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

Kyiv and Paris in a drama dialog

Neda Nejdana’s play Maidan Inferno is presented for the first time at the House of Europe and the East as part of the L’Europe des Theatres festival in the stage version of Christophe Feutrier
23 April, 2015 - 11:07

The House of Europe and the East (Maison d’Europe et d’Orient – MEO) is a particular theatrical center that specializes in the contemporary theater of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The MEO has several fields of activity, including the L’Espace d’un Instant (“The Space of an Instant”) publishing house which prints contemporary, mostly East European, drama. Its cofounders Celine Barcq and Dominique Dolmieu also head Syldavie, a “theatrical company.” In addition to producing plays, the MEO carries out various projects, such as festivals, conferences, book launchings, meetings with authors and translators, on-stage readings, exhibitions, etc. Five years ago the MEO launched L’Europe des Theatres, a festival of theatrical translations, which span off the Eurodrama, an all-European network of drama translations. The Ukraine situation was in an “inactive” condition, not only within the MEO framework. French information sources say that Ukrainian dramas have not yet been staged at French theaters in French – there have only been productions in Ukrainian at diaspora theaters. The festival director Dominique Dolmieu points out that it is the last major language whose drama has not yet been presented on the professional French stage. The situation livened up past year, when Neda Nejdana offered a project of a Ukraine-France “drama dialog.” As a matter of fact, the Ukrainian side had begun the dialog much earlier – an ontology of six works, “The Contemporary French Play,” a Kurbas Center and Universe Publishers project supported by the French Institute, has already become a rarity, and the project’s authoress is preparing a new one. But what is important in any dialog is reversibility. The idea of this project was supported by MEO people and the translators Sylvie Nelep, Estelle Delavenat, Christian and Julie Patin, Iryna Dmytryshyn.

In the spring of past year, French actors recited fragments of Ukrainian plays by Mykola Kulish, Oleksandr Viter, and Neda Nejdana in French translation at the MEO and Theatre du Vieux-Colombier, a part of the Comedie Francaise, which aroused lively interest among the French public, including professionals. The readings gave impetus to further projects.

The L’Europe des Theatres festival is in fact held not only in Paris, but also in other cities from which authors and translators come. This time it was Athens, Baku, Kyiv, New York, Palermo, Polistena, Poznan, Pristina, and Sofia. The fest began with the opening of a Rumanian exhibition of ancient billboards, a photo exhibit on the Rumania-Europe dialog, and the “Night of Theatrical Translation.” It is particular in the manner of playing and improvisation – translators offer fragments of the translations of new plays selected by sort of a lottery. Translators and Eurodrama representatives introduce the authors, then the present actors and stage directors recite the fragments at will on the stage. This creates the sensation of a lively on-stage process and turns the audience into co-participants in an action aimed at intriguing them and making them “feel” the play. Incidentally, translators are the main figurants at the festival and the Eurodrama network in general – they are the bearers of and go-betweens in different cultures and “godparents” of mutual theatrical “children.” This time there were also translators from Ukrainian among the activists of theatrical translation – Christian and Julie Patin presented, together with Neda Nejdana, the head of the Ukrainian committee, fragments of the plays Live on the Air by Oleksandr Irvanets and Aunty Prisia by Pavlo Arie. This is part of work on a major project – the first ontology of Ukrainian plays in the French language and what may be called “Ukrainian spring in drama” which the MEO has scheduled for 2016.

Now in the making is a book based on Neda Nejdana’s play on the Maidan. Conceived in Kyiv, the drama was written mostly in Paris, when the author was visiting the MEO. As Celine Barcq says, it is a mutual Ukrainian-French “child,” so it is no wonder that he made his first cry or step in Paris and in French (incidentally, the play was written nine months ago). The play combines an inner feeling of epochal events in Ukraine with an impartial view from Europe which in fact does not know Ukraine and does not understand what is going on. The play is the author’s attempt to fathom this transformation, so to speak, from the inside and from the outside. And while it is Ukrainian by content, it was in fact written under the influence of what the author saw and read in Paris, for it shows a discrete and mosaic pattern typical of the contemporary French theater. Maidan Inferno is inscribed in several realities. The first about the revolution itself: it is a drama written by the life itself – from the beating-up of students to the beginning of a war with Russia. It consists of some isolated moments of a chimerical web of the fates of various people on the Maidan: a linguistics girl student, a mountaineer, a musician, a security guard, a female journalist, a nurse, a priest… The play pivots on the story of two young people separated by the “bloody Saturday,” which has something in common with the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, but here the Eurydice of today is in search of her beloved who was lost between life and death. She does not descend to the other world – instead, the impression is that hell has risen to the earth surface and is drawing people into its fiery spiral. The reality of the Maidan’s “beyond” is deliberately depersonified, for they are all puppets in the hands of others, while the play’s conflicts are global and domestic. The third reality is Facebook scenes. The Revolution of Dignity is paradoxical in that, on the one hand, there is a sensation of returning to the past (stones, fire, catapults) and, on the other, we are in the hub of virtuality because people also fight in the Internet. And the author tried to reproduce this reality not by cinematic but by theatrical means, such as games and masks. Besides, the play also shows the heroes’ inner reality – a dialog with the void, unexpressed cries, the monologs of feeling and reconsideration. And, what is more, it is the awareness that what has occurred in Ukraine is not only a revolution, but also an indicator of the changes that radically transform the world’s consciousness.

The play’s first on-stage recitation was held in an overcrowded hall with a special atmosphere of energy tension, thunderous ovation, and tears on the part of both the actors and the audience, and the unity of Ukrainians and Frenchmen in their feelings and reflection on the destinies of man and the world. In the foreword to the play’s upcoming publication, Michel Corvin, a well-known drama critic, remarks that Maidan protesters proclaim the slogan… of the French Revolution – “freedom or death.” It is important to feel a common history: the Revolution of Dignity irreversibly changed the world, as once did the fall of the Bastille, but in a different way, on a new turn of the spiral.

Incidentally, the participation of Ukrainian plays in the festival is not only an episode in the Ukraine-France theatrical dialog – reciprocal at last. This dialog will begin as part of the French Spring in Kyiv. In particular, the poetic stage in the Book Arsenal’s courtyard will host on April 25 at 2 to 4 p.m. an event called “French-Ukrainian Drama Dialogs,” which will present projects of the translations of both countries’ modern-day plays.

Among other things, there will be an on-stage recitation of two plays, Pense que tu es Dieu and Attendez que la Canicule Passe, by Matei Visniec (France) in the translation of Neda Nejdana and fragments of two Ukrainian plays, Labyrinth by Oleksandr Viter and Maidan Inferno by Neda Nejdana translated into French by Estelle Delavenat. Incidentally, Visniec’s plays, which the translator had chosen much before, seemed too exotic at first, but they are incredibly topical now because what unites the French and Ukrainian plays is the problem of the crisis of civilization, and there will be protesters, snipers, border guards, and refugees among the characters. Taking part in the event will be the drama section of the Les Kurbas National Center of Theatrical Art, and Kyiv’s MIST and TSDIK theaters. The participation of Ukrainian drama in the L’Europe des Theaters festival in Paris and the French Spring in Kyiv will be supported by the French Institute in Ukraine and the Ukrainian Culture and Information Center in France.

By Andrii KARPENKO, Paris – Kyiv