Music | Visual Arts

CONCERT REVIEW: Ukraine: An Artist’s View – a captivating act of cultural diplomacy



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Olesya Zdorovetska. Image by Anna Morgan.

This was the premiere of Olesya Zdorovetska’s launch of her project, Telling Sounds.

Sitting down, I immediately discerned a sprinkling of Eastern European accents, complimenting the authentic feel of Dash Arts. The stage was minimalistic; we were left to focus on Olesya and her Tsymbaly.

Zdorovetska, clad in a vibrant red top, was enthralling. It was her mission to impart the story of Ukraine, using its talented contemporary artists as a vessel. Her stage presence transformed the poetry into more than just singing; it was theatre, and the emotion was raw. As she dedicated her last piece to Ukraine, a sung version of Halyna Kruk’s work, we saw her wipe a tear from her eye.

The many different sounds she produced from her Tsymbaly were fascinating in itself. At one point, we, the audience, joined her in song. Despite the linguistic barrier which prevented one from always understanding the clever emphasis behind particular words, the emotion wasn’t lost in translation. Olesya’s noble mission to honour her country and its people is admirable. For this winter, 2017, is the third anniversary of the ‘Revolution of Dignity’; where Ukrainians peacefully protested, for months, in the freezing cold. Remorselessly, the police killed many of these harmless revolutionaries. In her song, ‘The Heavenly Hundred’, she tries to remember and to celebrate these heroes of Ukraine.

She performed the work of renowned Ukranian poets including Lina Kastenko, Marianna Kijanowska and Serhiy Zhadan, to name but a few.

For Zdorovetska, her Telling Sounds is not a choice but an imperative; she feels she must tell the story of her homeland, simply because she can tell it. Certainly her voice struck a chord with the audience; every act was finished off with hearty applause which filled the large room.

This was followed by a round table discussion, with Zdorovetska, artist Nikita Kadan and playwright Natalia Vorozhbyt.

Nikita Kadan

Nikita Kadan. Image by Anna Morgan.

For them; the artistic pursuits of Ukrainian artists have common themes. In one sense, it’s an identity creation project; to compensate for the ‘fake independence’ that Ukraine has had in the past – the governmental version of a Potemkin village. Following on from this; they wish to advance in its place a new political nation based on Ukrainian roots, looking to the past – and Ukrainian history – for inspiration.

For all the artists, their works also spring from a sense of rebellion; against despotic government, provincialism and poor education. I salute them. These are worthy goals to be achieved.

Kadan is part of a contemporary art collective, Revolutionary Experimental Space, who seek to make art accessible to all. Whilst his visual art is certainly strong in its themes, RES seek to spread messages about openness and direct democracy as opposed to propaganda. Part of that means everyone should be able to reconstruct the meaning behind their art. Another is that their work is totally collective; it is nigh impossible to discern the individual’s input in the greater picture. He wishes to create a new artistic history, which hearkens back to authentic Ukrainian roots, as opposed to the Russian and mass Western influences that have dominated thus far.

Finally, Natasha Vorozhbyt’s story was equally compelling. She has founded the ‘theatre of the displaced people’, one of her acts including 13 schoolchildren, telling their stories on stage. It’s raw, original stuff. For her the war has been a huge challenge, and she believes it’s had an impact on all the creatives in Ukraine. Her biggest hope is that, in a year’s time, her theatre won’t need to exist; but in the interim she feels the displaced people’s stories must be told.

Particularly impressive here are the artist’s ideas, not dissimilar to cultural diplomacy: the focus on art and culture to foster mutual understanding within a country and between nations. An understanding of Ukraine’s national ideals and institutions will help them build broad support for economic and political goals in the future.

All in all, a thought-provoking, captivating performance from all artists. Music with a message – I look forward to returning to Dash Arts in the future.


Ukraine: An Artist’s View was part of the ongoing cultural programme at Dash Arts, London.

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