Les Kurbas (1887-1937) was not only the most important organizer and director of the Ukrainian avant-garde theater, but also one of the most outstanding European theater directors in the first half of the 20th century. Hailed by Vsevolod Meyerhold as 'the greatest living Soviet theater director' (and thus, elevated above such giants of Russian and European theater as Konstantin Stanislavsky, Alexandr Tairov, and Meyerhold himself), Kurbas worked to create a new tradition of an intellectual and philosophical theater. His Molodyi Teatr productions revolutionized Ukrainian theater (that was crippled for decades by tsarist draconian decrees and circulars), elevating it in style, esthetics, and repertoire to the level of modern European theater. Kurbas continued his search for new means of artistic expression in theater during the difficult times of revolution and war in Ukraine when he staged, with his travelling troupe Kyidramte (the Kyiv Drama Theater), such innovative performances as his first avant-garde staging of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. But it was in the 1920s, at his Berezil theater, that Kurbas's creative genius became fully evident. With such productions as his staging of Georg Kaiser's Gas in 1923, Kurbas broke completely with traditional Ukrainian realist, ethnographic theater and presented spectacles that forced the audience to become active participants rather than passive observers. He combined his intellectualism and philosophical interpretation of plays with a brilliant synthesis of rhythm, movement, and avant-garde theatrical and visual devices, including the use of film, and managed to gather together the best actors, directors, set designers (eg, Vadym Meller), and playwrights (eg, Mykola Kulish) in Ukraine. At its height Berezil employed nearly four hundred people and ran six actors' studios, a directors' lab, a design studio, and a theater museum. However, Kurbas was given only several years to implement his cultural revolution. Accused by the Soviet officials of nationalism and counterrevolutionary activities, Kurbas was arrested and executed during the Stalinist terror. All of his productions were banned from the Soviet repertoire and most of his archival materials, including all of his films, were destroyed. No serious study of his artistic legacy was allowed to be published in the USSR until the late 1980s... Learn more about Les Kurbas, his brilliant creative legacy, and the birth of modern Ukrainian theater by visiting the following entries:

KURBAS, LES, b 25 February 1887 in Sambir, Galicia, d 3 November 1937 in Sandarmokh, Karelia region, RSFSR. Outstanding organizer and director of Ukrainian avant-garde theater, filmmaker, actor, and teacher. In 1907-8 he studied philosophy at the University of Vienna and drama with the famous Viennese actor Josef Kainz. After graduating from Lviv University in 1910, he worked as an actor in the troupes of the Hutsul Theater (1911-12) and Lviv's Ukrainska Besida Theater (1912-14), founded and directed the Ternopilski Teatralni Vechory theater in Ternopil (1915-16), and worked at Sadovsky's Theater in Kyiv (1916-17). After the February Revolution of 1917 Kurbas reorganized an actors' studio he had founded in 1916 into the Molodyi Teatr theater (1917-19). In Molodyi Teatr's productions, which included the first performance in Ukrainian of Sophocles' Oedipus Rex (1918), Kurbas revolutionized Ukrainian theater. Influenced by Henri Bergson's philosophy and the theatrical theories and experiments of Max Reinhardt, Georg Fuchs, and Edward Gordon Craig, Kurbas used Molodyi Teatr's experimental productions to develop his own style of intellectual theater to replace the traditional Ukrainian ethnographic repertoire and traditional, realist psychological theater in general. In 1919 the Bolshevik authorities forced Molodyi Teatr to merge with the State Drama Theater, and Kurbas became a codirector of the new Shevchenko First Theater of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic. There, to great acclaim, he staged an interpretation of Taras Shevchenko's epic poem Haidamaky. By 1920 the situation in Kyiv, devastated by continuous warfare, had become unbearable for actors, and Kurbas formed the Kyidramte touring theater troupe, which toured Bila Tserkva, Uman, and Kharkiv regions. Kyidramte's repertoire included the first Ukrainian-language production of a play by William Shakespeare--Macbeth, which premiered in Bila Tserkva in August 1920...

Les Kurbas

MOLODYI TEATR (Young Theater). A theatre troupe in Kyiv headed by Les Kurbas from 1917 to 1919. The core group of actors consisted of graduates of the Lysenko Music and Drama School. Most of the productions were directed by Kurbas, although Hnat Yura, V. Vasilev, and Semen Semdor also directed shows. Anatol Petrytsky was the main stage designer, but Mykhailo Boichuk was invited to create sets for several important productions. Molodyi Teatr rejected the Ukrainian ethnographic repertoire and presented modern Ukrainian plays and world classics. Kurbas strived to create an intellectual and philosophical theater whose ultimate aim was to return to its ritualistic roots and to become once again some form of a religious act. His search for new forms resulted in imaginative uses of rhythm, gesture, music, and design in his productions. The first season included Kurbas's productions of the realist Black Panther and White Bear by Volodymyr Vynnychenko, the naturalistic Jugend by M. Halbe, as well as a stylized presentation of three symbolist etudes by Oleksander Oles. The second season opened with Kurbas's production of Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, the first Ukrainian production of a classical Greek play. Kurbas's subsequent productions included Lesia Ukrainka's In the Wilderness; a stylized Vertep; and performances of several lyrical poems as choral movement pieces with music, which Kurbas would later see as his first attempt to create 'transformed gestures,' the central concern of his later work. In the spring of 1919, Molodyi Teatr was nationalized by the Bolshevik government and forced to merge with the State Drama Theater to form the Shevchenko First Theater of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic. Although it lasted only two seasons, Molodyi Teatr changed the direction of Ukrainian theatre, and from its ranks came the artistic directors of the major theaters of the 1920s, including Les Kurbas, Hnat Yura, Marko Tereshchenko, and Vasyl Vasylko...

Molodyi Teatr (Young Theater)

KYIDRAMTE or Kyiv Drama Theater. An experimental theater company formed by Les Kurbas in May 1920 from among the members of the Shevchenko First Theater of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic, who left the latter as a result of artistic differences with the director, Oleksander Zaharov. Kyidramte's 36 members included Kurbas, Danylo Antonovych, Hanna Babiivna, L. Boloban, Yanuraii Bortnyk, Vasyl Vasylko, Liubov Hakkebush, Pavlo Dolyna, P. Haivoronsky, Hnat Ihnatovych, Volodymyr Kalyn, Favst Lopatynsky, Ryta Neshchadymenko, Antonina Smereka, Valentyna Chystiakova, S. Levchenko, K. Hrai, O. Lypkivsky, and Leonid Predslavych. The company organized an acting studio and courses in directing. For a year and a half it toured the Bila Tserkva and Uman areas, performing for Red Army units and public audiences; from April to July 1921 it performed in Kharkiv as the 'Ukrainian State Exemplary Theater' under the aegis of the People's Commissariat of Education. Kyidramte's repertoire included plays originally performed by Kurbas's Molodyi Teatr theater in 1917–18: Vertep and Ukrainian versions of F. Grillparzer's Weh dem, der luegt, Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, and M. Halbe's Jugend; the first Ukrainian production of William Shakespeare's Macbeth, with Kurbas in his last stage role; C. Goldoni's Mirandolina; Haidamaky (The Haidamakas), based on Taras Shevchenko's poem; Novyi redaktor (The New Editor), based on a story by Mark Twain; plays by Nikolai Gogol, Marko Kropyvnytsky, and one-act etudes by Oleksander Oles and Stepan Vasylchenko. In July 1921 the company fell apart due to a famine in Kharkiv. Most of its actors joined Kurbas's new Berezil theater in March 1922...


BEREZIL. A theater established in 1922 under the artistic direction of Les Kurbas. Achieving recognition as Soviet Ukraine's national theater, it was located in Kyiv until 1926 and then moved to the then capital, Kharkiv. Kurbas saw Berezil as a left-leaning theater dedicated to the cause of proletarian revolution. But he never embraced a single ideology or program; instead, he insisted that Berezil was 'not dogma, but movement,' a ceaseless revolutionary search for new forms of artistic expression. Kurbas introduced a sophisticated technical and intellectual training program for Berezil's actors that emphasized rhythm and focused on 'mime-dramas' exhibiting many features of early avant-garde abstract dance. The overarching goal of Berezil's productions was the synthesis of speech, movement, gesture, music, light, and decorative art into one rhythm or simple, dramatic language. According to Kurbas, this process, which required a 'new actor' and new directorial approach, was also aimed at creating a new type of theatrical audience and society in general--'a new, not passive, person.' Despite its essential differences with expressionist theater, Berezil used formal expressionist devices in its early productions. Kurbas's staging of Kaiser's Gas (1923) in Ukrainian was Berezil's first great success, and it was hailed as ushering in 'a new era in theater.' The next period in Berezil’s development was associated with its experimental productions of classic dramas in Ukrainian translation, in particular a radically original staging of Shakespeare's Macbeth (1924). Among Berezil's major achievements were Kurbas's productions of plays by the most important Ukrainian dramatist of the 1920s and 1930s, Mykola Kulish. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Kurbas and Berezil became the targets of ever-increasing condemnation by official Soviet critics and Party functionaries. At the end of 1933, after Kurbas's dismissal as Berezil's artistic director and his subsequent arrest, Berezil was purged...


KRUSHELNYTSKY, MARIAN, b 18 April 1897 in Pyliava, Buchach county, Galicia, d 5 April 1963 in Kyiv. Actor and play director of Les Kurbas's school; educator. Making his stage debut in 1915 in the Ternopilski Teatralni Vechory theater, he subsequently acted in the Ukrainian Theater in Ternopil (1918, 1920-1), the New Lviv Theater (1919), the Franko New Drama Theater in Vinnytsia (1920), and the Ukrainska Besida Theater in Lviv (1922-4). Then he was one of the leading actors of the Berezil theater, and after Kurbas's arrest and the dissolution of Berezil, Krushelnytsky was appointed in 1934 artistic director and chief play director of the Kharkiv Ukrainian Drama Theater. He modified the theater's profile, particularly its repertoire, according to the demands of socialist realism: preference was given to Oleksander Korniichuk's and Liubomyr Dmyterko's plays and Russian classics. Joining the Kyiv Ukrainian Drama Theater in 1952, he eventually became its chief stage director (1954-63). After the Second World War, he also taught acting at the Kharkiv Theater Institute (1946-52) and the Kyiv Institute of Theater Arts (1952-63). He was instrumental in the process of preserving some elements of Les Kurbas's 'system' and passing them on to the next generation of actors and directors in the late 1950s and the early 1960s. As an actor Krushelnytsky distinguished himself under Les Kurbas's direction in the Berezil theater. He was particularly impressive in Mykola Kulish's plays: as Malakhii in The People's Malakhii, Uncle Taras in Myna Mazailo, and Padura in Maklena Grasa. In the post-Berezil period his better roles were comedic ones such as Kuksa in Marko Kropyvnytsky's They Made Fools of Themselves and the title role in Ivan Karpenko-Kary's Martyn Borulia. Krushelnytsky won acclaim for his original interpretation of Tevie in Tevie, the Milkman, based on the story by Sholom Aleichem, and of Lear in Shakespeare's King Lear....

Marian Krushelnytsky

BUCHMA, AMVROSII, b 14 March 1891 in Lviv, d 6 January 1957 in Kyiv. Prominent stage and screen actor, director, and teacher. Buchma began his stage career at the Ruska Besida Theater in Lviv in 1910. In 1917 he studied at the Lysenko Music and Drama School in Kyiv. In 1920 he worked in the Franko New Drama Theater in Vinnytsia and in 1923-6 in the Berezil theater, where he played such memorable roles as Jimmie Higgins in an adaptation of Upton Sinclair's novel, Leiba in an adaptation of Taras Shevchenko's Haidamaky, Jean in Prosper Mérimée's La Jacquerie, and the Fool in William Shakespeare's Macbeth. At the same time he became a film actor and later left the theater to devote himself solely to the cinema (1926-30). The main roles in which he appeared in these years were those of Jimmie Higgins, Mykola Dzheria, Taras Shevchenko, Taras Triasylo (in films of the same titles), the leading role of Hordii in The Night Coachman and the German soldier in Oleksander Dovzhenko's Arsenal. In 1930–6 Buchma returned to the Berezil theater (called the Kharkiv Ukrainian Drama Theater from 1935), and played such roles as Dudar in Ivan Mykytenko's Dictatorship and Puzyr in Ivan Karpenko-Kary's Master. From 1936 to 1954 Buchma worked as an actor and director in the Kyiv Ukrainian Drama Theater and in film. His was one of the best portrayals of Mykola Zadorozhny in Ivan Franko's Stolen Happiness. Buchma played in over 200 different roles. He depicted comic, dramatic, and tragic figures equally well. He directed the film Behind the Wall (1928) and the play Nazar Stodolia at the Kyiv Ukrainian Drama Theater in 1942. From 1940 Buchma lectured at the Kyiv Institute of Theater Arts and in 1946-8 was the artistic director of the Kyiv Artistic Film Studio...

Amvrosii Buchma

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