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 Les Kurbas 1919


Ocotber 18 - December 2, 2018
11:00 – 8:00 (closed Mondays)
Art Arsenal / Mystetskyi Arsenal
Lavrska 10-12, Kyiv


The Art Arsenal/Mystetskyi Arsenal, the Museum of Theatre, Music and Cinema of Ukraine and Yara Arts Group from New York present Kurbas: New Wolds, a museum exhibit that features costumes, reconstrucitons of sets, design models, sketches, photographs and films about Les Kurbas’s work in Kyiv and Kharkiv in the 1920s. Also included are recordings by Yara actors of scenes from Kurbas’s shows and the memoirs of participants.

   Les Kurbas was an innovative director who staged experimental theatre pieces in Kyiv and Kharkiv during the 1920s, transforming the idea of what is theatre. He created new worlds on stage that invited his audiences to see the various layers of the present, review the past and imagine a new future.
   Kurbas: New Worlds, a major museum exhibition from October 17 to December 2, 2018at the Art Arsenal in Kyiv, examines what Les Kurbas actually did as a theatre director. It is presented in two sections. The first is devoted to Kurbas’s experimental work with his company the Berezil Artistic Association in Kyiv (1922-1925). The second features productions of the Berezil National Theatre in Kharkiv, where Kurbas worked from 1926 to 1933.
   In the Kyiv section we focus on three shows that addressed fundamental issues in world theatre. Kurbas’s innovative use of movement to abstract the bodies of the actors and create an exploding factory on stage is featured in his production of Georg Kaiser’s Gas (1923). In his next production, Jimmie Higgins (1923), Kurbas integrated film and stage action to present the thoughts of a character, revealing the inner and outer reality of a human being. Kurbas’s experiments with film made him one of the major artists at the source of multimedia in theatre. In his 1924 production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Kurbas had his actors enter the stage as themselves and become the characters in the play in front of the audience, emphasizing the dual nature of the body (person) on stage.
   Kurbas collaborated with designer Vadym Meller to create constructivist sets that resemble sculptures or art installations rather than typical theatre decor. These constructions formed complex, multilevel places for action that did not adhere to a single-point perspective but were fragmentary planes similar to those used by Cubists and Supremacists.
   In four years the Berezil Artistic Association grew from a small workshop for young actors to the most active artistic organization in Ukraine with hundreds of participants who radically transformed the Ukrainian theatre. This section of the exhibition Kurbas: New Worlds concludes with Berezil’s participation in the International Exhibition of Decorative Arts in Paris (April-October 1925) and the International Theatre Exhibition in New York (February-March 1926).
    In 1926, Kurbas’s company became the Berezil National Theatre in Kharkiv, then the capital city of Ukraine. The second part of the exhibition focuses on three Berezil productions that present Kharkiv as the new urbanist center of Ukraine and reveal the tension between the old and new attitudes.
   We begin with Kurbas’s 1928 production of The People’s Malakhi in which the main element is the musicality of the language in the show. The second production, Hello, This Is Radio 477! (1929), imagined Kharkiv as a city in step with the latest trends in Europe. It was the first jazz musical revue in Ukraine and, at the same time, an entertaining critique of the old ways. Kurbas situated the third production, Myna Mazailo — Mykola Kulish’s 1929 comedy about urban stereotypes in Kharkiv — in a cosmic set that exposed the contradictions of the day and probed our relationship to time and hinted at the impact our daily decisions can have on the future.
  Kurbas hoped his theatre would transform the city and create a new urban culture but his dream was derailed by politics. The main task of this exhibition is to show the innovations that defined Kurbas’s work and made him one of the great experimental theatre directors of the first half of the 20th century.                                                Virlana Tkacz

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