Content Warning: Discussion of Sexual Violence
Is it Shakespeare? Is it Roman tragedy? Is it a passionate cry about the desecration of Ukraine? Whatever its’ true nature, L_UKR_ECE is a gut-wrenching wound, let to bleed by a dazzling central performance from Kateryna Hordiienko. Hordiienko emerges on stage draped in white cloth, but beneath the facade we see already blood red fabric oozing through. Hordiienko guides us through a ritualistic flagellation derived from Shakespeare’s poem The Rape of Lucrece, but dripping in Ukrainian folk naturalism, and rhythmic, cathartic movement that sees Hordiienko snap and weave her body around the stage. Every bit of it as mesmerising, engulfing and technically instrisic as the last.
Lucrece here becomes a metaphor for Director Tania Shelepko’s homeland, and though the narrative veil is thin we are dragged to be exposed to an expression of raw pain in the face of violence. There is no plot-driven strand to follow, only moments of frenetic release imbued within gaping silences. Hordiienko snaps between flailing around the stage, pulsating across it in bursts of folk dance and being confined to its’ undefined edges as we watch in horror as her body is violated by an unseen force. There are some especially potent and visceral moments – as we see a symbiosis of breathing and body movement at one point Hordiienko creates the presence of the unseen attacker in short, tortured breaths and violent grabbing of her body. While this could run the risk of seeming po-faced, there is nothing but tormented authenticity writhing through the performance, and you can’t look away.
L_UKR_ECE sits at the intersection of violence-induced trauma, womanhood and the human rights violations committed in Ukraine since Russia’s invasion began and far further back in time. The evocation of historical text is pertinent – a reminder of both the corporeal and very present moment we are witnessing unfold in modern war crimes, while equally a cry to see those crimes against a backdrop of eternality and recurrence. The body, the country, the figure of the woman in society – an understanding of suffering across time requires a spiritual actualisation of the essence of pain. The show achieves just that – a ritualistic revelation of bodily suffering that envelopes the audience entirely for much of its’ duration.
To contrast this, however, the moments of cultural bliss that are scattered across the piece flow naturally against the tide of pain. The poems of Ukrainian National Poet Taras Shevchenko are read alongside those of female writers like Lesia Ukrainka and Christina Bila. In the moments of nationalised revelation, Hordiienko’s body calls upon a reviling rebellious spirit. In the infliction of pain, the Lucrece we see on stage never finds comfort nor resolution, but instead rapture and calling. I have a little academic understanding of the Ukrainian national canon, but it is so passionately unwrapped in L_UKR_ECE that it feels accessible and relevant. Even the sections performed in Ukrainian never feel out of reach, instead an invitation to embody and be present rather than listen and precisely understand.
This is a piece of work that is so expressive and relentless, I feel genuinely privileged to have witnessed it at this important moment in the Ukrainian people’s national story.
Recommended Drink: L_UKR_ECE is a shot of Ukrainian Horilka – potent as anything.