Normally, Serhiy Burko (67) wears his tails when he lets the baton dance elegantly through the air. Normally, a large orchestra with dozens of instruments sits across from him, hardly taking his eyes off his hand signals.
Today Burko is wearing jeans and a t-shirt. His tails must have been burned by now, he says, along with the rest of his belongings. Four musicians from his Ukrainian orchestra are sitting behind him on the stage of the Aeschbachhalle in Aarau AG. Like Burko, they fled Ukraine to Switzerland. They tell their story in the play «L’viv vivid».
The last symphony before the bombing
It’s been four years since Burko founded the Mariupol Philharmonic with a friend. Burko, who is actually from Lviv, conducted one of the last concerts at the Mariupol Drama Theater alongside his friend. More than a thousand spectators came, Burko recalls. “We played the Ukrainian national anthem – and everyone in the hall stood up.”
Hundreds of civilians sought shelter in the theater in Mariupol after the outbreak of war. In large Cyrillic letters, they pointed out on the forecourt who made up a large part of them: “Children”. Despite this, on March 16, a Russian air raid bombed the theater to rubble. About 600 people died.
Burko and his wife fled to Switzerland just a few days after the outbreak of war. Meanwhile they live in Lugano TI. In the Aeschbachhalle, Burko is now on stage twice at every performance: live in front of the four-piece orchestra and a second time on the screen behind it. The video recording shows his last concert in the Mariupol Drama Theater. Back when everything was normal.
In the clothes they came in
25 musicians, artists and actresses tell their stories in the piece. They all fled from the Ukraine to Switzerland just a few weeks ago. Through music, dance and circus elements, they want to process and tell what they have experienced since the outbreak of war. On the initiative of the Swiss director Dominic Ulli (53), they put together a play in just ten days.
The difference to other plays: The people on the stage don’t wear costumes and they don’t act. They are wearing the clothes in which they had to flee to Switzerland. Bombs, sirens, mobilization: the play always begins on February 24 with the outbreak of war.
At the center of the story is the escape of one of the women in the theater group, whose husband was killed a few days after the outbreak of war. In the crowd at the train station, she is separated from her daughter and has to head west on her own. Into an uncertain future. The escape stories of all participants flow into the story. “The piece is hard stuff,” says Ulli. “But at the same time full of infinite love and hope.”
80 percent of the income goes to Ukrainian artists
Director Ulli usually spends several months in Ukraine every year, producing shows there. This was also the case this February, when the early morning air raid alarm roused the country from sleep to war. Ulli got in the car and left the Ukraine as quickly as possible.
Since he is well connected in the local cultural scene, cultural workers who fled back to Switzerland soon asked him for help with accommodation. For Ulli it was clear: “If I can help in any way, I want to help.” On the way home from the train station, just as he was picking up one of his Ukrainian acquaintances who had fled, the idea for a joint play came up.
Gradually, other Ukrainian artists joined, who found a temporary home in Freiburg, Zurich, Aarau and other places in Switzerland. Including artists who otherwise also appear in the Cirque du Soleil. Ulli, who has been working on the stage for decades, says: “We had to create a completely new form of theatre.” The production is a joint effort: the operators of the Aeschbachhalle made their stage available free of charge. Smartec sponsored the event technology.
The aim of the performance: to give the fleeing Ukrainians some stability and an income again. 40 percent of the income goes to the artists, 20 percent to the production costs. The remainder is to be used to support cultural institutions in Ukraine after the end of the war. “Our goal is to do as many shows as possible so that the artists could earn some money,” says Ulli.
Art lives on on the Swiss stage
For the group it is much more than just a theater project: Before each rehearsal, we discuss what has happened in the meantime in the home country and in the lives of the individuals. “I don’t think I’ve cried so much in my life,” says Ulli.
But between the endless sadness there are always small moments of joy, says conductor Burko. He hasn’t heard from his friend from the stage in Mariupol for over a month. “We all thought he was dead.” Then the great relief: He made it to Berlin.
Burko sent him a video of the theater premiere last Thursday. “He cried and said it felt like we were back together on stage in Mariupol.” Nothing is normal for the conductor from Mariupol and his theater group at the moment. His goal is to one day play again with his big orchestra in the Ukraine. The project gives him hope: “It is true that there is war in our homeland. But our art lives on in Switzerland on stage.”
“L’viv vivid”: Always from 8 p.m. in the Aeschbachhalle in Aarau AG, the data is regularly published and updated at www.aha.ag/lviv-vivid. The next performances are on June 2nd, 3rd and 4th.