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The Puppet Theatre in Kyiv, which was set up 80 years ago, gets a new magnificent building
Inna DOROFIYENKO, an artist-restorer, takes a look at the new building of the Puppet Theatre; Ms Dorofiyenko is the chief artist-restorer of the Ukrrestavratsiya Corporation and a member of the Academy of Construction.
In the fall of 2007, the Puppet Theatre in Kyiv will mark its 80th anniversary. The new building of the theatre that was recently built, gets its share of both critical remarks and public praise for its rather unusual architecture and for its exterior decoration and interior decor. The site for the theatre — on the hill of one of Kyiv’s central parks — has been chosen well. It can be seen from afar and seems to be inviting both to the children and their parents to come to see plays performed there. And the full house for the Puppet Theatre is a regular occurrence.
Theatre in Europe is more than twenty five hundred years old. The forms and styles changed but the attractive power of the theatre has almost always remained strong.
The ancient Greek cities in the Crimea must have had their theatres — the ruins of one such theatre that date to the third century BC unearthed in the 1970s in the area of what used to be the ancient Greek city of Chersoneses, is the evidence of that. In fact, the ancient theatre is in such a good state of preservation that it is possible to stage plays there. Performances in that theatre are a great tourist attraction.
A visit to the theatre is a special occasion for many people. Ladies put on their evening dresses, have their hair made; men chose their better suits and all the accessories to match. This expectation of being carried away by the theatre magic is not much less exciting than the performance itself. And the architecture of the theatre, where the performance is to take place, and its interiors — all add their touches to a joyous event we call “a visit to the theatre.”
Of course, there are all kinds of theatres now, and some of them require jeans to be worn rather than tuxedos but I prefer the traditional style, in which the dresses, the lighting, the interior decor — all combine to create a very special atmosphere of a theatrical performance. Even the sounds of the orchestra tuning up in the orchestra pit are a presage to something wonderful to begin. And when the lights go out, you are transported into the magic world.
Children who are ingenuous and emotional, are a grateful audience and the theatres they are taken to should have something of a fairy tale in them. The new building of the Puppet Theatre in Kyiv meets this requirement.
The Ukrrestavratsiya Corporation did a lot of restoration in the theatres of Odesa, Kyiv, Lviv and the Crimea, but the task it was asked to perform for the new building of the Puppet Theatre in Kyiv was of a very unusual kind. The theatre was to be built at the site where an old cinema house stood. The movie theatre was to be pulled down to give way to a new building but there was one feature of the old one which would be a pity to lose. It was a mosaic that was created in 1936–1937. The design was provided by the artist B. Frolov. It was decided that the mosaic was good art and it would be worth getting it off the old wall and transferring it to one of the walls of the new theatre. Besides its artistic value, it also had a considerable sentimental value for many of those Kyivans who used to go to the Dnipro movie theatre to see films there.
The task was not a simple one. The mosaic of twenty four square metres had a reinforced concrete foundation and it did take a lot of ingenuity and careful engineering to remove it from the wall without doing any damage to it. The removal and reinstallation was performed by Leonid Totsky, Leonid Zarutsky and other artists and restorers and, of course, skilful workers. Now the salvaged mosaic graces the facade of the new Puppet Theatre.
The location of the theatre is truly advantageous — it sits among the trees of one of the oldest parks in Kyiv called Khreshchatytsky. The beautifully landscaped park was laid out in the nineteenth century and the successive eras and tastes gave it different names which reflected the changing times.
The decision taken by the city authorities to build a new building for the Puppet Theatre in the Khreshchatytsky Park was good news for the actors of the theatre — for a number of years they did not have their own building and were forced to rent the building of the former synagogue. When the synagogue was returned to the Jewish religious community, the Puppet Theatre found itself without a stage altogether and had to perform at makeshift places. And now the Puppet Theatre has a building of its own to perform in.
The Puppet Theatre of today is a place worth coming to see for its own decorative and architectural merits. It does look more like a fairy-tale castle than a theatre. One can say that in many of its architectural features the theatre’s design is eclectic but it seems to be the right kind of eclectics justified by the purpose. There are elements of different architectural styles and trends to be seen in the exterior and interiors of the theatre — motifs and borrowings from the Renaissance, Romanesque, Art Nouveau are among the most conspicuous ones.
A lot of careful thought was given to all the decorative elements — the murals, light fixtures, doors, you name it. Some of the murals were inspired by those ancient frescoes from the eleventh-century Holy Sophia Cathedral of Kyiv, which depict musicians and itinerant actors; others reflect the artists’ fascination with fairy tales, both folk tales and those that were written by professional authors in much more recent times.
Big aquariums with fish and other sea creatures in them are echoed in murals (created by Oleksa and Lesya Hryhorivs) that depict the underwater sea world, and in light fixtures shaped like sea shells or jellyfish. Everywhere in the theatre the world of the fairy tale comes in touch with the world of reality. Gnomes and other fabulous creatures can be glimpsed in nooks and crannies.
Personages from fairy tales, well known to Ukrainian children, and from Ukrainian legends and myths appear in the frescoes — Kyrylo the Leather-Dresser, Kiy, Shchek and Khoriv and others — created by V. Pryadka and O. Vladymyrova.
The Firebird and Three Brothers from a fairy tale, whose main theme is the quest for love and happiness, in the interpretation of O. Melnyk, are depicted with a baroque lavishness in the interior, which is also stylized to resemble Baroque flourishes.
The forth floor was originally to be decorated with representations of real and fantastic spaceships but then it was decided to enliven the walls with a Ukrainian fairy tale Rukavychka (The Mitten). You can see forest creatures who found refuge from cold in the fairy tale mitten, peeking out of it in the snowbound wood.
A number of other artistic ideas failed to be implemented too. I find it particularly regretful that a mural based on Lesya Ukrayinka’s Lisova Pisnya (Forest Song) never materialized. On the other hand, I find it was an excellent idea to create a sort of a puppet museum right in the spacious lobby of the theatre. The puppets exhibited there trace the history of the theatre through some of the plays staged in the past eighty years of its existence.
Walking into one of the halls of the theatre, you find yourself in a throne room, with walls decorated with quite real landscapes of Ukraine, displaying splendid castles, graceful wooden churches, lofty mountains, and luring seashores.
The figure of Popelyushka — Ukrainian Cinderella — wears a rich Ukrainian traditional dress with all the little details and accessories forming a harmonious whole. The artist, Kateryna Shtanko, used authentic dresses preserved in museum collections as a starting point and inspiration for her creation.
Walking through the halls of the theatre or around it, one can’t help wondering who enjoy more the architecture, mosaics, murals, fabulous and real creatures tucked in the corners — the children or their parents. In one of the fountains you recognize the central personage from Hans Christian Andersen’s tale Thumbelina, and a personage from Aleksey Tolstoy’s tale The Golden Key welcomes you at the entrance.
In many of us, no matter what age we are, there lives a desire to leave the world of harsh reality for a little while and take a trip into the world of fantasy and fairy tale. The Puppet Theatre provides this opportunity.
Incidentally, on the repertoire of the theatre you can find plays meant for grown-ups too rather than only for children — among them are plays based on works of Ivan Franko, Lesya Ukrayinka, and even on Giovanni Bocaccio’s Decameron.
Photos by Oleksiy ONISHCHUK
Lyalkovy teatr —
the Puppet Theatre
1-a Hrushevskoho Str., Kyiv
Tel.: + 380 (44) 278-0566
Plays are performed
each Saturday and Sunday.
Mural by Oleksandr Melnyk based
During an intermission.
A scene from the play Zhenchyk-Brenchyk,
A scene from the play Piven-Zhar,
A scene from Lesya Ukrayinka’s
Mural by Kostyantyn Lavro, based
Mural by Volodymyr Pryadka