Unfortunately, the 20th anniversary of Ukraine’s only professional theater award failed to become a landmark event.
The important date, 20th anniversary of Ukraine’s only professional theater prize, Kyiv Pectoral, annually awarded on the International Theater Day at the Ivan Franko National Theater, predictably failed to become a landmark event not only for the capital, but even for the theater public. However, this should not become a reason for gloating, distress, or amazement. Kyiv Pectoral is but a barometer, dispassionately showing the changing social sentiments, the mood of the government, the public, and partly even artists themselves. And until only recently the art of theater was considered “strategic” for the development of state and for the shaping of its citizens’ consciousness.
The sad fact that theater today is in the distant periphery of political, economic, and ideological concerns is convincingly illustrated by the scanty salaries, dilapidated facades, miserly renovations, sad and sometimes even scared looks on the faces of art directors and managers, and an old shared longing for a change – because there is nothing more ahead but Shakespearian silence.
The moods naturally slightly rose on occasion of the International Theater Day, and it is human to hope for the best, taking problems like a cheering cold shower in the mornings, and consider the crisis, which has long become part and parcel of artistic life, to be only a step on the road to future prosperity. Hasn’t theater had worse times over the two and a half millennia? This shameful period will surely come to an end. But it certainly needs a radical, effective interference – first of all, on the part of the government.
Suffice it to say that the award itself – and Kyiv Pectoral was devised at the beginning of Ukraine’s independence by cheerful and shrewd men (among its founding fathers are Mykola Hubenkov, Semen Hrin, Mykola Rushkovsky, and Mykhailo Chemberzhi) – has played an important role in the establishment of the present-day Ukrainian theater. Moreover, it prompted Russia’s Golden Mask. It should be noted that the latter also had humble beginnings, but as years passed, it has grown to become a nationwide Russian theater award, with a closing festival of winning performances. And a few years ago under its auspices, a festival of the CIS theaters arose (this year Ukraine will be represented by King Lear. Prologue (the Center for Modern Art DAKH) and Voitsek (Taras Shevchenko Kharkiv Academic Theater).
Needless to say that even 20 years later we can only dream of a festival of Pectoral winning performances outside Kyiv, or of the founding of a large-scale nationwide theater prize. We will inevitably complain about eternal poverty and a lack of the law on preferential taxation for “cultural” investors (by the way, such a law considerably changed the situation in Russia). Moreover, for several years on end the efforts of Pectoral’s co-founders (the Administration for Culture and the Union of Theater Workers) are directed mostly to preserve the award’s survival, instead of developing, expanding, and improving it.
Much has also been said to the effect that Pectoral should “get out of the shadow” and discuss its nominees openly, thus drawing the audience’s attention to remarkable or merely curious events, phenomena, and facts of the capital’s theatrical life. Indeed, not only laureates alone deserve attention and praise, but also other participants in 14 nominations, selected annually among nearly 90 premieres at the capital’s houses by a closed vote of a representative expert group made up from theater experts and critics.
Given that Pectoral does not have a site of its own (one should think that nowadays a website is not a luxury), sometimes it is next to impossible to find out the nominees’ names, relying only on the media. Meanwhile, almost every year the expert group has to engage in a nerve-shattering debate with the co-founders of the award, trying to prove the necessity to keep all the nominations, since the withdrawal of even one of them is believed to be not a rule, but rather a painful exception.
Sadly, the awarding ceremonies are becoming more and more boring and joyless with each passing year, with pathetic attempts to pass the routine handing out of the cherished pectorals and envelopes, containing 1,000 evergreen American dollars, as a “concert,” for which calling out the winners’ names is alternated with a couple of dancing and music numbers, and strained humor. Perhaps the only people whose festive moods are not ruined are actually the winners themselves.
This year’s Kyiv Pectoral was awarded (in as many as six nominations) to the Theater on Podil, for two amazingly good and powerful productions: Last Summer in Chulimsk by Andrei Vampilov and Masim Gorky’s The Lower Depths. Both were produced by a tandem of the theater’s art director Vitalii Malakhov and artist Maria Pohrebniak. Actors Viktoria Bulitko (Last Summer in Chulimsk) and Vasyl Kukharsky (The Lower Depths) were named the best in the leading roles; Pohrebniak was awarded for the set design in The Lower Depths, while Bulitko, together with composer Ivan Nebesny, won a second award for the musical concept in Chulimsk.
The best music performance is La Traviata staged by the Municipal Opera and Ballet Theater for Children and Youth, which for an umpteenth time has again outclassed the pompous and sluggish, but highly-paid National Opera. By the by, two more musical nominees – In beer veritas by the Kyiv Modern Ballet and A Bird in the Hand by the National Operetta – are surely worth seeing. The same goes for children’s plays. The winner is Passenger in the Trunk by the Drama and Comedy Theater (with an excellent concept and flawless performance); however, Barmalei and Aibolyt by the already mentioned Municipal Opera and Ballet Theater and Fairy Tales for Gentle Hearts by the Academic Puppet Theater are also very good in their respective genres.
According to a newly-established tradition, the prize for the best chamber performance is awarded amid the toughest competition in this nomination and consequently, the outcome is hard to predict. The Push Up by the New Drama Theater got the cherished prize, having outdone not only a very good play, Man and Eternity by the Young Spectator’s Theater, but also one of the most agreeable discoveries of the last season, Natasha’s Dream by a young, yet ambitions Open Look Theater. A Month in the Country, a tough psychological thriller staged by Andrii Bilous (the Drama and Comedy Theater), brought victory only to a wonderful actor Andrii Saminin, although had been mentioned in most nominations.
This said, our “life in art” is going on even though it is challenging, demands excellent survival skills, endless patience, boundless optimism, and super-powerful optic devices – to be able to catch a glimpse of the brave new world far, far ahead.
Vitalii Malakhov, art director, the Kyiv Academic Theater on Podil:
“I hope that on May 25 we will be able to welcome our spectators at the new building of the Theater on Podil, built specially for our company. We are very well aware that there must be some technological problems, so we are planning to perform there at the start of the next theater season, that is this fall, presumably in September. So far, we have a standing agreement with the Ukraina Palace’s minor stage, where we can stage our performances for the time being.
“I believe the professional award, the Kyiv Pectoral, is absolutely necessary, as an ‘official’ guiding light for artists. It is very important that critics have noticed our production. When your work gets noticed, it flatters directors, actors, and designers, and it is good for a theater’s morale as a whole. And of course, there should be a lot of theater awards, of various formats, with various criteria, for different esthetic variations of theaters. It would be great if the government took part in the creating of such awards.”
This post originally appeared on Day.Kyiv.Ua on March 29, 2012 and has been reposted with permission.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.