Ivan Svitailo: a discussion about the theater, plans for life and the situation in Ukraine

The Greek newspaper “Risospastis” presented an interesting interview with Ivan Svitailo, which resulted in a discussion about the theatre, its plans for the future and the situation in Ukraine.

Choreographer, dancer and actor was born in Crimea. His Ukrainian father, Pontian mother, has been living in Greece for the last 25 years… Ivan Svitaylo welcomed us to Φοίνικα, a cultural complex under construction in Neos Kozmos.

Ivan told imerodromos.gr about Moby Dick, the performance in which he plays the main role, his dream to turn the new space into a “boiling cauldron” in which a fusion of culture and creativity is brewed, and what is happening in Ukraine today.

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For almost two months now, scenes of a “journey” to the seas and the depths of the human psyche have been unfolding in the Christmas Theater. The occasion was the staging of one of Herman Melville’s most widely read novels, Moby Dick.

What, after all, makes people admire this story written so many years ago? “I believe it has to do with the deep human need to control what is not controlled, to rule what is not controlled, to conquer what is not conquered… It is a complex and primordial human need to transcend one’s potential and oneself. There is a metaphor for whaling. Ishmael’s journey takes us into a multi-dimensional world full of adventures and containing deep messages for man … “.

In this performance, he had to face a very difficult role. What was the biggest problem? “While music is an important part of my experience as a dancer, here I was invited to do the vocal arrangement. The 30,000-word libretto by Dimitris Papadimitriou made enormous demands. You see, this is not a verse-chorus, a verse-chorus …

I had to seriously deal with this complex structure, which reaches the limits of the lyric singer. And the more I immersed myself in music, the more seriously I studied melodies and libretto, the easier it was for me to discover this role, its madness and all those details that I wanted to reveal in the character I play. And it was the most beautiful in the “journey” that I made with the “captains” D. Papadimitriou and our director G. Kakleas.

For this, I prepared hard for 8 months with George Samartzis. I knew him from the Lyrika Skini Theatre. He offered me a technique without which I would not have continued to do what I am doing now: “Otherwise, I could not stand on stage for three and a half hours and use my larynx correctly.”

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Of course, most of our conversation is occupied by the Finikas cultural complex under construction. Ivan does not hide his joy and pride when he tells us about his new venture.

“I discovered this building when I moved to the area 3 years ago. My wife’s pregnancy was the perfect time to set some goals and realize a dream that I think every professional dancer has. To have a place where you can continue to serve the art by teaching others.

With costs and great personal effort, we will be ready to start from September. I would like to thank Georgios Hardanos and Artemis Dedoulis of EKCA who put their trust in me and provided me with the building, as well as the architects Katerina Kotsia and Strato Diakaki.

Here both old and young will be able to learn dancing, theater and music. They will have the opportunity to dance, move, study, sing, rehearse and attend workshops.

I also want it to be an “open to all” space next door. I would like it to be a space of culture, so that the residents get the opportunity to learn, for example, traditional dances. It is an activity that brings people together. Because dance is not just entertainment, it is rallying, it is a group, it is a team…”.

Search for the truth

The conversation gradually turns to the events taking place in Ukraine now, i.e. the country where he comes from. He is currently hosting an aunt and cousin from Kharkov. Their house was destroyed. The baby wakes up at night, frightened by planes flying over the house. Their lives have changed dramatically.

“These people are psychologically crippled. And unfortunately, they cannot analyze the geopolitical game between big states and superpowers. They feel hatred for one of the parties or both at once,” says Ivan.

He himself insists on “going back in history” and being able to explain what is happening today. And he owes this to his parents. “They met at the university in Kharkov. Father and mother studied history. In this way, they also taught us to look into the “past”, to know the history of our country.”

Ivan tells us: “I am not afraid. I broadcast my truth, my history, my traditions. What scares me, however, is the dominant direction that the media is following. It scares me that cultural figures are encouraged to support a certain line, otherwise they are rejected.

Ivan’s life

“I was born in 1985 in Yalta, in the Crimea. My father was Ukrainian. My mother comes from a Greek, Pontic family, from the districts of Trabzon (in 1920 it was Crimea, which later became Soviet. Since then, a lot has happened. And the United Nations stopped recognizing us, because the territory was annexed to Russia. ”

We ask him to tell if he has any memories of those years when the Russian and Ukrainian peoples lived as brothers in the country they “built” together. “I have a lot of memories. We didn’t feel the need to tell another what shouldn’t be. Emphasize the superiority of one culture over another. It was incredibly easy for us to be who we wanted to be. To have a common language, Russian, to be both Greeks and Armenians, and everyone else.

Yalta was a summer resort. Life was churning! In the summer they came from all over the USSR. The concerts went on, there was cleanliness and order … But then it all came to an end. Its end. With the split, it was like we were on a roller coaster. You know, even order and courtesy have been lost. Previously, in addition to public and free health care, education, culture, there was unity on universal human values. There were things that made you better. Look, I’m not saying everything was perfect. There were both mistakes and omissions. But now none of this, from what existed before, does not exist. Everything is bought and sold … And this is what scares me.

This whole game of division, which we saw in subsequent years, began after the collapse of the USSR. And I will tell you, I think that without “support” it was very difficult to feed ourselves, because no one can deny that we lived peacefully and amicably for many years.”

How was life after the shocks? “All these strange 5 years, 1990-1995, we lived until we understood what happened: that the USSR was no more, and Ukraine became an independent state … I lived there with my family.

New countries that emerged in the process of disintegration began to divide and seize everything: the army, navy, factories … It was difficult. I remember footage of sobbing sailors lowering the flag on ships in large ports – in Kerch, in Sevastopol.

This is how the USSR was built. Economy and people were connected with each other. My mother decided to come to Greece in those years, when it got to the point that they began to give out wages in food.

Since then, of course, a lot has happened. Now we have come to making laws that exclude the greater part of the population. Let me explain: my aunt teaches law in Kharkov, for the last 3-4 years she cannot teach this subject in Russian. Can she speak Ukrainian not only on the street or in the market, but also at the university, where special terminology is needed?

And this has been going on for years. “There was a lot of corruption in Ukraine. This applied to everyone. Either the ruling party was pro-Russian or pro-Western. And at the same time, a lot of suffering fell on the lot of the people. Some took advantage of this situation. Since the 2000s, crazy money has been pouring into NGOs, institutions, in order to kindle a new generation with nationalism, which had no memories, and if they had, they could easily forget something beautiful. Rhetoric of hatred and division was heard everywhere. To achieve this mechanism requires time, money and a lot of organization. Unfortunately, Ukraine is a vivid example of how an entire people can be manipulated in order to manipulate specific interests.

Thus, we came to the 2014 coup d’état, which took place in an organized manner. All these nationalist far-right groups emerged and literally took matters into their own hands. And you know, at that time we had an American ambassador in Ukraine, Mr. Geoffrey Pyattwho came here later. And actually then he went with all of them. It… was an expression of “democracy”… Later these people came to power and now they are in administrative posts, in the army corps, in the security system, in ministries.

Is EU, “sensitive” to concepts such as democracy and culture, does not know that he is accepting a country with fascist symbols? What does the country think of itself when rewarding criminals? There are dozens of such battalions as the Azov battalion. And we cannot ignore the fact that 15,000 people have died in Donbas and Luhansk over these 8 years.

And finally, what I know is that ordinary people need education, health, culture. We all need to live with dignity. We don’t need Rafale
(military aircraft) and submarines. We need to seek and seek the truth. And history will help us in this… Because a people without memory can, unfortunately, relive the tragic moments of the past…”.



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