Modernism in Kyiv
edited by Irena R. Makaryk and Virlana Tkacz
published by University of Toronto Press, 2010
“The beginning of the twentieth century in Kyiv was a time of great hardship and of great joy – the “jubilation” of the title… Nowhere was the excitement more palpable than in the theater, and the story of the actor and director Les Kurbas runs throughout the book… Excitement pervaded all spheres of life and ethnic groups in Kyiv, and the contributors to this volume seek to capture that excitement in their articles…The book is copiously illustrated, a welcome feature since so much of Modernism depends on the visual and on attempts to help us see anew, to have the pictorial representations of objects jar us out of complacency and open our eyes to the essence of the phenomenon. The writing style is lively… The information is valuable: it is revealing to learn how Kurbas experimented with staging material that is not a play, namely poems. Learning about the use of the chorus to represent everything from the feelings of the protagonists to the collapse of the machinery in a factory is exciting…In short, this book is a fun read that captures the exuberance of the time, place, and people that it describes. It is highly recommended to anyone interested in Modernism, in Ukrainian art and literature, to anyone with a desire to live, to experience, to try something new.”
“a multi-facetted and engaging study of early twentieth-century Ukrainian culture and we should be grateful to Makaryk and Tkacz for selecting, editing, and publishing such a rich concordance to the study of international Modernism.”
Modernism in Kyiv, a massive, richly illustrated collection of essays, provides a spectacular introduction to the artistic life of this city. The twenty essays, which are interspersed with translations of poems, excerpts from diaries, and programmatic statements, gather new work by top North American and European scholars of Ukrainian culture and introduce a number of Ukrainian scholars to an Anglophone audience. The volume will be of special interest to theatre scholars, because the book’s editors, Irena Makaryk and Virlana Tkacz, have chosen to use theatre in general and the work of Kurbas in particular as the axis around which the collection is organized. The real heart of the collection, however, lies in the seven essays that focus on the work of Kurbas, whom Meyerhold called the greatest director in the Soviet Union. Taken together, these essays offer an excellent overview of this avant-garde director’s career, following him from his early work at the Young Theatre, to his masterful productions at the Berezil Theatre, to his arrest and 1937 execution during the Stalinist Terror. Key productions, including Gas, Jimmie Higgins, Macbeth, The People’s Malakhy, and Malenka Grasa, are discussed in depth, each generously illustrated with photographs demonstrating the innovativeness of Kurbas’s work, as well as that of collaborators like designer Vadym Meller. In addition to being essential reading for those interested in East European, Imperial Russian, or Soviet theatre, Modernism in Kyiv will also be of value to scholars of theatrical modernism both in- and outside Europe insofar as it provides the fullest introduction available in English to the work of Kurbas, one of the greatest, and most neglected, directors of the twentieth century.
“Kurbas was an inspiration for and a liaison between various artistic groups and individual artists in Kyiv, many of whom came together to work on his theatrical projects. The book uses this fact very well and connects the discussions of several diverse artistic and literary phenomena into a more unified whole by showcasing Kurbas and his theatre as a common link between them… From the visually effective cover design.. through the carefully edited texts and well-chosen translations of poems or memoir excerpts that precede each essay to the abundant selection of illustration, including a large number of beautiful color plates, this book seems to embody its editors’ deep care about and thorough knowledge of their subject matter. A careful reading of this book will prove to be an eye-opening experience both for specialists and general readers.
“Step by step the authors unfold arguments designed to convince the reader that, first, artists of Ukrainian descent played an important but still underrated role in the history of European modernism and, second, that the Ukrainian avant-garde was marked by a significant originality. This originality was inspired, not by the fight against the conventional academic traditions as in Europe, but by the struggle against political and aesthetic colonialism and provincialism. In general the authors managed to create an impressive picture of Ukrainian art, including graphic art, literature, and musical experiments, as part of the European multicultural movement and to demonstrate that “modernist influence was not unidirectional”.
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