Physical Dramaturgy: Ein (neuer) Trend?

Dramaturgie im zeitgenössischen Tanz ist ? positiv gemeint ? ein heißes Eisen. Idealerweise sind Dramaturginnen und Dramaturgen während der Erarbeitung eines Stücks die besten Freunde der Choreografen. more more



The carnival continues

Yuri Andrukhovych's play "Orpheus, Illegal" is currently playing at the Dusseldorf Schauspielhaus. The work has been rewritten several times to accomodate the growing disillusionment with life after the Orange Revolution and Europe's increasingly cold shoulder. An interview with Barbara Burckhardt.

Barbara Burckhardt: The hero of your play "Orpheus, Illegal", the travelling poet and political activist Stanislaw Perfetzki, seems to be not only your alter ego, but also identical to the protagonist of your third novel "Perverzion" (read excerpt), who likewise travels to Venice to attend a conference and falls in love with the beautiful Ada. That was in 1996. What has changed in Perfetzki's world in the past nine years?

Yuri Andrukhovych: The play and its characters are more political than the novel was. This is partly due to the conceptual formulation of the Dusseldorf project, which was aimed at addressing European phobias about Eastern Europe, and in part to my own politicisation in recent years. I wrote the novel in 1994/95, in one of the first phases of political stability in Ukraine. It's a very Baroque, postmodern and polyphonic search for evidence, which is much more interested in trying out stylistic, artistic possibilities than in political visions. I finished the first version of "Orpheus, Illegal" in October 2004, although the deadline was in fact the end of the year. I knew that after October 31 and the first round of voting in the fateful Ukrainian elections, I would have no time and - more importantly - no inner resources for writing. It was all or nothing. This first version is marked by a pessimism that stems from experiences prior to the Orange Revolution.

The Ukrainian elections turned out to be far more exciting than people expected. There was the dioxin attack on Viktor Yushchenko and the week-long demonstrations under the orange symbol on Independence Square in Kiev. There was a proper, peaceful revolution and in the middle of December, you gave a rousing speech (read full English translation) to the European Parliament in Strasbourg in which you demanded that the EU accept Ukraine into its union.

Yes, it was a time of absolute euphoria. There was this feeling that the Ukrainian people who had been kept in a state of apathy for decades had suddenly proved they had the wisdom and strength to bring about democratic renewal after the brutal and corrupt system of Leonid Kuchma. This had never seemed possible before. European politicians flocked to Kiev and talked to us with respect, even wonder. This fuelled hopes which were soon extinguished. We were all hoping to hear "We want you" but after two months we were offered nothing more than vague talk of being "close neighbours". It was a rude awakening, which I worked into the second version of the play in February to March this year.

Europe's reaction was certainly disappointing. But the Orange Revolution also failed to keep its promises. A week before the premiere of your play in Dusseldorf and nine months after the revolution, Viktor Yushchenko got rid of his prime minister and fellow campaigner Julia Timoshenko with allegations of corruption.

My country is extremely disoriented at present. I feel like a child whose parents are going through a messy divorce. Yushchenko is a politician with integrity, but he's also slow and hesitant. He's a good banker but he lacks the charisma of Timoshenko, who's a brilliant speaker and an accomplished liar. Julia Timoshenko has turned out to be a narcissistic, power-crazed figure who obviously only used the revolution to further her own ends, and who wouldn't have stood a chance without Yushchenko's popularity. It is no surprise that they're going their separate ways, but nobody thought it would happen so quickly or that they'd be so stupid about it. The split has destroyed people's trust and I fear the old apathy is back, based on the general assumption that all politicians are dirty. The only positive aspect, perhaps, is that this feud was fought in public for the first time. The overall sense of disappointment is huge. But there might be a silver lining. The previous government was a bunch of divas; this one, at least in part, is made up of grey technological bureaucrats. This could signal an end of narcissism. What we are left with is the familiar feeling that we have to start all over again. But since the Orange Revolution, at least we know that the people are prepared to give it a go.

In your play, Perfetzki escapes by feigning suicide. Where does he go? Where can he go?

If I only knew ... In February 2005, when the problems were starting to emerge, I wrote a poem which still has not been published although everybody talks about it. It is a plea to Perfetski to come back, because this is his time now – his chance to start all over again. Perhaps he'll do as I tell him.

The Europe in your play doesn't seem to be a convincing alternative. The near-death researcher Casallegra talks about a "heart deficiency", in your collection of essays "The Final Territory" you talked about the "Woolworthisation" of the old continent. You imagine Venice, the cultural symbol of Europe, as a sinking city.

My history with the West is a tale of disappointment too. After independence in 1992, I went to Germany for the first time and spent three months on a literary grant at the Villa Waldberta near Munich. Afterwards I wrote a text "Introduction to Geography" which is so euphoric, so naive that it makes me blush to read it today ... I might as well have been kissing Bavarian soil. Around that time I also spent 16 hours in Venice and was utterly captivated. It felt more like home to me, all those cultural ruins, more unkempt than Bavaria, but much more picturesque. I saw Ukraine on the verge of crossing over to this fascinating old Europe.

And today?

In my countless visits to western Europe this year I've got to know the ignorance of the West. They know nothing about us but think they know it all, and they're not prepared to learn a thing. Deaf ears are everywhere, stereotypes, a self-satisfaction that results in stagnation. There are no cultural perspectives in this self-satisfaction, in France even less than in Germany. In the USA where I lived for ten months in 2000/01, things were different. I experienced a very different interest, a curiosity, although this was purely within the academic world.

In "Orpheus,Illegal", Casallegra predicts that an epidemic will break out in Venice by which he means Europe, an "epidemic of dehumanisation".

Casallegra is a carnival philosopher. The carnival in general, not just in Venice, represents the essence of European vitality, of liveliness, of intoxicated escape from routine which renews people and keeps them authentic. This is a tradition which seems to be disappearing in Europe.

Carnivalism was central to the Bubabu project which turned you into a sort of pop poet in the years following 1985. Another Bubabu representative, Zuzu Mauropule, also appears in the Venetian congress in "Orpheus, Illegal". What is Bubabu?

Bubabu stands for burlesque, balahan (a farce or chaos in ancient Hebrewand which went on to mean a "fairground booth") and buffoonery. It is a collective project involving Viktor Neborak, Oleksandr Irvanets and myself, three very different poets, united solely by the stylistic device of irony. By the way, although we see one another very infrequently these days, the project would work as an ideal model for a Ukrainian government: we have tolerated each other for 20 years although we are all Ukrainian and as we say in this country, "For every two Ukrainians there are three presidents."

We combined readings of our poems with theatrical performances and rock music. It was a poetry-carnival, circus-art, the highest and lowest side by side. We wanted to get away from poetry readings where half the audience fell asleep within 15 minutes. We wanted to make an impact, touch people, and we had audiences of between 12 and 400 at over 100 performances, in opera houses in Kiev and Lemberg among other places. In 1998 we founded the Bubabu Academy and every year we selected a "poem of the year". The winners were invited to participate in our performances and were awarded a bottle of the most expensive schnapps we could get our hands on.

A high percentage initiative.

Yes, and it worked very well for quite a while. In 1994, we celebrated our 100th anniversary – which we arrived at by adding together our ages; in 2000 we celebrated our 1,000th anniversary. Then this year was the 20th jubilee with two performances in Kiev and Lemberg. We are really a bit too old for Bubabu, and the next generation of poets which is unbelievably serious, sad and boring is highly critical of us. The good thing is, though, that our audiences are exactly as young as they were in 1985, between 18 and 25. My novel "Perverzion" was really my farewell to Bubabu. The congress in it is called "the post-carnivalistic absurdity of the world". But the carnival continues.

Yuri Andrukhovych's "Orpheus, Illegal" next plays at the Schauspielhaus in Dusseldorf on November 18.


The article originally appeared in the magazine Theater heute from November 2005.

Yuri Andrukhovych
(website) was born in 1960 in Stanislau, today called Ivano-Frankivsk, in Galicia, West Ukraine. He has been publishing poems, novels and essays since 1982. Andrukhovych currently lives and works in Berlin on a DAAD stipend.

Translation: lp and nb

Get the signandsight newsletter for regular updates on feature articles. - let's talk european.

More articles

No one is indestructible

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

TeaserPicA precision engineer of the emotions, Peter Nadas traces the European upheavals of the past century in his colossal and epic novel "Parallel Stories", which was published in English in December. The core and epicentre of the novel is the body, which bears the marks of history and trauma. In his seemingly chaotic intertwining of lives and stories, Nadas penetrates the depths of the human animal with unique insight. A review by Joachim Sartorius
read more

Road tripping across the ideological divide

Wednesday 1 February, 2012

TeaserPicThe USA and the USSR should not simply be thought of as arch enemies of the Cold War. Beyond ideology, the two nations were deeply interested in one another. Ilya Ilf and Yevgeny Petrov were thrilled by the American Way of Life in 1935/6, John Steinbeck and Robert Capa praised the sheer vitality of the Russian people in 1947. Historian Karl Schlögel reviews a perfect pair of travel journals. Photo by Ilf and Petrov.
read more

Language without a childhood

Monday 23 January 2012

TeaserPicTurkish-born author, actor and director Emine Sevgi Özdamar was recently awarded the Alice Salomon Prize for Poetics. Coming to West Berlin in 1965, Özdamar first learned German at the age of 19. After stage school she went on to become the directorial assistant to Benno Besson and Matthias Langhoff at the Volksbühne in East Berlin while still living in West Berlin. Harald Jähner warmly lauds the author's uniquely visual sense of her acquired language and her ability to overcome the seemingly insurmountable dividing line through the city.
read more

Friendship in the time of terror

Monday 9 January 2012

Nadezhda Mandelstam's personal memories of the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, her intimate friend, offer a unique and moving testimony to friendship and resistance over decades of persecution. Published only after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, the text is still unavailable in English but has recently been translated into German. A unique historical document, celebrating an intellectual icon in an age of horror. Portrait of Akhmatova by Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin.
read more

Just one drop of forgetfulness

Thursday 8 December, 2011

TeaserPicThis year is the 200th anniversary of the death of German writer Heinrich von Kleist. The author Gertrud Leutenegger has a very Kleistian afternoon on Elba, when she encounters the Marquise von O in the waiting room of a very strange eye doctor.
read more

German Book Prize 2011 - the short list

Tuesday 4 October, 2011

TeaserPicEugen Ruge has won the German Book Prize with his novel "In Zeiten des abnehmenden Lichts" (In times of fading light), an autobiographical story of an East German family. The award is presented to the best German-language novel just before the start of the Frankfurt Book Fair. Here we present this year's six shortlisted authors and exclusive English translations of excerpts from their novels.

read more

Torment and blessing

Wednesday 28 September, 2011

Chinese dissident Liao Yiwu escaped into exile in Germany in July this year. His new book about his life in Chongqing prison has just been published in German as "Für Ein Lied und Hundert Lieder". Both book and author have a life-threatening odyssey behind them. I am overjoyed that Liao Yiwu is here with us and not at home in prison. By Herta Müller
read more

In the vortex of congealed time

Monday 12 September, 2011

No other European city suffered more in World War II than Leningrad under siege, when over a million people lost their lives. Russian literature delivers a rich testimony of the events which have been all but forgotten by the West. Only a few works, though, also do the disaster aesthetic justice. By Oleg Yuriev
read more

My unrelenting vice

Tuesday 6 September 2011

In this apology for the vice of reading, Bora Cosic describes the magnificent and fantastic discoveries of one of its practitioners – revealing how texts contain what we bring to them, how we sometimes read without reading and how books are not only found in books but many other places. 
read more

Potential market, no buyers

Monday 4 July, 2011

The most successful Croatian book of 2008 sold exactly 1,904 copies. Not what one could really call a market, although together the successor republics represent a single language community. A look at the situation of publishers and authors in the former Yugoslavia. By Norbert Mappes-Niediek.
read more

Head versus hand

Monday 27 June, 2011

TeaserPicThis year's German International Literature Award goes to "Venushaar", a Russian novel that starts out as a dialogue between an asylum seeker and an immigration officer, and opens into a vast choir of voices. A conversation with its author Mikhail Shishkin, a literary giant in his own country, and his German translator Andreas Tretner. By Ekkehard Knörer. (Image: Mikhail Shishkin © Yvonne Böhler)
read more

Cry for life

Monday 20 May, 2011

Algeria's youth: Frustrated, isolated and in the stranglehold of clandestine political structures. Young Algerians are rebelling against being locked in traditional political and social structures, but have no chance of a national uprising like that in Tunisia, says Algerian author Boualem Sansal. An interview with Reiner Wandler.
read more

Witness to intellectual suicide

Tuesday 3 May, 2011

TeaserPicOn what would have been Romanian philosopher E.M. Cioran's 100th birthday, Suhrkamp has published a volume of his essays from the 1930s, "Über Deutschland". Effervescing with enthusiasm for Hitler and fascist ideas, they cast a dark shadow over his later writing. Fritz Raddatz wishes he'd never had to read such abominations and bids a former companion a bitter farewell. Photo: E.M. Cioran © Surhrkamp Verlag
read more

RIP Andre Müller

Wednesday 13 April, 2011

TeaserPicAndre Müller Germany's most insightful and most feared interviewer is dead. Elfriede Jelinek said of him in her obituary: "Andre Müller goes all the way into people and then he makes them into language, and only then do they become themselves." Read his interviews with Ingmar Bergman and Hitler's sculptor Arno Breker in English. Photo courtesy Bibliothek der Provinz
read more

A country on the edge of time

Monday 4 April, 2011

TeaserPicSerbia was the country in focus at this year's Leipzig Book Fair – its extensive literature seems to be bound up in the straitjacket of politics. Serbia is having a hard time with Europe, and Europe is having a hard time with Serbia. Although there are signs of a softening stance, the country is still locked up in the self-imposed nationalist isolation into which it manoeuvred itself as the aggressor in the Yugoslavian war of secession. A visit there inspires mixed feelings. By Jörg Plath
Photo: Sreten Ugricic
read more