The small town of Vire with a good ten thousand inhabitants is located in the department of Calvados. It is the smallest city in France that has one of the 38 French Centers Dramatique National, the state-sponsored theatres. Vlad Troitskyi and six of the seven performers from Dakh Daughters, a women’s band between poetry, theater and music, fled Ukraine to Vire in March. Here they worked on “Danse Macabre,” a theatrical form of self-defense against Russian onslaught. It premiered at the Odéon Theater in Paris.
In the Berthier hall near the Porte de Clichy there are small cardboard facades on the left side of the stage. Their little windows glow cosily, as a picture of a nocturnal urban landscape. Musical instruments are on the right. No sooner have the Dakh Daughters conquered the stage in tutu over punk lingerie than they start rocking, calling on the audience to dance along. Her song “Rozy / Donbass” electrified the Euromaidan in 2014; the band is gripping and proves it at the beginning of their dark dance of death in Paris.
As soon as the hall rocks, the party mood is already over. The Dakh Daughters turned up the heat to create a drop and commemorate the pre-Russian incursion. One suspects that the Ukraine, Kiev’s cultural scene was seething. But now the windows of the little houses light up fire-red and disappear from the stage, just like home. They become suitcases on wheels and populate the empty space, the Dakh Daughters wear trench coats – universal code for people on the go. A first text reminds of Job and the tests of his faith. Numbers express his wealth, a little later they are ciphers of death – as numbers of the victims in Bucha and Irpin. The report of a woman whose husband is murdered on the doorstep by two Russian soldiers, who then break into the house and rape her, is hard to bear. The “Danse Macabre” is an accusation, report and revue, music between post-punk and Ukrainian folk tunes.
Many songs are accompanied by choreographed images of the misery of the refugees: trolley cases crashing into each other, behind which one seeks protection from bullets or which become a walker for the injured. Only rarely do memories of a happy past intersect with episodes from childhood. Once the suitcases are set up like open shrines, lined with velvet and tulle and decorated with little figures. They stand for the child’s sources of life energy, of utopia and hope.
The freak cabaret suggests that war goes far beyond destruction and killing: it destroys the mental lifelines of even the unharmed. Almost plaintively, one of the performers in exile in France calls out: “But I’m safe”, as if it were a guilt to only carry the war in your heart and not on your skin.
The “Croa Croa”, the call of the crows, is the leitmotif of another song that depicts the destruction from a bird’s eye view. Driven by keyboard, drums and double bass, it pulsates, three of the 15 instruments that the performers master. Since 2012 they are part of Kiev Dakh Theater directed by Vlad Troitskyi.
Today, the Dakh Contemporary Arts Center is an independent cultural institution for music and theater. It was also the Russian-born actor, director and dramaturge Vlad Troitskyi who founded the Dakh Daughters in 2012 after the world music quartet DakhaBrakha. Their performance, at times ritualistic, at times rocking, sees itself as a kind of front-line theater in the fight against Russia’s aggression, albeit not one that plays at the front in Donbass, but is intended to open hearts for the fate of Ukrainian women in the European hinterland. In Paris it all went so quickly.