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Penn Live Arts Presents Ukraine: The Edge of Freedom

originally published: 01/16/2024

Penn Live Arts Presents Ukraine: The Edge of Freedom

(PHILADELPHIA, PA) -- Penn Live Arts (PLA) – the leading presenter of innovative and transformative performing arts experiences in Philadelphia – presents Ukraine: The Edge of Freedom, from Sunday, February 25, 2024 - Sunday, March 3, 2024. The project focuses on artists calling attention to the challenges Ukraine has been facing, kicking off with a performance by Balaklava Blues followed by performances by Ukrainian jazz pianist and film composer Fima Chupakhin, vocal artist and composer Mariana Sadovska, and finally, the avant-garde folk music group, DakhaBrakha. The festival also includes a Ukrainian Community Day celebrating local Ukrainian-American artists, and the opening of a new art exhibit by Kyiv-based artists Anna Khodkova and Kristina Yarosh, as the project highlights the artistry and soul of this European country rich with cultural history.

The first performance, co-presented with World Cafe Live, presents the Philadelphia debut performance of Balaklava Blues on Sunday, February 25, 2024 at 7:00pm at World Cafe Live. An activist-driven, genre-bending group mixing traditional folk music and transnational EDM, Balaklava Blues creates a soundscape with the echoes of revolution and war. Called “an evocation of human solidarity” by The Guardian, the group has invented a full-blown multimedia techno concert that aims to build empathy and understanding when we need it most, spotlighting Ukrainian experiences and music with universal themes of identity, displacement, oppression, and trauma.

Balaklava Blues is the brainchild of Mark and Marichka Marczyk, creators of the multi-award winning guerrilla-folk-opera Counting Sheep and leaders of the mighty Lemon Bucket Orkestra –  Canada’s notorious 12-piece balkan-party-punk-massive. Falling somewhere between a traditional song cycle and a full-blown multimedia techno show, the duo fuses Ukrainian polyphony and other folk traditions with EDM, trap, dubstep, and more as a launching pad to explore the seemingly never-ending blues that have long emanated from the Ukrainian steppe.

The two met during the 2014 revolution of dignity and ever since, have dedicated their creative energy to telling the stories of their home country to the world. Their 2015 play Counting Sheep garnered major critical acclaim winning several awards at the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe – including a Fringe First award and Amnesty International’s Freedom of Speech award. It has since had multiple successful runs in the U.S., UK, and Germany.

"Balaklava Blues music is a reclamation of the violence perpetrated on my home country,” says Mark Marczyk, who spent years back and forth between Ukraine and Canada before meeting Marichka there. “We want to redesign and remix physical  and psychological oppression and question how and why it continues to  inform who we are and what we can become.”

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In addition to music events included as part of Ukraine: The Edge of Freedom, Penn Live Arts opens Safety Instructions - the first-ever U.S. exhibition for Kyiv-based artists Anna Khodkova and Kristina Yarosh - with a reception and artist talk on Tuesday, February 27, 2024 at 5:00pm in the Annenberg Center Feintuch Family Lobby. Founders of the print studio Etchingroom1, Khodkova and Yarosh infuse their art with subtle humor and sharp sarcasm in an artistic exploration into the fragility and transience of safety within the modern world. Employing diverse techniques, including etching, silkscreen and drawing, the 14 graphic works on display make their public debut in February and remain on exhibit until Friday, June 28, 2024.

Etchingroom1 is the name of the printing studio founded in 2016 by Kristina Yarosh and Anna Khodkova, two graphic artists based in Kyiv. Their first exhibition was organized in 2016 in Kyiv by ArtEast Gallery. They work with several techniques such as etching (with acid) on copper plates, linocut, engraving on cardboard, monotype, silk screen printing, and often mix them in a single artwork. This artwork is made with the technique of etching on copper plate, into which the design has been incised by acid.

Ukraine's Soviet past deeply permeates their work. The mosaics that they started creating during the first lockdown, for example, are made out of upcycled USSR tiles. From an aesthetic point of view, their figurative style is both realistic and eccentric, thus creating a world of their own. The buildings that are regularly represented in their etchings or in their mosaics are typical of the Soviet era and still mark the urban landscape of Kyiv today. Every work of etchingroom1 is a journey through time and space, marked by a very specific aesthetic, but with which we inevitably identify.

Transmitting is also essential for the artists: as a studio they launched an educational program and regularly give masterclasses to art students to teach them their etching and engraving techniques. In 2018, they were offered an artistic residence in Caen, France, and gave masterclasses in the Ecole Supérieure d’Arts et Médias while there.

On Thursday, February 29, 2024 at 7:30pm at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Brooklyn-based Ukrainian jazz pianist and film composer Fima Chupakhin makes his Penn Live Arts debut with the world premiere of The Song of Tomorrow, a commissioned work dedicated to the resilience and perseverance of the Ukrainian people. Leader of the award-winning Acoustic Quartet jazz group in Ukraine, this rising star first came to the U.S. to study on a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship and is now a versatile player and producer on the New York scene.

Yukhym (Fima) Chupakhin was born in Krivoy Rog, an industrial city in the east part of Ukraine. He was first exposed to music at the age of five when his mother bought him a small childish piano. Since that time, Fima fell in love with music and the sound of piano. He was exposed to classical piano repertoire and choir music when he entered a music school, and that significantly influenced his future musical outlook. During his last year in school, Fima discovered the world of jazz and decided to study it along with classical music at the Krivoy Rog Music College. At college, Fima became more confident about his path as a jazz musician after attending a concert of the famous Ukrainian jazz pianist and composer Segey Davidov. A few years later, Davidov became Fima's teacher and mentor at the State Kharkiv University of the Arts.

In 2005, Fima Chupakhin started his jazz career, entering the First Moscow International Jazz Piano Competition. In 2007, Fima formed his own jazz project, Acoustic Quartet (AQ), with which he recorded three albums of mostly original music. In 2010, Acoustic Quartet won a Gran-Prix at the prestigious Jazz Competition for the Young Performers at Usadba Jazz Festival. Since that time, the group became one of the most famous Ukrainian jazz groups in the Post Soviet Union area, and Fima one of the top-ranked young Ukrainian jazz pianists. In addition, Fima has gained a reputation of being a prolific cross-genre keyboardist, as he has participated in the recording of 15 crossover albums. He also has been extensively touring with AQ and with  famous Ukrainian pop/rock artists in Poland, Germany, Czech Republic, Georgia, Israel, Russia, and Belarus.

In 2012, Fima was awarded the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship to pursue his studies in the U.S. from 2012-2014. He holds two master's degrees in jazz studies from William Paterson University of New Jersey and Kharkiv State University of Arts (Ukraine). At William Paterson University, Fima  shaped his unique voice under the leadership of the highly acclaimed pianist James Weidman, and other great musicians, including Armen Donelian, Steve LaSpina, Vincent Herring, Rich Perry, and the legendary pianist Mulgrew Miller.

Vocal artist and composer Mariana Sadovska blends Ukrainian folk song, avant-garde theater and social activism in her Penn Live Arts debut performance on Friday, March 1, 2024 at 7:00pm at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. Her travels along the front lines of the first invasion of eastern Ukraine inspired a unique musical production, The Night is Just Beginning, that The New York Times called a “startling drama from traditionalist songs turned contemporary in a set that [spans] folklore, humor, grief and rage. Her voice holds the clarity and bite of Slavic folk styles; her stage presence has the bright-eyed intensity of Björk or PJ Harvey."

Eastern European critics call her the ”Ukrainian Bjork”. In her energetic programs, Mariana Sadovska - singer, actress, and composer - creates a fusion of folk and avant-garde; archaic midsummer night invocations, wedding songs, and emigrant chants from remote villages in rural Ukraine are transfigured into contemporary sound.

Creating her own innovative compositions and arrangements in dialogue with ancient traditions, Mariana approaches each piece with a fresh and uniquely personal vision. Her vocal power and range even prompted The New York Times to compare her with rock star Polly Jean Harvey.

Born in Lviv, Ukraine, Mariana Sadovska trained as a classical pianist at Lviv’s National Music Academy and in her late teens joined the Les’ Kurbas Theatre, one of Ukraine’s leading theater companies. From 1991 to 2001, Mariana worked as a principal actress, composer, and music director at the Teatr Gardzienice in Poland. Gardzienice is renowned for its original “anthropological-experimental” performances based on years of fieldwork studying ancient cultures in isolated rural areas of the world. With Gardzienice, Mariana traveled throughout Eastern and Western Europe as well as to Brazil, Egypt, Japan, the UK, and the United States, appearing and in some cases co-creating the company’s productions. In 1998, for her role in Metamorfozy, she won the “Best Actress Award” given by the Polish Theatre Union. As the musical director of the Gardzienice Theatre, she conducted numerous workshops at colleges, universities, and arts centers around the world, including one with the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford, UK.

A grant from the Earth Foundation brought her to New York in 2001. There, she produced her first concerts of experimental and improvised music with musicians such as Anthony Coleman, Michael Alpert, Frank London, and Victoria Hanna. In 2002, she released her first CD, Songs I Learned in Ukraine (Global Village Records). She also began appearing regularly in concerts and workshops in the U.S,, including at Public Theater, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Princeton, Harvard, NY University, and Symphony Space New York. Numerous scholarships, such as the prestigious “Fulbright” (USA), “Kunstlerstipendium Staatskanzlei” (NRW/Germany), and the “Art Atelier” Program curated by Toni Morrison at Princeton University, allowed her to continue her music theory studies and work on dramatic compositions both at home and abroad.

These experiences and exchanges abroad launched Mariana’s global career as an experimental solo performer utilizing her voice together with harmonium or piano. She has performed on stages in Germany, Switzerland, Italy, the UK, Ukraine, Armenia, Afghanistan, Turkey, Israel and the U.S. With her composition The Rusalka Cycle – songs between the worlds she was asked to participate in many international music festivals, such as Giving Voice (Poland), Globalize: Cologne (Germany), and Revolutions International Theatre Festival in Albuquerque (USA).

Back in Germany, Sadovska founded her band, Borderland, to experiment with interpretations of traditional songs and chants from Ukraine. With Borderland, she appeared at the WDR Radio Hall, Festival TFF Rudolstadt, Cologne Philharmonic Festival Musiktrienale at Alter Wartesaal, for SouthWest Radio at Broadcasting Center in Mainz, and in the world music series Klangkosmos NRW. In 2006, she and Borderland were awarded the Creole Award for World Music in NRW and in 2007 they were nominated for the Creole National Award.

Since 2001, Mariana Sadovska has also collaborated with a variety artists and groups, composing vocal music for different international theatre and music ensembles in Germany, Poland, Czech, the U.S., and Ukraine. Her composition of SCLAVI – the song of an emigrant with Farm in the Cave of Prague was nominated for the Alfred-Radok Award in 2006. She also composed music scores for the following theater performances: Caesarean Section (Wroclaw, 2007), Singing through the Darkness (Oakland, 2010), Song of the Forest (Lviv, 2011), Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Lviv / Wroclaw, 2012) and Camille (Wroclaw, 2013).

Several years ago, she also joined together with Cologne-based instrumentalist and composer Christian Thome to start a new duo project, VESNA (formerly Cut the Cord). Aside from multiple performances at home and abroad, Vesna toured the UK in 2015 and released its first CD in spring 2016 on the Flowfish Records label.

Penn Live Arts celebrates Philadelphia’s connection to Ukrainian culture with a Ukrainian Community Day on Sunday, March 3, 2024 at 3:00pm at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. With performances by the Prometheus Ukrainian Male Chorus, Voloshky Ukrainian Dance Ensemble and students from Philadelphia Performing Arts: A String Theory Charter School, PLA showcases local Ukrainian American artists in this free, family-friendly event leading up to the evening’s highly-anticipated performance by DakhaBrakha.

Kyiv’s riotous, sonic feast and visual spectacle, DakhaBrakha makes its Penn Live Arts debut on Sunday, March 3, 2024 at 7:00pm at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. The quartet calls its sound “ethno-chaos,” a moniker that perfectly describes the fusion of ancient Ukrainian folk melodies into a tapestry that embraces indie rock, pop, hip hop, the avant-garde, and traditional instrumentation from the surrounding world. DakhaBrakha’s subversive musical synthesis is fresh, spirited, and urgent, with a message of peace and solidarity in uncertain times.

DakhaBrakha — is a world-music quartet from Kyiv, Ukraine. Reflecting fundamental elements of sound and soul, Ukrainian “ethnic chaos” band DakhaBrakha, creates a world of unexpected new music.

The name DakhaBrakha is original, outstanding, and authentic at the same time. It means “give/take” in the old Ukrainian language.

DakhaBrakha was created in 2004 at the Kyiv Dakh Contemporary Arts Center by the avant-garde theater director Vladyslav Troitskyi. Theater work has left its mark on the band performances; their shows have never been staged without the scenic effects.

Having experimented with Ukrainian folk music, the band has added rhythms of the surrounding world into their music, thus creating a bright, unique, and unforgettable image of DakhaBrakha. It will help to open up the potential of Ukrainian melodies and to bring it to the hearts and consciousness of the younger generation in Ukraine and the rest of the world as well.

Accompanied by traditional instrumentation from different countries, the quartet’s astonishingly powerful and uncompromising vocal range creates a transnational sound rooted in Ukrainian culture.  At the crossroads of Ukrainian folklore and theater, their musical spectrum is intimate then riotous, plumbing the depths of contemporary roots and rhythms, inspiring “cultural and artistic liberation.”

DakhaBrakha has played concerts and performances and has taken part in numerous international festivals in Ukraine, France, Great Britain, Ireland, Austria, Slovenia, Netherlands, Belgium, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Rumunia, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Germany, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Norvegia, Belarus, Georgia, Hungary, Poland, Chine, Australia, USA, Canada, Colombia, New Zealand, and Brazil.

DakhaBrakha has projects with such musicians as Port Mone (By), Kimmo Pohjonen Cluster (Fi), Karl Frierson (DePhazz) (Ge), Steve Cooney (IRL), Inna Zhelannaya (Ru), Kievbass (UA), Djam (UA-Iran), David Ingibaryan (Hu).

In 2010, DakhaBrakha won one of the most prestigious Grand Prix prize, named after S. Kuriokhin in the sphere of contemporary art and confirmed its actuality once again. In 2011, DakhaBrakha became the discovery of Australian Womadelaide.

DakhaBrakha reached the final competition in the Shevchenko National Prize in the Musical Arts category and also became the awardees of 2020. On top of that, the group released its fourth album, Alambari, which was recorded in autumn 2019 in Brazil on Gargolandia studio.

Penn Live Arts (PLA), headquartered at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, is the leading presenter of innovative and transformative performing arts experiences in Philadelphia. A vital resource for the performing arts at the University of Pennsylvania, PLA is an artistic crossroads joining Penn and the greater Philadelphia region through world-class music, dance, theatre, and film on campus and at venues throughout the city, serving an annual audience of over 80,000. Penn Live Arts emphasizes artistic and intellectual excellence and diversity in its offerings; prioritizes broad inclusiveness in the artists, audiences, and groups it serves; and expands arts access by actively engaging a wide range of audiences and inclusive communities from campus, the West Philadelphia neighborhood, and the surrounding region.



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