'Our performances are a mirror': making art out of Ukraine's pain
Ukraine The Upside 'Our performances are a mirror': making art out of Ukraine's pain
An avant garde theatre is finding a way forward in a country facing war, poverty and corruption
A bow slides across cello strings, setting up an atonal motif. Drumsticks clatter staccato beats against the rim of a snare drum. An accordionâs bellows contract and swell. Dry ice fills the packed theatre.
The per formers, a five-piece puppet cabaret group, chant at the gathered crowd: âFear. Death. Cold. My dear.â
At the Dakh theatre in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, young creatives gather daily to telegraph anxieties, hopes and frustrations. In a country facing toxic post-Soviet problems â" war in the east, corruption, poverty and an economic perma-crisis â" Dakh provides artists with the space to question the world around them and their place in it.
And four years after the start of the war between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian forces, there is much to question.
In recent weeks, the venue has hosted a Russian spoken word performance, a Polish-directed production exploring language and identity,and the five-piece puppet cabaret group, TseSho. Often playful, but also mournful and even foreboding, TseSho explore issues such as social media overload, alcoholism, love, social alienation and war. âOur performances are like a mirror of things that are happening ,â says Marusia Ionova, the groupâs cellist.
Each member, dre ssed in a colourful beanie and orange overalls, has a puppet in their likeness, conveying a child-like quality. Much of their music is cyclical, relying on repetition and drone. âIt is eclectic music,â says Dakhâs founder and creative director, Vladislav Troitskyi. âIt is a very strange story because I donât know notes. We sit and we begin to create. We discuss what we want to say and then we compose together.â
In a recent performance informed by the war in Ukraineâs east, the lights fade to pitch black. A red glow begins to emanate from the stage as discordant melodies and the groupâs screams fill the theatre.
Europeâs largest country by area, Ukraine has teetered on the east-west faultline since it gained independence in 1991.
The conflict that began in 2014 is not its only problem. Ukraine ranks 130th in the global Corruption Perceptions Index; health indicators from longevity to HIV are woeful; the currency has plunged against the dollar, p rices have surged, and the economy has stuttered following the loss of the industry-rich Donbass region.
âWe have realised that we all lived in a different Ukraine,â says Kateryna Petrashova, TseShoâs saxophonist. Some of the groupâs members grew up in the west and centre of the country, another in the sprawling Soviet-style city of Zaporizhia.
The government has banned books and popular Russian social media sites, attempted to force schools beyond primary level to teach exclusively in Ukrainian â" angering Hungary, Poland and Romania â" and pursued a policy of âdecommunisationâ, part of a push to chart an independent national course that also carries hints of revisionism.
âPeople are thinking about their identities,â says accordionist Marichka Shtyrbulova. âWho are we in both the global and national contexts? It is something we have to understand.â
Fascist elements are visible in Ukraine, particularly in the countryâs west, but do not appear to have broad public support. âAcross Europe we see rightwing forces becoming more popular. Younger people have forgotten the story of world war two and that is a very dangerous story,â says Troitskyi. âBut I believe the Ukrainian mind is practical â" people are afraid of a radicalised society.âUkraine's National Militia: 'We're not neo-Nazis, we just want to make our country better' Read more
The Dakh theatre was founded 25 years ago, after the communist collapse, and is best known as the place where the popular Ukrainian folk group DakhaBrakha was founded. Framed photographs of various performances decorate the foyer, as do ghoulish papier-mache masks. Antiquated brass instruments â" trombones, tubas and trumpets â" hang from the ceiling. A tiny bar serves wine and whisky. âThere is a lot of creative energy here, but it hasnât crystallised,â says Troitskyi.
âIt is really sad, but we have two forces in Ukraine,â says Shtyrbulova, speaking of one that tries to âchange things for the betterâ and another that âdrags you downâ. Certainly, endemic corruption isdragging the country down. The murder of the lawyer Iryna Nozdrovska â" found beside a river in Kiev in January with stab wounds to her neck after working to prosecute the nephew of an influential judge â" has proven a potent symbol of the governmentâs failure to seriously address corruption.
âIt is every day,â says Nadiia Gol ubtsova, TseShoâs double bass player. âIf you go to the hospital, you know that you will have to pay to get attention.â
A video teaser for TseShoâs performances features Golubtsova with the top of her head sawn off. A robotic Ionova plunges in needles. âItâs kind of about cleaning your mind,â says Ionova. âWe want our music to be like an injection for peopleâs minds.â
This article is part of a series on efforts to address to some of the worldâs most stubborn problems. What else should we cover? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Upside
- Performance art
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