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Les' Kurbas (1887-1937) is a prominent Ukrainian artist, founder of the modern national theatre, actor, producer, civil activist, translator-polyglot, and one of the leaders of the national-cultural movement known as The Assassinated Renaissance. Craig, Appia, Reinhardt, Artaud, and Meyerhold were his blood-brothers in History.

Kurbas's time represented an age of hope for a renaissance, for Ukraine's secession from the Russian Empire. The director built a theatre that would be the subject not only of an artistic, but also of a civil revolution.

He personified himself in his theatres of which there were several: "The Ternopilski Teatralni Vechory" (1915-1916), "The Molodyi Teatr" (1916-1919), "Kyidramte" (The Kyiv Drama Theatre, 1920-1921), and "The Berezil" (1922-1933). The last seemingly inherited Gordon Craig's dream of a theatrical Academy and embodied a theatre of universal possibilities. "The Berezil" created experimental theatre per se, opera, operetta, circus etc. A Director's staff and laboratory functioned here, along with a theatrical museum, which exists to this day. Sociological projects were developed and research on the human-actor, his emotions, behavior, and internal energy was conducted.

"The Berezil" of 1922-1926 was political theatre of mostly expressionist orientation (Kaiser's Gas, Kurbas-Sinclair's Jimmy Higgins, etc.). The man who builds himself, who transforms his internal world the "internal man" in himself (according to Skovoroda) interested Kurbas most of all. Kurbas was invited to Munich, Canada, and to Moscow by Meyerhold, who proclaimed him the USSR's finest direct. In 1925 Kurbas was awarded the Gold theatre medal at the Parisian Exposition Internationale des arts decomtifs et industriels as well as the highest Soviet artistic distinction of the day as "People's Artist of the Republic" (following in the footsteps of the great actress Maria Zankovetska and the director Meyerhold)...

The transcendental tradition of the 20th century found its original interpretation in Kurbas's theater of 1926-1933. Kurbas's philosophical theatre of that period was marked by the creation of artistic-creative models, the semiosphere of which approached the richest values of the age of the Ukrainian Renaissance. Among them were root values of culture, historical memory with a new "I"absorbed into it, opening itself onto the universe, a universality, a pan-humanism. In the mid 1920s it was said of the "Berezil" actors that they were already "worthy of the Pantheon". Kurbas's theatre was working in avant-garde mode.

Kulish's plays Narodnyi Malachiy (The People's Malachiy}, Myna Mazailo. Maklena Grasa and Mykytenko's The Dictatorship enunciated not only a new artistic and esthetic word in a modern European context, but also became an exacting subject of civil opposition to totalitarianism.

Kurbas's esthetics present an example of "fantastic realism", with its unlimited possibilities of speaking about the complexity of the world and the contradictions of man, centered on the "cursed questions" of Existence.

...The theatre of Les Kurbas is a lofty future-text of 20th century culture, and it seems, of the present, 21st as well.

 

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