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

To think, fantasize, and wonder

Oksana Dmytriieva is the best Ukrainian puppet theater director of 2018
18 June, 2018 - 17:35
Photo by the author

Outwardly, the principal director of the Kharkiv Afanasiev Puppet Theater looks like... a ballerina, being as thin, slim, and stylish. Meanwhile, Dmytriieva’s profile view reminds of her Greek origin a bit. In conversation, she gets inspired, and then one only needs to be fast enough to record the thoughts that define her productions. The Kharkiv Puppet Theater had good directors before Dmytriieva as well, but the theater which she has built over recent years is just unique! Her performances are full of fantasy, music, poetry, they animate objects and matter... This is not some low-brow show of puppet passions, but an oasis of spirituality: the more theatrical companies clog the scene with pieces made to suit an undemanding spectator and tasteless staging techniques, the more works of high classics and its bright, figurative incarnations appear in the puppet theater’s repertoire. Recently, Dmytriieva received the Les Kurbas Award, marking an unconditional and well-deserved triumph of the director and her theater... Incidentally, each of her productions resonates with spectators of all ages, and critics write complimentary reviews with enthusiasm!


Tell us, please, about your latest work first, I mean William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Quite a few directors, especially of the puppet theater, would not dare do such a project!

“I still do not understand how I came to do it, whether out of light-mindedness or insolence. Probably it was just because now is the time for this piece. It reflects what is happening today, asks the questions we are trying (and failing) to answer... I love the classics, since it speaks of everything that will happen to us, as well as everything that has already happened.”

Hamlet is an enigmatic play, a litmus test of its time, its accurate cardiogram. What have you seen in it today?

“History of the Danish state was tragic from the very beginning. After all, Hamlet Senior, in essence, conquered that land, even though he won it in an honest duel. Therefore, all who rule that state are strangers there. And Hamlet, who was absent for many years, is also a stranger in the land. He is not ready to face what is happening there: ‘Something is rotten in the state of Denmark…’ Having accepted the mission of revenge for his deceased father, he falls into a labyrinth trap, from where no one can get out alive. Hamlet, having decided to take revenge on the murderer, himself involuntarily becomes a murderer as he is forced to master mechanisms of bloody executions. This is a terrible story, because in the world that surrounds him, there is no light or love. Ghosts are getting more numerous. The world is sick, it is obvious. But is it even curable?”

You share the success of your productions with the theater’s art director Natalia Denysova, who is your colleague and associate. I remember Denysova saying in an interview that the main thing in the performance was the director’s concept, and the artist’s work just “accompanied” it.

“Denysova is a fantastic master, a philosopher artist, so working with her is joy and pleasure. The process of us inventing a play together is an incredible time when we turn into conspirators, and it does not matter at all then who ‘accompanies’ whom.”

The skill with which artists of the puppet theater convey the poetry lines of Shakespeare to the public is, in my opinion, unattainable today for any drama theater company, and not only in Kharkiv. I can assume that you work with actors based on your own methodology during rehearsals. How do you look at a rehearsal?

“Not all rehearsals are the same. Sometimes everything goes smoothly at first, but then you realize that the artists have got confused about the plan’s roots, lost track of their original task. There are times when I am unhappy and rail at them. I can be both affectionate and angry. I come in different shapes.”


The company, in my opinion, should be grateful to you for such extraordinary tasks, for your demanding approach and creative inspiration. I like your actors from Hamlet very much – Oleksandr Markin, Tetiana Tumasiants, Viacheslav Hindin, Hennadii Hurinenko, Olena Hrabina, Oleksandr Koval... The show makes one think again about the usual phenomena, the essence of which the actors are rethinking before our eyes, as they first optically bring it closer to us, but then shove it back to the global level. The puppet theater becomes a model of the world, a metaphysical instrument for its comprehension. Tell me, in what relationship are you with the traditional puppet theater? Have you switched to the animation theater completely?

“I continue to love the traditional puppet theater, and I would have never preferred pure acting theater to it. But I and Denysova have staged some purely puppet shows as well, such as Hedgehog Out of the Mist, based on Sergei Kozlov’s story, or Chevengur, which is an adapted Andrei Platonov’s novel. In performances with an active, living plan, the ‘sound’ of the puppet is extremely important for me. Where a person is faced with the incomprehensible, mysterious, a puppet must necessarily appear. It picks up the theme of the hero and makes the unsaid obvious. For example, the puppet of Hamlet is led by others for the entire performance, as if it was led by the fate itself. It is only in the final of the show that it finds himself in the hands of the actor playing Hamlet: a union of soul and body happens at last. It is a sign of a person’s readiness to accept their destiny. Hamlet and Laertes do not fight live in the final, but with the help of medieval puppets. And this is probably more accurate than the most spectacular fencing.”

You studied at the University of Arts in Kharkiv, and then returned here via some complicated route with a currently unusual status of the Honored Artist of Crimea...

“Yes, even though I earlier attended an acting course in Dnipropetrovsk. Then, I worked for the magnificent Simferopol Puppet Theater, led by Borys Azarov. It was on his initiative that I started to stage plays. Speaking of the Kharkiv school, I studied simultaneously at the theater studies and directing faculties there. For several years, I worked as the duty director for the Kharkiv Puppet Theater and only then became the principal one.”

What, in your opinion, is the main thing in theatrical directing?

“Of course, it is the possibility of inventing. It is a creative profession, just like that of writer or composer. Les Kurbas had such a concept as ‘transformation.’ The very sound of this word is magical, as something must transit from one quality to another. I am glad that today our team is in such a condition that we can afford to invent a spectacle. To fantasize, think – and to play. To be a ‘smart Harlequin.’”


Oksana Dmytriieva was born on August 22, 1977. As a director, she staged plays at puppet theaters in Kaunas, Kyiv, Lviv, Poltava, Khmelnytskyi, Cherkasy, Ternopil, and other cities, and specialized schools’ training theaters in Kyiv and Kharkiv. Dmytriieva has staged 45 productions, including adaptations of Chekhov’s works Simple Stories of Anton Chekhov and The Cherry Orchard; Nikolai Gogol’s May Night as well as Marriage, adapted Gogol’s play; Platonov’s novel Chevengur; Casanova, based on works of Marina Tsvetaeva and Giacomo Casanova; Shakespearean King Lear and Hamlet, and Moliere’s The Imaginary Invalid...

Dmytriieva’s shows were entered in more than 50 national and international festivals, where they repeatedly won high awards. In 2018, she became the first winner of the newly reestablished Les Kurbas Prize – a prestigious Ukrainian theatrical award.

Oleksandr CHEPALOV, Kharkiv