Don’t make the same mistake I did and go toDakh Daughtersexpecting an evening of theatre; it’s a concert by a Ukrainian band.
There are theatrical elements to be sure. Dakh Daughters is an all-women ensemble and their costumes (designed by director Vlad Troitskyi) are a trip; the musicians start off wearing green smock dresses that make them look like factory workers, but they’re also wearing whiteface make-up and they have blood-red flowers in their hair. The combination is kind of Soviet-brutalism-meets-Frida-Kahlo.
And Mariia Volkova has created an incredible video design that scrolls up, down, and sideways, filling the proscenium with crazy rich imagery that includes collages—geometric patterns, roses, traditional representations of Ukranian women, and human organs—as well as fabrics, figures from Hieronymus Bosch, and what appears to be woodcuts.
Impressively, the band members trade around, playing different instruments at different times—accordion, drums, cello, keyboards, guitar, violin—and they sing in dense harmonies that are the aural equivalent of black bread.
They are almost always singing in Ukrainian and, although there are often surtitles, the English-language translations are small and hard to read—often totally obscured by other lighting cues.
The overall tone seems to involve a good deal of grim stoicism leavened by romantic longing and spiced with bursts of punk-rock anger.
There’s one song about leaving home—possibly as refugees—and others seem to refer to thwarted lesbian longing (“I love her. I love her little braids”) and limited opportunities for women (“Getting married is better for you”).
That’s about all I got out of it, though. Trying to make sense of this performance, I felt like I was scraping hard earth in search of sustenance. After a while, my fingernails got bloody and I gave up.
Then, during the curtain call, a couple of the performers spoke in English, decrying Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the futility of war. Released from the confines of their performance, the musicians were charming, transparent, and passionate. I understood more in those few minutes than I had understood in the whole set that preceded them.
DAKH DAUGHTERS Composed by Dakh Daughters Band, Vlad Troitskyi. Directed by Vlad Troitskyi. A Dakh Daughters production presented by The Cultch. At the York Theatre on Tuesday, January 15. Continues until January 19.Tickets.
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