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Jubilant Experimentation

edited by Irena R. Makaryk and Virlana Tkacz

published by University of Toronto Press, 2010

Order Book from University of Toronto                                          


"Iryna Makaryk and Virlana Tkacz’s volume on the dynamic cultural life of Kyiv in the age of modernism represents a momentous achievement in English-language scholarship on Ukrainian culture. The volume recovers the neglected but rich modernist culture of Ukraine for the English-speaking reader, but its significance is, by virtue of the scope and the framing of the project, also wider than this: in its attention to transnational cultural dynamics and (neo) colonial frameworks and attitudes, the volume represents a corrective to the metropolitan orientation of scholarship on modernist culture."

Uilleam Blacker, University College London

Harvard Ukrainian Studies, 36 (1-2), 2019

“The beginning of the twentieth century in Kyiv was a time of great hardship and of great joy – the “jubilation” of the title… Nowhere was the excitement more palpable than in the theater, and the story of the actor and director Les Kurbas runs throughout the book… Excitement pervaded all spheres of life and ethnic groups in Kyiv, and the contributors to this volume seek to capture that excitement in their articles…The book is copiously illustrated, a welcome feature since so much of Modernism depends on the visual and on attempts to help us see anew, to have the pictorial representations of objects jar us out of complacency and open our eyes to the essence of the phenomenon. The writing style is lively… The information is valuable: it is revealing to learn how Kurbas experimented with staging material that is not a play, namely poems. Learning about the use of the chorus to represent everything from the feelings of the protagonists to the collapse of the machinery in a factory is exciting…In short, this book is a fun read that captures the exuberance of the time, place, and people that it describes. It is highly recommended to anyone interested in Modernism, in Ukrainian art and literature, to anyone with a desire to live, to experience, to try something new.”
Natalie Kononenko, University of Alberta
Slavic and East European Journal 55.2 (Summer 2011)


“a multi-facetted and engaging study of early twentieth-century Ukrainian culture and we should be grateful to Makaryk and Tkacz for selecting, editing, and publishing such a rich concordance to the study of international Modernism.”
John E. Bowlt, University of Southern California
Slavonica, Vol 17, no 2 November 2011

Modernism in Kyiv, a massive, richly illustrated collection of essays, provides a spectacular introduction to the artistic life of this city. The twenty essays, which are interspersed with translations of poems, excerpts from diaries, and programmatic statements, gather new work by top North American and European scholars of Ukrainian culture and introduce a number of Ukrainian scholars to an Anglophone audience. The volume will be of special interest to theatre scholars, because the book’s editors, Irena Makaryk and Virlana Tkacz, have chosen to use theatre in general and the work of Kurbas in particular as the axis around which the collection is organized. The real heart of the collection, however, lies in the seven essays that focus on the work of Kurbas, whom Meyerhold called the greatest director in the Soviet Union. Taken together, these essays offer an excellent overview of this avant-garde director’s career, following him from his early work at the Young Theatre, to his masterful productions at the Berezil Theatre, to his arrest and 1937 execution during the Stalinist Terror. Key productions, including Gas, Jimmie Higgins, Macbeth, The People’s Malakhy, and Malenka Grasa, are discussed in depth, each generously illustrated with photographs demonstrating the innovativeness of Kurbas’s work, as well as that of collaborators like designer Vadym Meller. In addition to being essential reading for those interested in East European, Imperial Russian, or Soviet theatre, Modernism in Kyiv will also be of value to scholars of theatrical modernism both in- and outside Europe insofar as it provides the fullest introduction available in English to the work of Kurbas, one of the greatest, and most neglected, directors of the twentieth century. 
Robert Crane, University of Pittsburgh
Theatre Journal, Volume 64, Number 3 October 2012

The study of modernism has been largely focused on Western cultural centers such as Paris, Vienna, London, and New York. Extravagantly illustrated with over 300 photos and reproductions, Modernism in Kyiv demonstrates that the Ukrainian capital was a major centre of performing and visual arts as well as literary and cultural activity. While arguing that Kyiv's modernist impulse is most prominently displayed in the experimental work of Les Kurbas, one of the masters of the early Soviet stage, the contributors also examine the history of the city and the artistic production of diverse groups including Ukrainians, Russians, Jews, and Poles.

Until now a silent presence in Western accounts of the cultural topography of modernism, multicultural Kyiv is here restored to its historical, intellectual, and artistic complexity. Excerpts taken from the works of artists, writers, and critics as well as the numerous illustrations help give life to the exciting creativity of this period. The first book-length examination of this subject, Modernism in Kyiv is a breakthrough accomplishment that will become a standard volume in the field.

Modernism in Kyiv restores the multicultural city of Kyiv to its rightful position as a major player in the dialogue and cross-pollination of ideas occurring between important modernist figures in centres such as Paris, New York, London, and Vienna. Engaging and highly readable, this collection is impressive in its scope, depth, and breadth.'
Michael Naydan, Woskob Family Professor of Ukrainian Studies, The Pennsylvania State University)


Irena R. Makaryk is a professor in the Department of English at the University of Ottawa.
Virlana Tkacz is the Artistic Director of the Yara Arts Group in New York.



Introduction: "Reconnecting Modernisms" by IRENA R. MAKARYK


1 "Modernism in Kyiv: Jubilant Experimentation" by IRENA R. MAKARYK

2 "'A Theatrical Mecca': The Stages of Kyiv in 1907" by MAYHILL C. FOWLER (Princeton University)

3 "'Special and Bewildering': A Portrait of Late-Imperial and Early Soviet Kyiv" by MICHAEL F. HAMM (Centre College)

4 "Three Novels, Three Cities" by TARAS KOZNARSKY (University of Toronto)

5 "Film in Kyiv, 1910-1916" by OLEH SYDOR-HYBELYNDA (Film scholar and critic in Kyiv)


6 "In the Epicentre of Abstraction: Kyiv during the Time of Kurbas" by DMYTRO HORBACHOV (Karpenko-Karyi National University of Theatre and Cinema)

7 "The Yiddish Kultur-Lige" by GENNADY ESTRAIKH (New York University)

8 "Politics and the Ukrainian Avant-garde" by MYROSLAV SHKANDRIJ (University of Manitoba)

9 "Kyiv's Multicultural Theatrical Life, 1917-1926" by HANNA VESELOVSKA (Karpenko-Karyi National University of Theatre and Cinema)


10 "Towards a New Vision of Theatre: Les Kurbas's Work at the Young Theatre in Kyiv" by VIRLANA TKACZ

11 "The Choreographic Avant-garde in Kyiv, 1916-1921: Bronislava Nijinska and Her Ecole de Mouvement" by MARIA RATANOVA (Harvard University)

12 "Kyiv, the 1920s, and Modernism in Music" by DAGMARA TURCHYN-DUVIRAK (formerly of the Insititute of Arts, Folklore and Ethnography in Kyiv)

13 "Music in the Theatre of Les Kurbas" by YANA LEONENKO (Petro Tchaikovsky National Music Academy of Kyiv)


14 "Les Kurbas's Early Work at the Berezil: From Bodies in Motion to Performing the Invisible" by VIRLANA TKACZ

15 "Abstraction and Ukrainian Futurist Literature" by OLEH S. ILNYTZKYJ (University of Alberta)

16 "The Graphics Arts: From Page Design to Theatre" by MYROSLAVA MUDRAK (Ohio State University)

17 "Dissecting Time/Space: The Scottish Play and the New Technology of Film" by IRENA R. MAKARYK

18 "On the World Stage: The Berezil in Paris and New York" by IRENA R. MAKARYK


19 "Vsevolod Meyerhold and Les Kurbas" by BEATRICE PICON-VALLIN (Centre National de Recherche Scientifique)

20 "Les Kurbas and the Spiritual Foundations of the Ukrainian Avant-garde" by NELLI KORNIENKO (Les Kurbas Center in Kyiv and the Academy of the Arts of Ukraine) 

Over 680 pages with 21 color images and over 330 black and white photographs 

12 lk-1919..jpg

Ukrainian Theatre Director Les Kurbas



REVIEWS Continued:

“Kurbas was an inspiration for and a liaison between various artistic groups and individual artists in Kyiv, many of whom came together to work on his theatrical projects. The book uses this fact very well and connects the discussions of several diverse artistic and literary phenomena into a more unified whole by showcasing Kurbas and his theatre as a common link between them… From the visually effective cover design.. through the carefully edited texts and well-chosen translations of poems or memoir excerpts that precede each essay to the abundant selection of illustration, including a large number of beautiful color plates, this book seems to embody its editors’ deep care about and thorough knowledge of their subject matter. A careful reading of this book will prove to be an eye-opening experience both for specialists and general readers.
Marko Robert Stech, Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies and York University, Canadian Slavonic Papers Vol. LIII. No. 1, March 2011

“Step by step the authors unfold arguments designed to convince the reader that, first, artists of Ukrainian descent played an important but still underrated role in the history of European modernism and, second, that the Ukrainian avant-garde was marked by a significant originality. This originality was inspired, not by the fight against the conventional academic traditions as in Europe, but by the struggle against political and aesthetic colonialism and provincialism. In general the authors managed to create an impressive picture of Ukrainian art, including graphic art, literature, and musical experiments, as part of the European multicultural movement and to demonstrate that “modernist influence was not unidirectional”. 
Galina Yankovskaya, Perm State University, Slavic Review

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