Fear is not something people are usually willing to experience at a theater. Fans of suspense, thrillers, and horror stories featuring the dead do not expect to be impressed at a place filled with crowds of people and floodlights. That is why warnings that you will be scared at the theater are neglected and treated as a joke until the loud and groovy performance named Viy, staged by Vlad Troitsky, starts. The show took place at the Ivan Franko Theater.
Let us remind that Troitsky created his unique home, called DAKH, long ago and on his own, according to the laws that are strange and incomprehensible at a regular theater. A sincere and shrill admiration of plays instead of another ordinary view became something like a creed for Troitsky. And actually, that frank emotionality, which makes people come back to this shelter of feelings and impressions, has shaped the existing permanent audience of DAKH. That is why Troitsky risked losing the air of secret society, created in the small space and supported by faithful fans of GogolFest, when he moved from the catacomb hall, located on the first floor of a residential building, DAKH’s permanent abode, on to the big stage.
But the re-read Viy, created by Gogol, who himself lived all his life in fear, is probably the best choice for the performances of DAKH Contemporary Art Center in Ukraine and abroad. It can be said that it is certainly the best choice, because it is about Ukraine, which makes a lot of Europeans feel uncomfortable. This time around, the most primitive human timidness had to become a total guarantee that the special emotionality of DAKH performances will be preserved. Preserved and spread everywhere: to the places where wind blows in real windmills instead of room fans, where people only heard of Ukraine, and even in our native loud mayhem, where Ukrainians live.
While representing Gogol’s fantastic story, Troitsky decided to turn into a shaman and evoke the deep archaic feeling of terror. Darkness, images of distorted faces, illuminated by lanterns, the constant rumble of various music instruments, edgy dialogs and curses, and sudden flashes of light from all sides – this is almost a critical concentration of all the possible shocking effects at a theater for the spectator to go numb because of God knows what.
Two new characters, foreigners of Ukrainian descent looking for relatives that disappeared in 1933, who are present in the adapted text for the common performance with the Swiss theater Vidy-Lausanne, only amplify the feeling of constant tension. Because their very presence in a strange, unpredictable country stresses the unknown, unlearned, things we need to stay away from.
While creating this kind of performance, Troitsky aimed to fulfil two tasks: present the scary reality of modern Ukraine to Europeans and trigger the feelings of Ukrainians in common archaic ways, through dances and singings. It would be a reason of forced balancing, of attempt for correlation between the plot and the nature of performance for some other director. But Troitsky does not worry over that. Instead, he ties the viewers to the action even more tightly by throwing in two handsome Swiss young men and constantly immersing them into some crazy events.
At the same time, the very fabric of the play seems to be sewn at random, the episodes seem to be logically disconnected, and the appearance of characters seems to be unreasonable. The ultimate relations in this performance are established, though only visually. And it is done in a rather strange way, as if blindly. They emerge through some kind of intentional fog, which fills the stage every once in a while, spontaneous blackouts, rhythmic breakdowns of music, occasional theatric surges and accidental assembly junctures. All this adds even more unexpectedness and fear to Viy.
It scares, it whimpers, whispers, or screams. The heavy logs hanging from the ceiling threaten the earthlings who, dancing and drinking without stopping, simply risk dissolving and disappearing in nonexistence. However, such theater has no didactic warnings to Ukraine, unknown to Europeans and so familiar to us. The red light flooding the stage (Viy’s color scheme simply does not know of the warm greens and yellows) scorches Viy’s land without warning, and it is then wrapped in the black shadows of eternal night. The shattered mind recovers only after the brightly lit backdrop has gone out, the horrible double bass monsters die away, and the stage is once again powdered with the fine dust, raised by the actors.