Dogs Of Europe @ Festival Theatre, Adelaide 6/3/2023
Dogs of Europe is a dystopian play based on the Belarus novel by Alhierd Baсharevič and set in 2049 in which Europe is divided between a fascist Russian Reich and a Federation of European Countries. A new iron curtain or wall has been erected in Europe and the play straddles both sides of the divide. The work, translated by Daniella Kaliada and co-directed by Nicolai Khalezin and Natalia Kaliada, for the Belarus Free Theatre was conceived and rehearsed in exile as all members of the company have escaped persecution from the oppressive regime of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko. The production is in Belarusian, with English surtitles projected on the cyclorama.
The book written in 2017, five years before Putin unleashed his all-out assault on Ukraine, is a warning of what might happen if Putin wins his war of imperialist expansion in Ukraine.
In many ways the play is Brechtian and episodic moving from one chapter to the next, and act one finishes with a character running naked in a circle. He keeps running right through the intermission and is still running when the audience take their seats in the auditorium. You become oblivious to the fact that he is naked and just think, “poor guy he was running in a circle during the entire intermission.” And to me, this is the whole point of the play as it brings into focus the current war in Ukraine; we are obsessed with the theatre of war, the horrors and atrocities, and rightly so – but lose sight of the naked truth that Putin has unleashed an ideological fascist war on Europe. To Bacharevic, the Belarusian writer-in exile, Putin is a fascist, and the world must not be blind-sided by any side narratives. He said so openly and pointedly in the two sessions that I heard him speak at in this year’s Adelaide Writers’ Week. There are many references to the war in Ukraine, and the fact that Bacharevic foretold the impending full-blown assault on Ukraine, and the fact that his grim prophesy was ignored at the time by most European writers and intellectuals suggest that the other grim warnings in his book and play should be listened to carefully. He is an important writer who understands the post-Soviet realm and the forebodings that may face humanity from within this space.
The Belarus Free Theatre’s adaptation of his 1000-page novel is extraordinary in that it captures the humour, the horror, the absurdity and zeitgeist of the post-Soviet reality, as well as its reincarnation in a futuristic dystopia. It warns the world of what might happen if fascism is allowed to take root beyond its current borders in Russia.
To me there is are elements of Peter Brook’s rough theatre – the “salt, sweat, noise, smell” of a theatre that is urgent and confronting. And for me, Dogs of Europe will hold a special place in the history of memorable theatrical masterpieces in the Adelaide Festival alongside Brook’s classics.
Dogs of Europe extraordinary – not only because of the ideas and absurdity. The physicality of the performers in their on-stage juxtapositions, classic Soviet era clown routines, dance and Frantic Assembly-like choreographed movements enable scenes to move rapidly from one to the other. Multi-sized tables on wheels are used cleverly to wheel actors on and off, to dance on, and to show their status in a range of pleasing sequences. Maria Sazonova’s choreography captures a wide range of physicalities – there are fight scenes, military parodies, intimacy and rape and the fact that the this is sustained throughout the three-hour spectacle, is credit to her inventive imaginings of bodies moving on stage.
And while the action on stage is an aural, visual and visceral feast – the cyclorama is a giant screen with sur-titles projected along with a kaleidoscope of computer game graphics, hand held camera unstable images, drone camera footage all designed by Richard Williamson and animation by Roman Liubyi. And this is made all the more poignant knowing that Liubyi is currently a soldier fighting on the frontlines in Ukraine holding back the fascist forces unleashed by Putin.
I learnt about this during the Balaklava Blues fundraising-concert for Music Saves UA at the Norwood Hotel. Mark and Marichka Marczyk from Balaklava Blues provide the live music during the entire 3-hour performance of Dogs of Europe – and took this already stunning performance to another level. Their polyphonic a-capella harmonies drill deep into the Slavic soul that yearns for freedom and peace; a stark contrast to the tyranny unleashed by the fascist dictator in the play. Marichka’s voice has that open throated soul that reminds one of Trio Bulgarka and Dakha Brakha. There are rousing folk songs, dance melodies and aural soundscapes. This is sublime and transformative music – deeply evocative and soul stirring. Their performance alone is worth the price of a ticket.
After the bows, and the standing ovation, the cast come out with the flags of free Belarus and Ukraine and a banner that reads “Stand With Ukraine”.
The ideas, the music, the choreography, the visuals and direction which has actors moving from the incredibly muscular, to comic and to the sweetly poignant makes this one of the stand-out shows at this year’s Festival.
Adelaide Festival Review By Bob Becker