Pavel Urbanovich, Teacher of Biomechanics

Pavel Urbanovich, Teacher of Biomechanics

Irina Sirotkina, Valerii Zolotukhin
Vsevolod Meierkhol’d; Pavel Urbanovich; Sergei Eizenshtein; the Higher State Theatre Workshops; Gvytm; Gektemas; the Bakhrushin Museum; biomechanics; theatre; archive; documents; photographs; visual media.
The paper publishes previously unknown photographs of Vsevolod Meyerhold’s biomechanics, from the private archive of the actor, stage director, and teacher, Pavel Vladimirovich Urbanovich. Urbanovich was a student of the first class of the Higher State Theatre Workshops. Shortly after beginning his studies, he started teaching biomechanics and acrobatics himself. While developing practical exercises, he collected various materials related to Meyerhold’s stage movement method. The photographs of biomechanical exercises, which were stored in his home archive, date from the early 1920s. Copies of some of the images are also stored in the A. A. Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum and are already known from publications devoted to Meyerhold and his students; others are published for the first time. Several photographs picture daily life in Meyerhold’s school at the time when the principles of theatre biomechanics were being formulated, developed and intensely practiced. They were to be deposited in the Meyerhold Theatre Museum and used for didactic purposes, possibly as illustrations for a manual of biomechanics.

On the Urbanovich Archive

In the middle of the Civil War, the amateur theatre of the Red Army garrison left its home town of Riazan’ for the Southern Front. The path lay through Moscow, where the theatre was to appear before its superiors and be assigned further appointments. The troupe included Pavel Urbanovich, Vitalii Zhemchuzhnyi, Erast Garin – in the future, a brilliant actor and performer of the main roles in Meyerhold’s 1920s productions – and others. The journey, though only about 200 km, lasted more than a day. The train stopped repeatedly and finally arrived in Moscow without reaching the station. Urbanovich was sent to explore the situation. Garin remembered:

At last, in an early-morning haze, the figure of our avant-garde, always smart, extremely organised and determined comrade P. V. Urbanovich shows up. He has already been to the station and learned that the train will stay here for a long time and has to be unloaded.
We quickly take the luggage from the cars. Heavy things will be delivered by transport; taking the bags, bags and suitcases, the staff go on foot to our temporary accommodation in Moscow. Where? We do not know.
Urbanovich knows everything.
Quick march! And the detachment has moved on its way (Garin 1974: 5; translation from Russian is ours).

Unlike Garin, Pavel Urbanovich was not a native of Riazan’, as he spent his childhood in Grodno province. He was born on January 10, 1898 (O.S) in the town of Slonim, south-west of Minsk, which had become part of the Russian Empire at the end of the 18th century. His father, Vladimir Antonovich, was a peasant and served as an excise officer, and his mother Elena Adamovna (born Fёdorova) was a housewife. From 1907 to 1914, Urbanovich studied in Brest-Litovsk (now Belarus), and with the beginning of the First World War, was evacuated with his parents to Riazan’, where he graduated from a commercial school. In 1918, he was drafted into the Red Army and served as “instructor” at the Military Political Department engaged in organising the work of garrison clubs, where he first encountered amateur theatricals. Soon afterwards he was put in charge of the Riazan’ City Theatre Studio. In spring 1920 the studio merged with the Red Army Theatre Workshop, the garrison amateur theatre. The new association was attached to the Riazan’ Military District, and a colleague of Urbanovich, Vitalii Zhemchuzhnyi, was appointed its head (Grishina 1987: 26).

Pavel Urbanovich. The personal archive of Tat’iana Urbanovich.

Meanwhile, in September 1920, Meyerhold came back from the South and was appointed, though for a brief period, head of the Theatre Department of Narkompros (the Soviet Ministry of Enlightenment), in charge of Moscow theatres, which he intended to revolutionise. Vitalii Zhemchyzhnyi1, with his radical leftist views, attracted his attention as he was eager to support Red Army studios who played for the masses as opposed to the ‘bourgeois’ public. It might be with his recommendation that, in October 1920, the garrison theatre was summoned to Moscow (Grishina 1987: 26). The dates in the article coincide with those given by the theatre historian, David Zolotnitskii (1976: 83), but differ from some other sources, including the memoirs of Erast Garin, S Meierkhol’dom [With Meyerhold], where it is said that the studio left Riazan’ for Moscow in autumn 1919 (Garin 1974: 3). Pavel Urbanovich’s autobiography, preserved in his private archive, claims that in 1919 he was transferred to Moscow. It is possible however that Urbanovich was indeed in Moscow in 1919 by himself, and not with the studio, but preparing for the trip. This would explain why, according to Garin’s memoirs, he was better acquainted with the capital than other studio members. That 1920 was the year the studio moved to Moscow is indirectly confirmed by a certificate of the Riazan’ provincial political and educational department issued to Urbanovich in October, 1920 and kept in the home archive. According to this document, he was employed in Riazan’ until autumn 1920, after which he was recalled by the Political Department of the Moscow Military District.

In his memoirs, Erast Garin described the trip and the following months during which the company settled in Moscow and was renamed the First Amateur Red Army Theatre, then the Red Army District Amateur Theatre (Okruzhnoi samodeiatel’nyi teatr Krasnoi Armii, or OSTKA). With the end of the Civil war in 1921, OSTKA was dissolved due to the demobilisation of a large number of members of the group. In the same year, several of its former actors, including Urbanovich, Garin, Nikolai Bogoliubov and others, enrolled in the Higher State Workshops for Theatre Directors (in Russian abbreviated as Gvyrm and, later, Gvytm) which had been just opened by Meyerhold.2 In autumn 1922, Gvyrm was merged with the newly founded State College of Theatre Art (GITIS), and, together with other students, Urbanovich was enrolled in the class of the second year. Yet, after Meyerhold broke with the College in 1923, Urbanovich rejoined his workshop (which had changed name to the State Experimental Workshops – Gektemas) and studied there until 1925.

From the first months with Meyerhold, Urbanovich was intensely involved in biomechanical training. Strong, athletic, and agile, he excelled in biomechanics, succeeding better than other students. Not long after beginning his studies, he was promoted to teach biomechanics to his fellow students in Meyerhold’s workshops as well as in various Moscow studios run by Meyerhold.3 In autumn 1924, the Biomechanical Laboratory was established in Gektemas (Feldman 2017: 328), led by Urbanovich and two other Meyerhold students and actors, Mikhail Korenev and Zosima Zlobin (Fevral’skii 1976: 270).

Having accumulated teaching experience, Urbanovich became Meyerhold’s key assistant in his project to turn disparate movement sketches into methodically organised exercises. It is known that some biomechanical exercises which were part of routine training in the early 1920s (e.g. “Jump on the chest of the opponent” and “Strike with a dagger”) were practiced by Meyerhold in 1915-1916, in the studio on Borodinskaia (Smirnova-Iskander 1978: 236). At that time, Meyerhold conceived “biomechanics” as a project that would distinguish his own method of actor training from other systems, primarily from the “system” of Konstantin Stanislavsky4. In the curriculum for the 1922 academic year, Meyerhold contrasted the “three systems of play: “‘gut’ (intuition), ‘experience’, and ‘biomechanical’”. He first wrote the word “motor”, but crossed it out and replaced it with “biomechanical” (Meierkhol’d 1998: 26). The idea was to focus on gesture and movement rather than on “psychology”, “gut” or “experience” in the actor’s training. And if Stanislavsky proposed a number of “psychological” tasks for the actor, Meyerhold wanted, by contrast, to develop a system of exercises of “motor” or “biomechanical” character.

In the new concept of the theatre school, which Meyerhold and Leonid Viv’en developed immediately after the revolution and embodied in the Courses for the Art of Stage Directing (Kurmastsep) founded in 1918 in Petrograd, physical training was given a major role. The actor of the revolutionary theatre had to be agile, athletic, and able to play on city streets and squares, in mass performances. After moving to Moscow in September 1920, Meyerhold became closer to Nikolai Podvoiskii, the head of the Military Training Department, or Vsevobuch [Vseobschee voennoe obuchenie], and together they conceived Tefizkult [Teatralizatsiia fizkul’tury], the theatricalisation of physical culture (Sirotkina 2014). When Meyerhold planned to open his new school in Moscow, he intended to include an extended course of gymnastics into the curriculum. The training of the “actor-citizen”, in his own words, required “the production of normal movement, gymnastics, biomechanics” and was to include “gymnastic games, fencing, dance, military movements, strengthening of rhythmic consciousness (the Dalcroze system), the laws of stage movement, the alignment of movement with the size and shape of the stage, and pantomime” (RGALI 998-1-2922-24-25).

In its early period, biomechanics appeared as a practice on the border between physical education, actor training, and the art of stage movement, and it developed simultaneously in all three directions. Pavel Urbanovich became one of Meyerhold’s main assistants in its creation – or, at least, he saw himself as such during his years of study with Meyerhold and parallel teaching of biomechanics. In a letter to Meyerhold, in December 1924 (see Appendix 2), Urbanovich called himself the Master’s “closest collaborator” in the field of biomechanics. His letter contains a work plan that goes far beyond purely practical exercises in biomechanics and acrobatics with students that he invariably conducted. This work concerns, on the one hand, the development and systematisation of a common teaching method and, on the other, the archiving of biomechanics as a system (it was to be done in cooperation with the Museum of the State Meyerhold Theater (GosTIM)).5 The photographs in Urbanovich’s archive were not just memorial evidence of his first years in the theatre – they were teaching materials for biomechanics and could serve for learning exercises.

His fellow student, Sergei Eisenstein, blamed Urbanovich for conceiving biomechanics as solely a system of physical culture exercises. “There is also Urbanovich, who transformed biomechanics into purely physical exercises and a form of drill back in the period when we all together studied with Meyerhold”, he said at a lecture on biomechanics in 1935. “He had such a tendency even at that time, and if he began as a lumberjack, when he took his own road, he became a bricklayer in the field of biomechanics” (Eizenshtein 2000: 725). Even though it sounds arrogant, this short memoir reflects quite well the divergences in the approach to biomechanics that were typical for Meyerhold’s associates.6 Urbanovich’s own approach, at least in the early 1920s, was characterised by: 1) bias toward practical work; 2) a close relation to physical education and acrobatics, and to a much lesser extent, to the systems of development of acting skills; and 3) lack of a theoretical framework and approach.7 This contrasted, for instance, with Eisenstein’s view of biomechanics, where descriptions of exercises are analytical, theoretical, and, at times, poetic,8 or with the work of Mikhail Korenev, who thoroughly recorded every word of Meyerhold on the “principles of biomechanics”.

What was new in theatrical education of that period is the attention Urbanovich gave to photography and film, as instruments to record exercises and preserve them for future students. Photography turned the movement into a chain of “sequentially-static moments of main exercises”, as he wrote in a letter to Meyerhold (see Appendix 2). This required prior analysis of the exercises, which were either separate complex movements (such as shooting a bow or throwing a stone) or small theatre scenes, and studies. As an instrument of recording exercises, photography was a medium relevant to biomechanical exercises. Biomechanics can be seen as an analysis of expressive movements in practice. Each exercise was divided into parts, or “moments”, and a description of consecutive parts formed the so-called “title” (titul in Russian), like the content page of a book. The photographs corresponded to the list of movements in the “title”. In the early 1920s, together with actor and photographer Aleksei Temerin, Urbanovich worked on shooting biomechanical exercises, and thus created an archive of the earliest photo evidence of Meyerhold’s method.

In 1925, Urbanovich was still on the books as a member of the laboratory of stage directing attached to GosTIM, and a student of Gektemas, but in the following years he worked mainly at the Theatre of Revolution.9 From 1924 to 1927, Urbanovich directed the Theatre of Revolution’s Junior School, where he also taught acrobatics, biomechanics, mime and acting skills (Zolotnitskii 1976: 129), and then he became deputy director of the Technical School of Theatre. There he became closer to the director Aleksei Popov, with whom he later worked (from 1935 to 1943) at the Central Red Army Theatre: Popov was artistic director and Urbanovich combined the duties of stage director, teacher and head of the theatre school. In 1943, Urbanovich headed the Front Hospital Brigades organised by the Central House of Art Workers, and a year later he was sent to Iakutsk, in Eastern Siberia, to work at the Russian Drama Theatre. For four years he worked as its artistic director and teacher, after which, in 1948, he was sent to Germany as a director of the Soviet occupation army theatre, where he worked until February 1951. Later he taught at the Moscow Circus School and the Central Studio of Circus Art. Pavel Vladimirovich died in Moscow in 1955.

The photographs of biomechanics from Urbanovich’s private archive (Appendix 1) consist of two series: (A) pictures of Urbanovich demonstrating the solo exercises, “Throwing a Stone” (Fig. 2) and “Archery” (Fig. 3-5), and pictures of the actor Konstantin Vasil’evich Sholmov (1903-? ) and himself performing the exercise “Jump on the back and transfer gravity” (Fig. 6-7); (B) photos of group exercises undertaken by pupils of Gvyrm both inside (Fig. 8-9) and outside (Fig. 10-15) the building where the Meyerhold school was located in the very early 1920s. The first series dates from 1923-1924, and the group photos were presumably taken earlier, in 1922. Both series are interesting because they seem to be created as methodological material, a visual aid for those studying biomechanics. Thus, Urbanovich’s performance of the exercise, “Archery” (Fig. 3-5), is broken down into stages, or “moments”: “Lifting the bow”, “Targeting”, and the “Shot”. Copies of some photos are in the Bakhrushin Museum (the GosTIM collection), and from the signatures on their backs we learn that Figure 2 (which we identified as an exercise, “Throwing a stone”) was a “lighting test” (for the photographer). This series includes two shots of the duo exercise, “Jump on the back and transfer gravity”. It was performed by Urbanovich and the actor, Konstantin Sholmov (Urbanovich sometimes wrote his name as “Sholomov”). The exercise is also known from the pictures where it is performed in a group of six or more actors, but a close-up photo of one couple of performers is unusual. Most likely, it was intended for the same didactic purpose, to serve as a model for students of theatre biomechanics.

The second series (B) are photographs of group exercises in biomechanics. In part they were made in a hall in the building where Meyerhold’s school was located in the early 1920s. One of the photographs, apparently belonging to this series (taken in the same hall), was published by Vadim Shcherbakov as an illustration for an article by one of the authors (Sirotkina 2014). Сopies of some photos of Series B are preserved in the Bakhrushin Museum (the GosTIM collection), and according to the signatures on their envelope, the photos were taken in 1922, during the period of Gvytm (as evidenced by the Constructivist inscription on the wall). The workshops were then in a building located at 32, Novinskii Boulevard. Meyerhold and his family lived in the same house, one floor above; the building was destroyed in the early 1950s during the construction of a residential building located at 18, building 1, Novinskii Boulevard (Fevral’skii 1967: 191).

The life on Novinskii Boulevard was described by Tat’iana Sergeevna Esenina (Esenina 1991) and some of Meyerhold’s students.10 The Dutch stove, which one can see in two photos, was mentioned in several memoirs, among them Garin’s:

He [Meyerhold] walked through the door, a green soldier’s overcoat thrown over his shoulders (one of the allies supplied Russia with such overcoats before the revolution). The temperature in the hall was always low. It didn’t prevent us, the youths, from moving vigorously. Meyerhold sat down to a semicircular cavity in the tiled stove, smoked a rolled cigarette (he was the only one allowed to smoke) and looked at us, as if studying everyone. That’s how I remember him, sitting alone at the tiled stove of the former mansion of the former lawyer and orator, Plevako. He was watching his brood. He looked like a good grey wolf. Grey eyes, grey hair, grey jacket. The eyes closely examining, kind and cold (Garin 1974: 34).

Eisenstein recalled the Dutch stove in “Treasure”, the chapter of his Memoirs dedicated to the salvation of Meyerhold’s handwritten archive at the beginning of the Second World War:

When I see you for the first time [a Javanese puppet belonging to Meyerhold], behind you shines a white simple “kitchen” tile: a white Dutch stove.
Not patterned tiles of fabulous Holland of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Simple tiles of a simple house on Novinsky Boulevard.
Grumpy, fat Dunyasha [female servant] stokes the stoves.
However much you stoke, it is never enough…
Just a little warmth and light of the shining white tiled background for our princess (Zabrodin 2005: 281).

The second part of Series B (six shots, Fig. 9-14) can be considered unique. Photographs of biomechanics, taken in the open air, and not interiors, are rare. We have not encountered any other photographs shot in the historical locations of Meyerhold’s school. This series was taken in the yard of the same house on Novinsky Boulevard, 32, where Gvyrm-Gvytm was located. Classes were sometimes transferred to the yard. One such moment is depicted in these photographs. The background for the exercises, performed by a group of biomechanists, is the facade of the surviving building (now no. 18a, also known as the Plevako House, the name of the pre-Revolutionary owner) and of the adjoining one-story building, which was demolished later. The photographer recorded one of the regular classes of students, which can be judged by their everyday clothes, which differ, for example, from prozodezhda (short for proizvodstvennaia odezhda), the worker’s uniform clothing, in which Temerin photographed performers for another well-known series of biomechanical exercises.11

The students in these photographs were identified partly due to the pencil marks, probably by the photographer, Temerin, when he gave similar photos to the Bakhrushin Museum. Irina Vsevolodovna Hol’d (1905-1981), Meyerhold’s daughter (her stage name, Hol’d, was a shortened version of her last name), was a student of the workshops, and, from the very beginning, was deeply involved in biomechanics classes (her performance of the exercise “Archery” was filmed, presumably in the late 1920s). She later moved to Leningrad, where she staged performances and taught biomechanics and acting. Rakhil’ Moiseevna Genina (1902-?) was an actress of the Meyerhold Theatre until its closure. Before joining the Workshops, Lazar’ Kritsberg (1899 - 1950?) was a student of the School of Stage Art at GOSET (Gosudarstvennyi Evreiskii Teatr), State Jewish Theatre in Moscow (Ivanov 2007: 429). As a teacher and stage director, he worked at the Moscow Proletkult Theatre. Valerii Ivanovich Inkizhinov (1895-1973) studied with Meyerhold before the Revolution, in his studio on Borodinskaia in Petersburg. Later he became a film director and actor, starring in the films of Lev Kusheshov and Vsevolod Pudovkin (Inkizhinov is best-known for the title role in Vsevolod Pudovkin’s 1928 film, Potomok Chingiskhana / Storm over Asia). In 1930, while on a tour in Europe with the theatre, he refused to return to the USSR and later continued to shoot in the West. Nikolai Vladimirovich Ekk (1902-1976), was a laboratory assistant at the Meyerhold Theatre and a playwright in 1920s; later, he became a film director and shot the first full-length sound film (Putevka v zhizn’ / Road to Life, Soviet Union, 1931). Grigorii Vladimirovich Khavis (1900-1962) was an actor of the Meyerhold Theatre and later stage director who worked mainly in the provinces; he was twice arrested (in 1937 and 1951) and spent more than ten years in exile and in forced-labor camps.

The photographs from Urbanovich’s archive are supplemented by the publication of a document (Appendix 2) which was deposited in the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art (RGALI), collection 963, of The State Meyerhold Theatre. It contains Urbanovich’s letter to Meyerhold where he argued for the need to photograph biomechanics exercises. He compiled a program for such a work, which included a list of exercises together with a list of students who would perform them. The letter was written in the middle of December 1924 and tells us that Urbanovich was working on the description, systematisation, and preservation of biomechanical exercises with the aim of transferring the material to the museum of the Meyerhold Theatre. He proposed to record fifteen exercises, including solo, duo, and group ones, as well as preparatory exercises. Not all of these are preserved today; the best-known are the “Slap on the Face” and those that were filmed (including “Archery”). As for preparatory exercises, they probably included balance training (in particular, with a stick) which biomechanics teachers continue practicing today.

According to the estimate attached to the note, it was planned that Aleksei Temerin would take up to 400 photos, with the work to be finished by the end of the 1924-1925 season. Urbanovich attached to the letter five sample photos of biomechanics (apparently, they are now in the Bakhrushin Museum). Appended to this article, we publish fifteen original photos from Pavel Urbanovich’s private archive, together with his letter to Meyerhold from the RGALI. Why the project of photographing all the biomechanics exercises was not realised is a question for further research. Yet the filming of several exercises did take place, and thanks to this we have a good idea of what Meyerhold’s biomechanics looked like.

The photographs and Urbanovich’s letter confirm that, in the early 1920s, biomechanics was a “democratic” and collective project, very much in the spirit of the Russian Revolution. Meyerhold divided the work and delegated some responsibilities to his students, asking them to describe biomechanical exercises the way they understood them. They also wrote several articles on biomechanics, with or without Meyerhold, which outlined it as a collective project.12 To be precise, they were ‘laboranty’, laboratory assistants, more than just students. As a result, the Biomechanical Lab, a manual on biomechanics, was to be compiled jointly by them. Urbanovich contributed to the project in many ways, not least by supplying invaluable visual material.

Annex 1. Series A (1923-1924)

Photographs by Aleksei Temerin

Pavel Urbanovich performing the exercise “Throwing a stone” (?). The identical copy from the Bakhrushin Museum is signed “A Lighting Test”. In Urbanovich’s “Shooting program” (Appendix 2), it is listed no. 1 and is followed by the exercise “Archery”.
Exercise “Archery”, moment “Taking the Bow". Performed by Urbanovich.
Exercise “Archery”, moment ”Targeting”. Performed by Urbanovich.
Exercise “Archery", moment “Shooting”. Performed by Urbanovich.
Exercise “Jump on the back and transfer gravity”. Performed by Urbanovich and Konstantin Sholmov.
Exercise “Jump on the back and transfer gravity”, next moment. Performed by Urbanovich and Sholmov.

Annex 2. Series B (1922)

Photographs by Aleksei Temerin (?)

Exercise “Falling, catching, and lowering of gravity”. In the first row, on the right is Rakhil’ Genina, in the back row, on the right is Irina Hol’d.
Exercise “Jump on the back and transfer gravity” (?). From left to right stand: unknown performers, Nikolai Ekk holds Rakhil’ Genina, Valerii Inkizhinov holds Irina Hol’d.
Exercise “Horses”, moment “Mounting horses”. From left to right, the first group of three: unknown person, Urbanovich, Lazar’ Kritsberg; the second group of three: Inkizhinov, unknown person, Hol’d; the third group of three: unknown person, Ekk, Genina.
Exercise “Horses” (next moment?). From left to right: Urbanovich, unknown person, Kritsberg; Inkizhinov, unknown person, Hol’d; Ekk holds Genina; unknown person holds Grigorii Khavis.
Exercise “Horses”(?). From left to right, the first group of three: Urbanovich, unknown person, Kritsberg; the second group of three: Inkizhinov, unknown person, Hol’d; the third group of three: unknown person, Ekk, Genina.
Exercise “Jump on the back and transfer gravity”, moment “The opposite movement before jumping down”(?). From left to right: two unknown performers; Urbanovich, Kritsberg; unknown person, Havis; Inkizhinov, Hol’d; Ekk, Genina.
Exercise “Jump on the back and transfer gravity”, next moment (?). From left to right: two unknown persons, Urbanovich holds Kritsberg, unknown person holds Khavis (?), Inkizhinov holds Hol’d, Ekk holds Genina.
Exercise “Archery”. From left to right: Urbanovich, two unknown persons, Hol’d, unknown person, Genina, Kritsberg, Eck, Khavis, Inkizhinov. The building in the background has not survived.

Annex 3. Letter of Urbanovich to Meyerhold

RGALI. Fond (collection) 963 (The State Meyerhold Theatre). Inventory 1. File 1354. State Experimental Theatre Workshops (Gektemas). Letter of Urbanovich to Meyerhold with estimates, plans, and programmes for shooting biomechanical exercises. December 5 to December 18, 1924.

Л.1: “От П. Урбановича

Мастеру – В.Э. Мейерхольду

Представляю на утверждение:

I. План последовательной работы по теории Био-Механики. С общей проверкой Вашей и по физкультуре и рефлексологии профессоров Гориневского и Сэпа.

II. Программы фото-засъемов Био-мех.[анических] упражнений и снимающихся лиц. Заснимки дадут последовательно-статические места главных упражнений. Делаются для музея ТИМа.

III. Объяснительная записка (7 карточек).

Прошу утвердить и разрешить начать работу.

12/XII-24. П. Урбанович”

Л.2: “План. Био-механические экскурсы

1. Установка тела актера

2. Тренаж рычагов и обрубка

3. Подготовительные системы

а) Физкультура-спорт

б) Ритмика

в) Пластика-станок-танец

г) Акробатика

4. Био-механический тренаж

а) Био-механика – система игры

б) Действенные элементы

в) Упражнения и метод

г) Музыка

д) Работа с предметом

е) Звук-движение

ж) Mise-en-scene

5. Био-механическая пантомима

6. Режиссер: актеру – в постановке.

5/XII-24 П. Урбанович”

Л.3: “Программа засъемок (стат.[ических]-мест ) упражнений Био-Механики В. Мейерхольда

11/XII-24 г. Подпись: П. Урбанович”

Л.4: “Объяснительная записка

Всеволод Эмильевич!

Несмотря на неоднократное признание необходимости организовать Био-Механическую лабораторию, в силу Вашей занятости до сих пор этого не удалось сделать. Хочу попытаться, как активист и Ваш ближайший работник в области этой системы, провести эту работу путем согласования работы (квалифицированных специалистов в области медицины, физкультуры и рефлексологии) профессоров Гориневского и Сэпа с Вашей работой.

Буду проводить сам всю подготовительную работу (на основании принципиальных и практических положений данных Вами в течение 4-х лет, а также личных выводов, взятых из практической педагогической работы по Био-Механике), проверять в нужных местах через т. Гориневского и Сэпа, и вообще компетентных лиц, а затем, для установки принципиальных изменений и корректуры или дополнений, работа будет переходить к Вам. После этого работа может быть использована в нужном Вам плане.

Предполагаемая работа распадается на две части:

Первая это план, названный мной «Био-механические экскурсы» – работа основного порядка, берущая и предварительные этапы Био-Механической системы (экскурс 1, 2, 3), саму систему (экскурс 4) и наконец игру актера (экскурс 6), берущая соотношение уже организованного актера с постановкой через режиссера. План взаимоследования экскурсов установлен мной в порядке педагогической последовательности. Прорабатываться будут в зависимости от накопления и проверки материалов той или другой части, но приблизительно в порядке представленного плана.

Вторая. Фиксация и сводка всей практической работы по Био-Механике до сего времени. Эта работа должна дать историческую сводку работ В.Э. в Ленинграде ( 1) Студия Мейерхольда на Бородинской 2) Курсы мастерства сценических постановок 3) Школа актерского мастерства) и закрепление Московской работы (Гвырм, Гвытм, Гитис, Гэктемас). Здесь прилагаю программу всех засъемок (упражнений), долженствующих закрепить в порядке статической последовательности главнейшие упражнения. Засъемки будут проводиться под моим наблюдением и руководством, и передаваться в музей по соглашению с муз[ейной]-комиссией (один экземпляр карточек, для педагогических целей, остается у меня). Каждое упражнение детально, предварительно, разбивается на статические моменты. Засъемок всего будет от 300 до 400 штук. Фото-работы будут вестись т. Тимериным [sic!]) (прилагаю образцы). Вся вторая часть работы должна закончиться концу сезона 1924/25 года.

Если в дальнейшем найдутся средства, то необходимо будет произвести кино-съемку упражнений.

12/XII-24 г. Подпись: П. Урбанович”


P. 1: “From P. Urbanovich
To the Master - V. E. Meyerhold

I submit for approval as follows:

I. Plan of consistent work on the theory of Bio-Mechanics. With a general check by you13 and an examination of physical training and reflexology by professors Gorinevskii and Sep.14

II. Programmes of photo-shootings of Bio-mechanical exercises. Shots will give sequential-static moments of the main exercises. They are made for the TIM [Teatr imeni Meierkhol’da] Museum.

III. Explanatory note (7 photo cards)

Please, approve and allow starting work.

12/XII-24 P. Urbanovich”

P. 2: “Plan. Excursus on Bio-mechanics

1. Setting up the actor’s body
2. Leverage and stump training15

3. Preparation systems

a) Physical education and sport

b) Rhythmics

c) Plastique–barre–dance16

d) Acrobatics

4. Bio-mechanical training

a) Bio-mechanics - the play system

b) Effective elements

c) Exercises and method

d) Music17

e) Work with an object

f) Sound-movement

g) Mise-en-scène

5. Bio-mechanical pantomime

6. Stage director: to the actor, in the course of staging.

5/XII-24 P. Urbanovich”

P. 3: “The program of shooting (static moments of) exercises of V. Meyerhold’s Bio-Mechanics18


11/XII-24 P. Urbanovich”

P. 4: “Explanatory note

Vsevolod Emil’evich!

Although the need to organise a Bio-mechanical laboratory was repeatedly emphasised, because you are too busy, it has not been possible to do it so far. I want to try, as an activist and your closest collaborator in the field, to do this work by coordinating the work of (qualified specialists in medicine, physical education, and reflexology) professors Gorinevskii and Sep with your own work.

I will carry out all the preparatory work myself (based on the principles and practical provisions that you provided in the course of 4 years, as well as on my own conclusions drawn from my teaching of Bio-Mechanics). Check where it is needed with the help of com[rades] Gorinevsky and Sep and other competent persons, and then the work will be transferred to you for corrections and editing. After that, the work can be used where you need.

The proposed work is broken up into two parts:

The first part is the plan which I call “Bio-mechanical excursuses”19 – the work of the basic order including both the preliminary stages of the Bio-mechanical system (excursus 1, 2, 3) and the system itself (excursus 4) and, finally, the acting (excursus 6) which involves directing an appropriately prepared actor. I arranged the sequence of the excursuses according to the teaching plan. It will be worked out depending on the accumulation and verification of materials of this or that part, but approximately in the order of the plan presented.

The second part. Recording and summary of all practical work on Bio-Mechanics to date. This work should give a historical summary of the work of V. E. [Meyerhold] in Leningrad, including 1) Meyerhold’s studio on Borodinskaia; 2) Courses in the Art of Stage Directing; 3) the School of Acting, and the consolidation of his work in Moscow (Gvyrm, Gvytm, Gitis, Gektemas).

I enclose a program of shooting all the exercises, which should establish the order of static moments in the main exercises. The shooting will be conducted under my supervision and guidance, and will be transferred to the museum by agreement with the museum commission (one copy of the cards, for pedagogical purposes, remains with me). Each exercise is preliminarily divided into static moments. There will be from 300 to 400 pictures in total. Photography will be carried out by comrade Temerin. (Samples are attached.) The second part of the work should be finished by the end of the season 1924/25.

If in the future funds are found, it will be necessary to film the exercises.

12/XII-24 P. Urbanovich.”

Irina Sirotkina
Institute for the History of Science and Technology
Russian Academy of Sciences

Valerii Zolotukhin
School of Advanced Studies in the Humanities
Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration


The authors are grateful to Tat’iana Pavlovna Urbanovich, Pavel Urbanovich’s daughter, who preserved the archive and kindly agreed to the publication of documentary materials. We would like to thank Natal’ia Smolianskaia, who kindly introduced us to Tat’iana Pavlovna, and also Sergey Konaev, Nikita Kas’ianovich Goleizovskii, and Natal’ia Maevna Zaitseva, the curator of the Bakhrushin State Central Theater Museum, for generously sharing her advice with us.


1 Vitalii Leonidovich Zhemchuzhnyi (1898-1966) was a theatre and film director, scriptwriter, and organiser of the Red Army amateur activities. A contributor to LEF (The Left Front) and New LEF, and a prominent figure in the amateur theatre movement, he was close to the constructivists, in particular, Alexei Gan, who developed the concept of mass action and, according to Garin, taught the actors of District Amateur Theatre of the Red Army (OSTKA). In the early 1920s, Zhemchuzhnyi collaborated with Meyerhold and another avant-garde stage director, Nikolai Foregger.

2 Meyerhold founded his Moscow school for acting and directing in the autumn of 1921. After the first academic term, it changed its name from the “Higher State Theatre Directing Workshops” (Gvyrm) to the “Higher State Theatre Workshops” (Gvytm), and a year later to the “State Experimental Theatre Workshops” (Gektemas).

3 In 1922, a newspaper article mentioned Urbanovich and Valerii Inkizhinov as teachers of biomechanics at the Bolshoi Theater (Panfilova, Feldman 2014: 181). According to documents from his private archive, in 1923 Urbanovich taught at the Lunacharskii State Theatre College (GITIS). In 1924, he taught biomechanics at the First Moscow Collective Film Studio, as well as in Gektemas; see his letters to Meyerhold (in Appendix 2) and to his fellow actor, Mikhail Korenev (RGALI 1476-1- 458: Letters from Urbanovich Pavel Vladimirovich to Mikhail Korenev. January 12 to May 19, 1924).

4 There is extensive literature on the history of theatre biomechanics (see Law, Gordon 1996; Pesochinskii 1990; Sirotkina 2011; Shcherbakov 2010).

5 The function of the museum was not only to preserve documentation, but also to help teach actors and stage directors. The Museum existed almost until the closure of the Meyerhold State Theatre (GosTIM), after which its materials were deposited in the Bakhrushin Museum.

6 In his memoires, Grigorii Roshal’ called Eisenstein “the soul” of Meyerhold’s workshops: “Meyerhold with prophetic clarity singled out this highbrow student, and Eisenstein immediately became the reliable supporter and interpreter of his thoughts and plans. Meyerhold entrusted him with classes in biomechanics with the students of Gvyrm. While Urbanovich and Zlobin were brilliant in their purely technical skills, in overcoming all the difficulties of this synthetic science of movement, Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein penetrated into its depths and grasped its philosophy” (Roshal’ 1974: 180).

7 Some descriptions of biomechanical exercises by Urbanovich can be found in the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art; see, for example, “Jump on the back” (RGALI. F. 998, Inventory 1, File 740: V.E. Meyerhold. “Biomechanics”. Theses of lectures, excerpts from articles, statements, exercises, tasks. 1921-1922, p. 66-67).

8 See the description of the exercise “Archery” in (Shcherbakov 2010: 410-411).

9 Urbanovich did not formally finish Gektemas, the first class of which graduated in 1928 (Fevral’skii 1976: 269-270). We have no information about why he left the Meyerhold Theatre.

10 Tat’iana Esenina (1918-1992) was the daughter of Zinaida Raikh and her first husband, the poet Sergei Esenin. Esenin and Raikh divorced in 1921, and Raikh remarried Meyerhold the next year.

11 See, for example, the archival photographs at;

12 Zinaida Raikh, Ivan Aksionov, Konstantin Derzhavin and other Meyerhold’s associates contributed to the body of writing, see (Fel’dman 2017: 315).

13 Emphasis here and further are in the original.

14 Valentin Vladislavovich Gorinevskii (1857-1937) was the Soviet hygienist and pediatrician, one of the first Russian scientists in the field of medical control over physical development and education. From 1923 he was a professor at the Second Moscow State University and at the Institute of Physical Culture. "Sep" stands, most likely, for Evgenii Konstantinovich Sepp (1878-1957), neurologist, founder of the Higher Medical School, and professor of the Second Moscow State University.

15 The body is compared with a mechanism or a part that requires technical treatment: the torso is called a "stump", and limbs are "levers.

16 Urbanovich refers here to three kinds of dance training, in so-called plastika (the plastique, or modern dance), ballet, and ballroom dance.

17 It is known that biomechanical exercises were performed to music. For example, Eisenstein recorded that “Archery” was performed to the music by Grieg, Chopin, Bach, and Schlosser (Shcherbakov 2010: 401). However, by contrast with dance, in biomechanics, the accompaniment was used only for the counting of time.

18 Number 11 is omitted in the original.

19 Urbanovich used the word ‘ekskurs’ (excursus) meaning an exploration of the subject, explanatory discourse about it. He envisaged that, as the result of his work, a manual of biomechanics would be written.


Irina Sirotkina is researcher at the Institute of the History of Science and Technology, of the Russian Academy of Sciences. She has written on the history of psychology and psychiatry in Russia, and on the history of what she terms ‘movement culture’ including dance, sport, and other kinds of movement. Her most recent publications include Mir kak zhivoe dvizhenie (The World as the Living Movement), an intellectual biography of the Soviet physiologist, Nikolai Bernstein, and Tanets: Opyt ponimania (Understanding Dance), a book of essays and an anthology (both 2020, in Russian).

Valerii Zolotukhin is researcher at the School of Advanced Studies in the Humanities (The Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, Moscow). His main field of interest is Russian avant-garde theatre and Modernist performance culture. His most recent publications include Zvuchashchaia khudozhestvennaia rech’: raboty Kabineta izucheniia khudozhestvennoi rechi (1923-1930) (Sounding Artistic Speech. Texts and Works of the Institute for Artistic Speech Research (1923—1930), 2018; co-authored with Witalij Schmidt) assembled unpublished theoretical works by the Russian formalist and declamation theorist Sergei Ignat’evich Bernshtein (1892—1970) and his colleagues.


Esenina, Tat’iana. 1991. “Dom na Novinskom bul’vare.” Soglasie 4: 133–208.
Eisenstein, Sergei. 2000. “Lektsiia o biomekhanike. 28 marta 1935 g.” (publ. i komm. Vadima Shcherbakova). Meierkhol’dovskii sbornik, vyp. 2.
Fevral’skii, Aleksandr. 1967. “V nachale dvadtsatych godov i pozzhe”. In Vstrechi s Meierkhol’dom: Sbornik vospominanii. L. D. Vendrovskaja (ed.), 179-206. Moskva.
Fevral’skii, Aleksandr. 1976. Zapiski rovesnika veka. Moskva.
Fel’dman, Oleg. 2017. “Meierkhol’d v Gvyrme i Gvytme.” Voprosy teatra 1-2: 313-335.
Garin, Erast. 1974. S Meierkhol’dom: Vospominaniia. Moskva.
Grishina, A. 1987. “Pervyi samodeiatel’nyi teatr Krasnoi Armii.” Teatral’naia zhizn’ 4: 26-27.
Ivanov, Vladislav. 2007. GOSET: politika i iskusstvo, 1919-1928. Moskva.
Law, Alma, Gordon, Mel. 1996. Meyerhold, Eisenstein and biomechanics: Actor Training in Revolutionary Russia. North California; London.
Meierkhol’d, Vsevolod. 1998. “Plan kursa po biomekhanike [1922].” In Meierkhol’d, Vsevolod. K istorii tvorcheskogo metoda. Publikatsii. Stat’ia, Е. Kukhta (ed.), 26-28. Sankt-Peterburg.
Panfilova, Nina, Feldman, Oleg (eds.) 2014. “Pravda nashego bytiia”: Iz arkhivov Teatra Vs. Meierkhol’da. Moskva.
Pesochinskii, Nikolai. 1990. “Biomekhanika v teorii Meierkhol’da.” Teatr 1: 103-112.
Roshal’, Grigorii. 1974. “Cherez vsiu zhizn’.” In Eizenshtein v vospominaniiakh sovremennikov, R. Yurenev (ed.), 180-188. Moskva.
Sirotkina, Irina. 2011. "Biomekhanika mezhdu naukoi i iskusstvom." Voprosy istorii estestvoznaniia i tekhniki 1: 46-70.
Sirotkina, Irina. 2014a. “Zagadochnyi doctor Petrov, biomekhanika, Tefizkult i Vsevobuch” Voprosy teatra 1-2 (XV): 168-175.
Sirotkina, Irina. 2014b. “Teatr kollektivnogo entuziazma: Meierkhol’d, Podvoiskii i rozhdenie zhanra fizkul’tparadov.” Teoriia mody: Odezhda, Telo, Kul’tura 33: 105-125.
Shcherbakov, Vadim. 2010. “Podrazhanie Champollionu.” In Ot slova k telu. Aleksandr Lavrov, Aleksandr Ospovat, Roman Timenchik (eds.), 393-428. Moskva
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Zolotnitskii, David. 1976. Zori teatral’nogo Oktiabria. Leningrad.

Archival Material

A.A. Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum. Fond/collection 668 (The State Meyerhold Theatre, GosTIM).
Russian State Archive of Literature and Art. Fond/collection 963 (The State Meyerhold Theatre, GosTIM); 998 (Vs. E. Meyerhold); 1476 (M. M. Korenev).
P. V. Urbanovich’s Private Archive.

Suggested Citation

Sirotkina, Irina and Valerii Zolotukhin. 2020. “Pavel Urbanovich, Teacher of Biomechanics.” Apparatus. Film, Media and Digital Cultures in Central and Eastern Europe 11. DOI:


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