For some artists, creating theatre has turned them into enemies of the state. The small but mighty Belarus Free Theatre is one such example, an infamous Belarusian theatre founded by journalist Nicolai Khalezin and human rights activist Natalia Kaliada. An underground theatre founded in 2005, Belarus Free Theatre was established as an artistic form of resistance to Alexander Lukashenko’s authoritarian regime.
Generation Jeans is Khalezin’s candid solo performance about growing up in Soviet-era Belarus and selling vinyl rock albums and blue jeans on the black market while dodging KGB agents who routinely pounced on teenage bootleggers. Two decades after the Soviet Union’s collapse, Belarus remains Europe’s last dictatorship.
It’s a bittersweet and heartwarming coming-of-age story laced with dry humour but which darkens with Khalezin’s personal experience of police brutality and its widespread use towards anyone suspected of dissent. Fast forward to 2006 and denim is still a resonant symbol of freedom when an opposition protester famously hoisted his denim shirt on a city flagpole.
In a highly-anticipated visit to Australia, Belarus Free Theatre’s performance is in association with Malthouse Theatre.