Play Dream Directed by Virlana Tkacz, US. Woven from the poems by Oleh Lysheha, offers to make a fascinating journey into the “other world” of dreams and fantasies. Photo by Waldemart Klyuzko

Modern and avant-guard as an extreme attempt of national revival.

Large-scale international conference “Les Kurbas and International Theatrical Context” took place in Kyiv. This event organized by the Les Kurbas National Center for Theater Art is just one of the stages of artistic and educational project dedicated to the 125th anniversary of the great Ukrainian director.

While in other scientific spheres conferences of any format is a long-established matter, an international conference of such a high level is quite an extraordinary event for Ukrainian study of theater. At the invitation of the Center of Theater Art scientists from Belarus, Russia, Georgia, Poland, France, Italy, America, and Canada came to Kyiv to discuss the subjects that are in one way or the other related to the director work of Les Kurbas and, in general, to Ukrainian avant-guard. Today, interest in the work of Ukrainian theater and film director is very high and, what is most important, it is absolutely justified by the uniqueness of his talent, vision, and philosophy.

There has been formed a certain vision in the world when a national theater culture is identified with several of its bright directors-symbols: Russia is identified with Konstantin Stanislavsky and Vsevolod Meyerhold, Poland – with Juliusz Osterwa and Jerzy Grotowski, Germany – with Max Reinhardt, England – with Edward Craig, France – with Andre Antoine, etc. Ukrainian theater, unfortunately, still has no recognizable “face.” In fact, one of the strategic objectives of the conference was, if to say primitively, propaganda of ideas and theatrical achievements of Kurbas, a man of the world in the way of thinking and the desire to build a new Ukrainian theater, focusing (but not imitating) on topical European philosophical, scientific, and artistic trends. The other, equally important, goal of the conference was a declaration of interest to the personality of Kurbas and to the transformations in the national theater he began in the late 1910s and in the middle of the 1930s there was an attempt to erase, destroy, remove them from the documents and from people’s memory. I should note that our interest, perhaps, is the key stimulus for the foreign researchers as it is difficult to convince someone of something when you do not truly believe in it.

Today the Ukrainian theater lacks faith in its own power, centralizing idea, which could be put up high without fear of being laughed at. Theater “teaching” of Kurbas is the best version of such national theater “denominator.” However, this matter that, of course, could be determined in one conference for some people became the matter of their whole life and dignity…

As, for example, for the American director and theater expert Virlana Tkacz, who comes to Ukraine and creates here her project-performances and tries to understand the aesthetics and methodology of Kurbas’ directing not only theoretically but practically as well. The play, Dream, woven from the poems by Oleh Lysheha, offers to make a fascinating journey into the “other world” of dreams and fantasies was presented to the participants of the conference.

Besides, the Kurbas Center together with colleagues from the State Museum of Theater, Music, and Cinema of Ukraine prepared the original project – a virtual tour of Kurbas’ Kyiv or rather places that are somehow connected with him. The tour included homes of the director and his actors, theaters, where his plays were staged (today it is Operetta Theater, Opera House, Ivan Franko Theater, Lesia Ukrainka Theater, and the Young Theater), journals’ editor offices, where Kurbas would stop by, and even his favorite bakery. The creators claimed that the project is still a work in progress and it is not just about technical details and retouching, but also about the dream to have similar tours to Kharkiv, Lviv, Odesa, Vienna, Berlin, Prague, and other cities, where Kurbas lived, studied, and worked.

In short, drama study specialists have no lack of either energy or ideas but there is not enough money to implement them. (By the way, the international conference and the virtual tour were made possible with the assistance of the program “Idea. Impulse. Innovation” of the Development of Ukraine Foundation.) However, there always was and still remains a lot of things that were beyond the competence of all-mighty finance. The real theater, the way it was seen by Kurbas, is one of such things!


Erica FACCIOLI, Academy of Fine Arts, Bologna, Italy:

“It is not enough to define Kurbas only as one of the founders of the theater of the 20th century: this director, theorist, teacher, humanist, and polyglot was one of those who is particularly well-aware of the political meaning of any aesthetic action. In his theatrical poetics, there is an indisputable fact which left its imprint in his artistic experiments: a deep understanding of what he was creating at a particular historical moment that was, in fact, an extreme attempt of national revival.”

Anna STEPANOVA, Russian University of Theater Arts – GITIS, Moscow, Russia:

“The value of the grandiose figure of Kurbas both in the history of world and Ukrainian theater has been perfectly defined by now and there could be no significant differences of opinions about that. But it turned out that the theoretical heritage of Kurbas, as time showed, contained the ideas and predictions which are happening now and are determining the specificity of the modern theatrical process, including that taking place in Russian theater.”

Anna KORZENIOWSKA-BIHUN, Warsaw University, Warsaw, Poland:

“When in Ukraine there was conducted an active research and discussions about the great director and theater reformer Kurbas, in Poland we knew nearly nothing about him for a long time… When we speak about Kurbas in the context of Polish experience, we can not resist the temptation to compare his artwork and way of thinking about modern theater with the artistic search of the Polish directors-reformers of that period. Kurbas and Polish theater directors were on the same wave of Great Theater Reform common to the whole Europe and each of them gave in to its ‘spontaneous’ movement, which often unfolded in different, sometimes opposite, directions. And in Ukraine Kurbas alone mastered what was done in Poland by a few outstanding individuals.”

This post originally appeared on Day.Kyiv.Ua on April 12, 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.

This post was written by Iryna Chuzhynova.

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