Culture In Depth, 21/10/2019

Kharkiv Students Theater Addresses WWII Tragic Events

In October 2019, fourth-year students of Kharkiv Kotlyarevsky National University of Arts, Maysternya 55 theater, present the premiere performance “Five minutes to Zero” based on the play “The End of the World” by Jura Soyfer. Leonid Sadovsky, the Honored Art Worker of Ukraine, Associate Professor, is director and art director of the performance.

Jura Soyfer, a playwriter, poet, journalist of Jewish origin, was born in Kharkiv in 1912. But in 1918 he had to move to Austria with his family due to the Bolshevist revolution that took place in 1917. He participated actively in the work of Social Democratic Party, was engaged in political theater, wrote sharp publicist songs and couplets. Trying to emigrate from Nazi-occupied Austria, he was later arrested and sent in a concentration camp in Dachau and was subsequently transferred to Buchenwald, where he died at the age of 26. A protest against violence and injustice is found in his each drama works.

“The End of the World” play, which Jura Soyfer has written in anticipation of WWII, is not the exception. The performance is interesting as completely different genres are intertwined on the stage.

“Work on the material began in December 2018 as part of the NAKT Interfest project, which was held in Hamburg,” says the actor of Maysternya 55, the fourth-year student of the University of Arts, Danylo Nikiforov. Students of the Kharkiv Kotlyarevsky National University of Arts, Ukraine, and the Department of Performance Studies of the Hamburg University, Germany, after a week of teamwork, showed the “Plündern” performance which is based on “The End of the World” play. It was shown at Kampnagel, one of the largest theater stages in Europe.

“Upon returning to Kharkiv, auditions started. Each actor had the opportunity to play the role of his or her favorite character,” shared the lead actor of Maysternya 55, the fourth-year student of the University of Arts, Denis Bliznuyk. “At first, making the etudes on this material, the director kept a secret that all actions are connected with the events in the concentration camp, which gave us the opportunity not to get attached to the topic and experiment more. After getting roles, the troupe was divided into two groups, which simultaneously worked on the play’s staging. So, it was possible to find the most successful solutions that are used in further performance,” he added.

Dances and songs are integral parts of the show. The play’s choreographer is Tetiana Shynyakova, choreography consultant is the Honored Artist of Ukraine Leonid Markov. Lyrics are written by playwriter Jura Soyfera cabaret, music was created by the graduate of Maysternya 55 in 2016, the actor of the Alexander Pushkin Kharkiv State Russian Drama Theatre, Maksym Avksentiev.

“One of the most essential stages for the actors’ work on the play was a trip to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in April 2019 which helped us learn more about history and experience the full range of those dreadful atmospheric days,” says the actor of Maysternya 55, the fourth-year student of the University of Arts, Yurii Merezhko.

“A lot of things made impressions on me and my mind. A walled execution area where I had a feeling that the world behind ceases to exist,” describes Danylo Nikiforov.

“Through this trip, I had an incredible urge to research further into the background of these events, a sense of responsibility. This performance was staged to make people aware of the scale of the tragedy, to remember, and not let it happen again,” says Denis Bliznuyk.

Concerning the difficulties of production back then, according to the actors, it is the complexity of combining the form of a cabaret theater with the theme of a concentration camp. Thanks to the director’s professionalism, the actors had the opportunity to try their hands at a modern polyphonic and multi-genre theater. Anyway, work on the play will continue after the premiere.

In November 2019, Olha Krivosheyeva, professor of Maysternya 55, will take part in a world conference dedicated to the work of Jura Soyfer, which will take place in Austria. And in the first half of next year, the theater will go on tour to Vienna.

Text: Antuanella Adamkevych

Photos: Emma Szabo, Olga Martynova