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  • Writer's picturecharlie kesem

Energia: Kryvorivnya (curvy-straight) Part 1

Updated: Jun 28, 2020


What happens when theatre is approached as a gift?

A meeting between communities, cultures and traditions, where each actor/human has his treasure chest of knowledge to be shared.

What happens when a group of Greek/Ukrainian/Russian and British/Israelis meet in Kryvorhyvna (translation: curvy straight, after its’ river), a small village in the Carpathian Mountains in the Ukraine, to explore these very questions?

Researching the topic of Eros-Love, using Plato’s Symposium, Song of Solomon, Rilker’s Duino Elegies and the Hymn to Love from Corinthians as our inspiration, as well as traditional songs from our own retrospective cultures, guided by the firm, loving passion and humility of Stamatis Efstathiou, of Atropos Theatre, together we take a leap into the unknown.

Running for the 7th time, Energia explores body and vocal practices that inspire presence, process, unique creativity, discipline, patience and dropping the ego. Innovative, and surprising, the group Energia is guided in a way that I’m not quite sure where it’s going and I like it!

The day begins with morning train – my alarm sings Bobbie Gentry’s Hushabye Mountain, waking us from deep slumber at a painful 6.25am (snoozing for 10 minutes). We assemble on the grass outside, standing in height order to observe the misty morning mountains, our senses, inner and outer worlds. And then we begin to walk. Jog. Open the voice. Chase Stamatis’ dog Lucia (aka. the most beautiful dog in the world). Morning train is a lively, sometimes calmer, focused welcome to the day.

Following breakfast, home cooked with a massive helping of love by our host Petraska, we make our way across the wooden bouncy bridges over the river to our rustic wooden community centre that will be our studio and playground for the next 3 weeks. The smell of the outside village toilet wafts in a little too keenly for my liking, but it’s our special sacred space, and nothing can penetrate that. (Also, Stamatis says that it’s part of the discipline of the actor – not giving in to distraction.) I especially enjoy the ritual floor washing that takes place in shifts, me and Lenuchka quietly performing our duties whilst humming each others’ songs.

Working together all week, through a cold and rainy waterproof-poncho clad, wet shoes, when-will-my-laundry-dry experience, our first meeting with the community is fast approaching.

In Poland, there were mixed feelings. In Bulgaria, reception was good. In Greece, even more so. In Georgia, they thought it was a sect.

So basically we had no idea whether to expect any or many.

Nonetheless, part of our preparation involved making food to share with the audience, for after the performance. Having come from furthest afield (England, by way of Israel), I had been nominated to share some foreign cuisine. Fish and chips? I don’t think so. Hummus and falafel? No chickpeas available here. I think I’ll default to an Israeli in India style…rice and daal it is then. I’m amazed (also by my ignorance) that no one really knows what it is!

Clasping one handle each, we carry the big pot over the bridges, arriving at the studio to prepare the space and warm up.

People start arriving. Oh, I said to Olga, upon seeing the room quickly fill up, I didn’t even think about being nervous til now! Babies and old Babushka Grannies, there must have been a good 50-60 people!

After presenting a mixed programme of theatre and song created from our research that week, not really gauging how it was received overall, came our time to request. We have shared some of our gifts, said Stamatis playfully, may we ask for some in return- songs, dances?

There was a 3 second tense silence, during which we wondered if we would need to resort to our plan B of pushing Stamatis into the limelight to sing, when suddenly a young man whipped out his flute and erupted into a musical frenzy, and the community joined him in song! Our hearts exploded with delight.

After, an older man in more traditional dress sang and told us about traditional dances. You need ten men and ten women, he explained. Men and women don’t dance separately because that is incomplete.

Okay, we said, let’s do it! The group assembled and began to rotate in a fast, closely knit circular dance, which reminded me of the hora folk dance, something familiar from my Jewish background. He explained that the circle is danced so packed together because there was not much space in the houses. We then proceeded to a line dance in pairs and the excitement in the room was tangible. The whole space was filled with joy and we were truly ecstatic from this meeting of traditions.

The time then came to present the food. Eat, eat! Said the Jewish mother inside of me, worrying if there’ll be enough food. The man who led the dancing came over to tell me a little about the history of Jewish people in the Ukraine, and to Alexia, one of our Greek participants, that to compliment someone, you say they are Greek! He weaves connection through common ground and later I realized that he is most certainly a wisdom keeper/village storyteller.

Inspiration abounds, bellies are filled, stories are shared, hearts are opened.

Slowly the studio became empty once again, as we swept up the grains of rice that fell from dancing plates.

Svetlana, who cares for the community centre, returned with her homemade vodka, each of us drinking to and blessing the next person in the circle, as is her tradition. She insisted we drink its’ entirety, because otherwise it would be bad luck otherwise!

As we turned off the lights and closed the door, a jarring sound troubled our ears – a child crying and man shouting. We went outside to discover an old man beating a child with his walking stick. He was angry that his wife and child went to eat at our performance, and we didn’t quite understand why. Svetlana said he is jealous, but I am not sure the deeper truth of it.

After the commotion, we experience the bitter aftertaste coming down from our cloud of roses and kumbaya. Yes, a real and true connection was made with the community, but not in all cases a positive one. And how, as outsiders are we able or willing to intervene in matters probably more complex than we can understand? The shadow side of village life and indeed society is to be found everywhere and must not be ignored or untold.


Well into our second week, building up to our second showing, a theatre walk alongside (or in my case, inside) the banks of the river, I find myself simultaneously extremely grateful, humbled and challenged by this rare experience.

I am too reminded of the sheer beauty of travelling, doing a 180 since just some weeks ago, when I felt that I didn’t want to leave… I now I just want to stay on the road!

But that, my friends, is another story for next time…

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