her by Baba Yaga. They seem impossible to achieve but the little doll again performs all of the duties and upon her inspection the following day, Baba Yaga is forced to concede that she has no grounds upon which to eat Vassiliva.

Again she gives Vassiliva impossible tasks but again her doll saves her. Baba Yaga is angry but allows her to ask three questions. These questions are all about the riders she has seen and she is informed that they represent the Sun, the Night and the Dawn, all of whom are under the service of Baba Yaga.

Baba Yaga, who has grown very angry, asks Vassiliva how she has stayed safe and is informed that her mother has blessed her. In a rage she is sent home, though she leaves with a light in the form of a skull with glowing eyes.

Upon her return to the cabin of her stepmother, the skull’s eyes burn bright and turn the stepmother and stepsisters to ash. Vassiliva returns home to her village and awaits her father’s return.

The performance of this piece focuses on the dark side of the folk tale, reimagining the circumstance around which Vassiliva has found herself in Baba Yaga’s hut. She is there to find her lost mother, from whose death she has never truly recovered.

Baba Yaga, already a formidable character is given even more of a sinister persona with her being the guardian of the underworld. The horse riders are there to do her bidding.

Vassiliva requests that she may get her mother back, and a contract is drawn whereby this will be orchestrated for the trade of the magic doll.

But it is never a good idea to trust the guardian of the underworld.

Vassiliva is part of Foregrounds ’13.

The show runs from Tuesday the 26th of February to Saturday the 2nd of March.

The evening compromises a triptych of performances, the details of which can be found here and here.