Marco Levytsky, Western Bureau Chief.
Lianna Makuch’s riveting and heart-rending tour-de-force “Blood of Our Soil” received a tremendous response from Edmonton audiences during its 10-day run at the Westbury Theatre, March 1-10.
Eight of the 10 originally scheduled performances were completely sold out, the remaining two almost full and an additional matinee was added March 10, as enthralled members of the audience for the first showings quickly passed the word on to their friends.
Blood of Our Soil is a unique creative production depicting the struggles of the Ukrainian people against the atrocities of Stalin, to the horrors of Hitler, while drawing disturbing parallels to the current Putin regime.
A personal and emotional performance experience, Blood of Our Soil integrates dramatic storytelling, live Ukrainian folk music, a fusion of Ukrainian and contemporary dance, and a projection design that paints a landscape of both beauty and terror.
It reveals the personal stories of those at the heart of political turmoil, spanning generations from WWII to Europe’s forgotten war in Eastern Ukraine, and gives voice to the voiceless people whose lives have been changed forever by the frozen conflict.
The first half is based upon the workshop production presented last year and consists of a monologue by Makuch in which she plays two roles – herself reminiscing about her relationship with her baba and her Baba, who recollects the flight from Ukraine.
The character of her Baba is a composite of both her grandmothers – Kateryna Hnat Makuch, her paternal one, whose journal detailed her flight from Western Ukraine in 1944 served as the inspiration for this play, and her maternal grandmother, Anna Maryn from Central Ukraine, who survived the genocidal Holodomor (forced famine) of 1932-33.
Makuch’s monologue is enhanced by the interpretive dance of Oscar Derkx, Julia Guy, Maxwell Lebeuf, and Tanya Pacholok, as well as the musical interludes of Larissa Pohoreski.
That workshop, presented one year earlier was widely acclaimed – even getting a mention in the House of Commons where Edmonton Strathcona MP Linda Duncan (who also attended this year’s production) noting: “[Blood of Our Soil] is the most powerful presentation that I have seen of the long history of travesties that the people of Ukraine have suffered from the time of Stalin through Hitler and now under Putin.”
The initial workshop also contained a brief second act relating to the current war in the Donbas region. However, in between these two productions, in October 2017, Makuch, along with Pyretic Production associates Patrick Lundeen and Matthew MacKenzie, travelled to Eastern Ukraine and conducted interviews with close to 50 internally displaced persons, government officials, soldiers, and many others affected by the conflict to get a sense of the human tragedy unfolding in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s proxy invasion.
This resulted in the creation of five composite characters: Volunteer soldiers Pavlo (played by Derkx) and Misha (Lebeuf), sisters Natalka (Pacholok) and Katya (Pohoreski) and young mother Yelena (Guy) who interact with Makuch’s own character of Kateryna in relating their experiences.
This expanded second act is a very moving and powerful account of the horrors of war and the very personal tragedies endured by the innocent victims caught in the crosshairs of Russian aggression that brings this very brutal conflict to life in a very real and tragic manner.
The current conflict and the past ones are brought into their proper perspective with Makuch’s insightful commentary of Ukraine’s history which is so often inundated with the metaphorical “Blood of Our Soil”: “My Baba’s question still rings true and it is a question I find myself asking of her ancestral homeland: will we live to see that moment when Ukraine joins ‘the circle of free nations?’.”
The play was directed by Patrick Lundeen, with Movement Direction by Alida Kendell, Stage Management by Lore Green, Production Design by Stephanie Bahniuk, Music Direction by Larissa Pohoreski, Projection/Sound Design by Nicholas Mayne and Dramaturgy by Matthew MacKenzie.