New stars have risen in Kyiv. The female band Dakh Daughters is less than one year old, but its videos gather thousands of views on the Internet, with the full of sarcasm “Rozy/Donbass” becoming the leader after winning the interest of nearly 150,000 viewers. This is too small a figure in order to “rip the Internet,” like one man said (for this one needs to get 500,000, or even better a million), but it is growing, which is an indisputable phenomenon.
The band itself is a new project of the founder of the Dakh Theater, producer and director Vlad Troitsky. Dakh Daughters’s lineup includes the actresses of Troitsky’s theater, however they have worked in other bands, too: Nina Harenetska is a member of ethnic quartet DakhaBrakha, Ruslana Khazipova – cult rock band Perkalaba, Tania Havryliuk has a solo project “TaniaTania,” Salomia Melnyk performs with Potuzhni divchata (Strong Girls), Anna Nikitina is from Kabare-Shanson (Cabaret-Chanson), Natalia Halanevych and the girl with the pseudonym Zo – from the ballet BiZoN. Seven artistes, a dozen of instruments ranging from the piano and drums to harmonica and cello. All are vocalists as well.
Dakh Daughters call themselves a freak cabaret, but this is a tautology: a cabaret is already a deviation from norm. It would be a mistake to perceive it as a light variety-erotic revue like Paris’s Moulin Rouge. It should be reminded that cabarets were birthplace to entire artistic streams. There would not have been Dadaism, subsequently, Surrealism without the Zurich-based cabaret “Voltaire,” where artists and poets, who later became classics of the 20th century, arranged their scandalous performances. Toulouse-Lautrec got inspiration from the atmosphere of Moulin Rouge and Mirmilton. Germany had a cabaret theoretician of its own, Otto Julius Bierbaum, who on a par with the founder of Berlin-based “Ueberbrett” baron Erich Ludwig Freiherr von Wolzogen dreamt to use the venue to bring up Nietzsche’s “Superman,” no more, no less.
This is no surprising, since cabaret, due to its syncretism of genres, is close to theater. It can seamlessly unite music, poetic recitals, dance, and provocation performance, as well as ugly and beautiful, funny and touching, intellectual and crazy things. Dakh Daughters meet this contrast aesthetics. The girls in short white dresses with their faces painted white, like clowns, present most grotesque material in an impenetrably serious way. However, they don’t limit themselves to grotesque alone: in some performances they use poems by Joseph Brodsky and an OBERIU (Union of Real Art) member Alexander Vvedensky, an old Provence song “Saw the Wolf, the Fox, the Hare,” and a song from Vira Vradii’s repertoire. In “Rozy” one can hear the beginning of Shakespeare’s 35th sonnet.
Troitsky and his fosterlings, probably, intuitively defined the empty niche on Ukrainian music stage and filled it more than effectively.
It remains only to ask them about the way it happened.
Vlad TROITSKY: “The state has never used our achievements abroad to reinforce the positions of the country in the world”
How did Dakh Daughters emerge?
“During the preparation for the play School of Non-Theater Art, which we showed at last year’s GOGOLFEST, we started to work with new music and a variety of texts. At that time the team of musicians was well-knit and well-coordinated. We made a try, the result happened to be interesting. After the festival the girls decided to take up this adventure independently. We elaborated a part of the numbers, and I offered them a visual image: the white dresses and active makeup. So, on the one hand, Ukrainian and cabaret song traditions and, on the other hand, theatrical performance is added, with every composition being a mini play which had its own visual move and dramatic feelings.
“The premiere took place before our departure to Paris, where we were accepted very well. The Paris concert was a success as well. Incidentally, Slava Polunin, who was present in the audience, liked it very much and said it was a good project for the festival Skirts-Fools, which he was going to organize. Yes, we allude to St. Petersburg’s Kolibri, British band The Tiger Lillies, the dark cabaret style on the whole [a music genre based on experiments with sounding of classic German and French cabarets; it features tragicomic tonality, plenty of irony and black humor, typical instruments are piano, violin, cello, accordion, and harmonica. The Tiger Lillies is among the leaders of the genre. – Author]. We gave several concerts in Kyiv – in the Small Opera House, the Zelenyi Theater. Clearly, it was working. We went to Perm. At first, the organizers had doubts, but then its funniness made them crazy about it. We have received about ten offers from Russia for the period from November through February.”
Who defines the repertoire of Dakh Daughters?
“They do this on their own, then we sit down together, and I serve as an external resonator. I listen to them and give advice. I encourage them to be guided by quality in their texts: that is how the songs to poems by Charles Bukowski, Mykhailo Semenko, Alexander Vvedensky, Joseph Brodsky emerged, as well as the sensational ‘Rozy/ Donbass’ to Shakespeare’s 35th sonnet.
“They have other kinds of stuff, like ‘Hannusia,’ a kind of Ukrainian spirituals to the lyrics of an old woman from the mountains, as well as Shevchenko’s ‘Testament’ which they shout, and this is no mockery. So, on the one hand, it is irony, and on the other hand – maximum sincerity and openness, really dramatic notes. And we are trying to pass between these Scylla and Charybdis.”
Why did you choose namely these images for the artistes?
“I was listening to them and thinking: ‘How to put them together?’ I was guided by associations with Vertinsky, the female version of Pierrot, which at the same time had an element of sexuality and recklessness, from green slings to tender dresses, and finally – swim suits. Now we are going to Moscow: probably, we’ll make costumes of Roshen sweets’ wrappings.”
Since we are speaking about the theatrical type and images, who are you in the band?
“We thought long about my role. Probably, I am just a director. However, French cabarets had such a notion as ‘Daddy.’ I am namely the ‘Daddy,’ mentor, and father to the performers. I want to think so.”
You have two successful music projects: DakhaBrakha and Dakh Daughters. Are you surprised with their success?
“No. Music is always more accessible than drama art. When we were making certain episodes for the School of Non-Theater Art, I understood that those were ready numbers for a music show. For every my production I create a soundtrack with live actors. It turns out, funny as it may sound, I continue our long-time tradition of music-drama theater.”
What fate is awaiting Dakha-Brakha now? Won’t Dakh Daughters outshine them?
“They are very different. DakhaBrakha is more an ethnic lineup, this year they have 80 concerts all over the world: Cologne, Stockholm, Budapest, and in mid-September they are setting out for a 1.5-month tour across the Americas, and then they will go to Australia. I don’t know any other Ukrainian band which would be so in demand abroad. Surely, Dakh Daughters is for a broad audience. DakhaBrakha was conceived as a development of Ukrainian folklore tradition and later evolved into something else. In Dakh Daughters all the performers sing folklore very well, but they are involved in other things, too. These are two wonderful flowers that have grown in the Dakh Theater, which makes me very happy and proud.”
Let’s go back to genre definitions. What is a cabaret in your understanding?
“There is no general definition. I have been influenced by Bob Fosse’s films Cabaret and All That Jazz, the images of The Tiger Lillies, Vertinsky’s melancholy, and Belarusian band Serebryannaya svadba. I understood that such things should exist in Ukraine, where there is a high demand for this. There are many good vocalists. On the other hand, we are lacking an ironic intellectual female look. We have all kinds of Nu Virgos in overabundance. But beautiful and intelligent girls, who are interesting not only due to their looks, but their actor’s abilities, hardly appear on stage. Dakh Daughters is a niche product, and it does not have any competition whatsoever.”
Why do you add the word freak to your self-definition?
“Most of people associate cabarets with Moulin Rouge. We can scare off the audience by calling it an intellectual cabaret. We have some kind of extravagance present, and it seems to me that a freak-cabaret is to some extent fooling around.”
There is a grain of gloomy joke in this: intellectual genre is ascribed to the division of “freak” these days.
“Yes, these days intellectuals are marginal and freak. This is sad. Usually elite supports the elitist art, but it is hard to imagine our highest ranks in a theater or at a classic music concert. Art spills over to marginalia. But this is wrong.”
How do you see further development of Dakh Daughters?
“I think we’ll make several programs. There will be a bigger version with video for street concerts, a totally romantic one, a philosophic one – for the theater, to listen to the texts, and a dancing one. The image and costumes may depend on the repertoire. We could put on them a kind of black school dresses with white collars – this may work, too. Or in the style of 1960s-1970s, like in the film A Man and a Woman: coats, hairdos with chignons. This may be good for tours. I think, next year neither Dakh Daughters, nor DakhaBrakha will be performing in Ukraine. This is, by the way, one of the reasons I need to reconsider the strategy with the Dakh Theater – apart from the fact that it is hard to maintain a theater, I won’t be able to pay good salary to boys, whereas all girls will leave. Dakh will remain as a base for rehearsals and chamber works.”
How broadly can such bands represent Ukraine in the world?
“Any quality project is a promotion of a country. It is very sad that we have so little convertible culture projects in any kind of art. Moreover, the state in the person of our state officials has never used our achievements abroad to reinforce the positions of the country in the world. For example, our theater and music tours in London, Lausanne, Paris, in Germany have never been attended by an embassy official. Of course, we told that we came from Ukraine, but nothing was backing us up, the presence of our state was far from being tangible. Yet entire Paris was covered with our billboards. And this happens systemically.”
You are not under their control. What did you expect?
“As a director, I miss this. I would like to have a normal cooperation with the state: since the French Institute, Goethe Institute, and British Council were created specially for the promotion of the culture of these countries. The minds of people who work with the image of Ukraine must be open. They should not be thinking about the time they will be dismissed from their offices, but develop some strategies, look not only for traditional forms, like bringing the Veriovka Choir of 150 people for another time. This is the problem.”
Finally, what is a success for you?
“It is a possibility of making gifts, when you have something to say. Not always everything goes well, sometimes you get tired. But if you have something to say and an opportunity to say it – give as a present, and there are people who are ready to accept this gift, then you are a successful person.”
“Our main expression is freedom”
I have also met with the participants of Dakh Daughters (except for Nina Harenetska who is away now) and I asked the following questions to each of them:
1. How would you define your stage image?
2. Why do you need the word freak in the title?
3. Cabaret is half-naked dancers from Moulin Rouge. There used to be a Dadaist cabaret “Voltaire.” Lisa Minnelli sings, “Life is a cabaret.” What is a cabaret for you?
4. What is success?
1. It cannot be defined by one word only, because every viewer interprets it on his/her own, and I don’t want to limit your imagination.
2. For me the word freak rhymes with free. Free to such extent that it becomes bizarre.
3. We have everything you’ve mentioned and everything we can take in the future, many unknown to us definitions we will discover.
4. I don’t know. Can you catch success? It’s just a moment you can only feel. Seeing the sun is a success.
1. A time bomb.
2. Freak is joy. It’s what brings joy to me.
3. Probably, it’s just playing, playing the cabaret. Let’s play the cabaret.
4. It’s when both I and the audience like what I do. We sometimes have this resonance: in parts and pieces.
1. I cannot say I create some kind of a character. For me it is rather a sermon on stage, a divine service. Everything that I do on stage I do sincerely, and when you do this sincerely, the artistic form sticks to you.
2. I think everyone sees a freak as a free, strange and creative personality, able to make something of his/her own and also add something from the world.
3. It’s a kind of entertainment, but this is the reason people visit our performances; and we present them with a sermon. An ironic sermon, as it is. People are different. There are seven of us, we all are different, but each has something of her own to bring it to the audience.
4. I will quote Troitsky as saying: “Success cannot be measured by the quantity of money or music videos, rather the number of people who need you.” I think we have such kind of success now.
1. I perceive us as a single organism, and we embody someone or something at the same time. Probably, I am trying on the image of a slender Ukrainian woman, but there is certain bellicosity about this.
2. A freak does not have frames. S/He is freedom. Freedom in everything. The only frame is our tastes in music and life. Our freedom is our main expression.
3. Intellectual entertainment.
4. It’s when you are happy to do what you do and make many other people happy by doing this.
1. I have heard some characteristics from many of our fans and friends, and several times they matched: Ruslana is our feminity and a great joy she is ready to share with people. Natalia is our superpower; she even has very athletic looks. We all are strong, but she is the one who embodies this strength. Ania Nikitina is tenderness, sensitivity; she is constantly on the verge. Zo is the closest to the spirit of freedom and revolution, and she translates this through herself. Regarding myself, I have heard the word “power,” it seems to be close to the truth, because I possess the spirit of a warrior, although there are minuses and pluses about this. It is cool when you can use such powerful means, be it aggression and provocation, for some good purpose. All in all, you do this out of love and bring love to people. Love and power.
2. People often try to squeeze us into some frames, and we fail to fit in. Being a freak symbolizes exceeding the frames: being special, different, even if ugly, unusual, free from comparison, limitless as an artist and as a person. There is some boldness about this. A freak brings freedom to behave boldly, to play, to feel free by all means, and talk to humanity.
3. For me personally this is a very interesting story. At first, cabaret did not specially attract me, but later I understood that this is an extremely feminine story of women. Ukraine is a woman of sorts, a feminine archetype. Cabaret is perceived as an entertainment, and I wanted to ruin this stereotype, show that we are fearless, beautiful, free, and ready to save the world with our love, not to entertain moneybags and those who have vegetables instead of heads.
4. Successful and free are concordant words for me.
1. I don’t focus on my feeling on stage.
2. A crank.
4. “Success is to advance.” (Marina Tsvetaeva) So far, we are advancing.