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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Muscles of imagination

Museum of Theater, Music, and Cinema Art of Ukraine is hosting the exhibit “Danylo Lider. Return”
24 December, 2013 - 10:53

The recent exhibit of well-known Ukrainian set designers became an Ariadne’s thread which led to the titan of this genre, Danylo Lider. A memorial exposition of his works has been launched in the Museum of Theater, Music, and Cinema Art of Ukraine (9 Lavrska Street, building 26) and will be open until February 2014.

Its title, “Danylo Lider. Return,” initiates a discussion, which is immanent to theater and which for quite a long time has been in the condition of blind, deaf, and mute: director and set designer, set designer and director, both of them in theater space.

According to Andrii Oleksandrovych-Dochevsky, chief artist of the Ivan Franko National Academic Drama Theater, with his project Chairs he “wanted to study in material or fanciful way the present-day condition of relations in a variety of social situations by plastic means, with the help of color or without it.”

Oleksandr Druhanov, a wonderful graphic artist, who has created many set designs, which impress with the boldness of hyperbolizing of the subject (in the play Throat Sanctus based on Hoffman’s Das Sanctus it becomes a tunnel towards eternity, Shakespeare’s Hamlet is played on a huge, stage-size skull of poor Yorick) showed an exhibit of pictures under the title “The Line.”

I felt an inner tremolo from acuteness of anticipation of the verge. Namely the border, not the final line of some live creative stage, namely something that borders on the need to make decisions – climb upwards, fall into abyss, close yourself, forget about everything, and set out towards the unknown.

The exhibit-album “What should actresses do, when musicians don’t like actresses” by Oleh Luniev, chief artist of Kyiv State Academic Theater of Drama and Comedy on the Left Bank, shows naked bodies of the theater actresses. This is not simply nude works of a talented artist. This is an attempt to convey via actress’s body the feeling of space, its emotional and conceptual content, not by placing it into a space, but by projecting the space on it. To be more precise, it is the demonstration of the space the actress’s body hides.

The conflict of an actor and stage lies in the groundwork of theater’s nature, and this is everyone’s conflict with a scenic whole.

I will remind you of the wonderful story with Marc Chagall, who was invited to Jewish Chamber Theater by Solomon Mikhoels. The artist’s sketches were met meritoriously. Chagall was painting the curtains and the scene for a long while. Finally, the actors saw the results of his work and applauded. Mikhoels invited the actors to the stage and started to rehearse with the set. Chagall started to thrash about the hall and finally cried: “Take them off the stage! They spoiled everything!”

True, the space of the stage has many layers; its membranes are so thin that a human breath may tear them. At the same time only the set design leaving the physical sensation of improvised creative work, where an actor is something more than a sign and decorating function, can be called successful.

Apparently, set designers, when they show new sides of their talents, signal about the deficit of co-feeling and co-creation with the actors, directors, and today’s theater and prevent in such a way the muscles of imagination from atrophying.

Director is the manager of space and time of the play. He takes the characters away from the author, models with his devices the version of the sense of life that has already been written. His search of unexpected angle is simply a necessary component of profession, which is a natural attachment to the space as well.

Danylo Lider, who made a name of himself in his youth, in my opinion, revealed himself in the largest scale in his cooperation with congenial director Serhii Danchenko.

I had an honor to work as a director with these titans in two productions. These mature masters in fact remained proud and stubborn youths. They started to work on the play as if starting to fight silently, two souls, face to face. Both, like children, having grasped the essence of the phenomenon, the subject, held it strongly in their fists, so that it did not lose its selfhood, its warmth, and breath, so that it was not distorted on stage by theatrical swooning.

We called the play based on libretto to the opera about the Kobzar by Andrii Malyshko It Seemed to Be Just a Word.

Serhii Danchenko’s idea was to create it in the style of silent realism, categorically without any tiniest side tones of ideological manipulations with the text and image of the poet. Each production of the place enabled the audience to see the author differently, but it never protruded the director.

Danylo Lider always sought to work not with the play, but with the phenomenon it described.

In this case we took interest in the personality of the poet, creator, and artist. In his studio the set designer often told in front of the table for layouts about his eternal fear before the clean sheet, as a result the sheet became a subject, a symbol of the play. Sheets, the pages, hung on battens, created the crown of the poet, his planet, like birds of creative work, soaring in the eternity of the stage’s space.

It is appropriate here to mention Davyd Borovsky, who was able to grasp the essence of the space, mark it, and reveal it in a brilliant way. Another wonderful Kyiv set designer, Mykhailo Frenkel, invents set designs as a game subject, which holds together the whole play.

Most importantly, the talented fingers of a set designer never get to director’s throat, and all things that exist in reality get filled with of meanings and mystery.

Sheets of paper, written over with poems, fell from the hands of Kobzar, who was dying in his armchair. I offered to paint the reverse side of the pages into black. Hervasii Dolia, showing the corruptibility of poetry, turned them over and they merged with the black carpet of the stage. When the last leaf was turned over, the crown was supplemented by white leaves falling from the sky, the crown of the tree of creative work turns into the burning bush.

Understanding and respect of the language of a set designer by the director is a condition needed to reveal the variety of the viewpoints on the events in the play.

And then the audience not simply hears the words from the stage, but perceives the conceptual and emotional messages.

I would like everything abovementioned to be perceived in the same way. Today new productions practically do not get any funding, and theater poster has been almost destroyed by high posting prices.

But we need to live! We need to create! We need to imagine!

By Oleksii KUZHELNY, People’s Artist of Ukraine. Photo replicas by Artem SLIPACHUK, The Day
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