Ukraine’s Dakh Daughters are not just a seven-piece band, but a theatrical collective. They combine music and theatre in equal parts in highly original performances that are sonically and visually dynamic, and vast in their emotional range—from sweetness to explosive rage.
“It’s very linked to Ukrainian culture, because we have a strong story of musical drama-theatre from the beginning of the 20th century—and even before that,” says Tanya Havrylyuk, like all the women in Dakh Daughters a multi-instrumentalist (keyboards, double bass, flute, percussion), reached at her home in Kiev the day before the group’s first North American tour. “So in the times when we used to be actors we performed shows that always had a lot of music and singing, a lot of folk. And since we are children of the theatre we always try now to make every composition a little performance piece, a little life story. I think that’s the most remarkable thing about Dakh Daughters—this connection between music and theatre, through ages and into the future.”
The women have been friends for 10 or 15 years, working together as members of the Dakh Theatre company. Its director, Vlad Troitsky, is also the artistic director of Dakh Daughters, formed in 2012, and is behind the group’s striking and unsettling look. “It was Vlad’s idea since we showed him the first esquisse [sketch] of the show,” Havrylyuk says. “He suggested we wear white dresses and have white faces and this is how we are united, how we put more dramatic sense into the art that we’re making.”
The tag “freak cabaret”, as Dakh Daughters style their performances, is another of Troitsky’s ideas. “He has a very strong influence on us,” she says. “Sometimes when he suggests an idea, even if for the moment we don’t understand why it is, we trust him and his sense, and it always works. Actually, these two elements are what we call the connection between music and theatre, because the word freak in this sense means the hero of the modern world, the person who is not afraid to be unique, to be brave, and to express yourself the way you want.
“And as for cabaret, its roots are not only in France—there was German and Austrian cabaret at the beginning of the last century, and in Ukraine also,” she adds. “When cabaret first appeared, it was the image of the modern theatrical stage on which you can tell the truth, and share your art and your opinions, your energy, your feelings, and connect with your public.”
Dakh Daughters lived the link between art and politics in 2014, during the bloody protests in Kiev against a Ukrainian government that was developing closer ties to Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Protesters set up camps in central Maidan Square and started taking over government buildings. In battles between them and police, some 80 people died. “It was a remarkable moment in our story and the story of our country,” Havrylyuk recalls. “First of all, it was the call of the heart, so when everything started we felt that we want to act like citizens, helping people, and taking care of each other. Then we realized, ‘Okay, what else can we do to unite this movement?’ We understood that as artists our weapon is art, so we are supposed to take it into the streets and into the Maidan Square and perform for people, to share these thoughts and feelings with them and show them that we’re all connected by the same dreams, the same good ideas. It was very exciting, very powerful for the band. We went through a rebirth and became stronger and more interesting. Everywhere we go, all over the world we’re telling the story of the new Ukraine and it’s a very important element of our artistic mission.”
Words—sung or spoken—are a crucial element of Dakh Daughters’ performance, and there will be surtitled translations in Vancouver. On-stage, film and video footage is projected behind the artists, who frequently change instruments. Their compelling music blends contemporary punk, new-music minimalism, and reimagined traditional Ukrainian folk. “We often work with very archaic folk songs,” says Havrylyuk. “And we always try to give a new breath of life to this music because it’s very beautiful and very powerful—it’s our roots and at the same time it’s very actual for the modern world, too.”
Surprisingly, perhaps, Dakh Daughters don’t align themselves with any particular ideology. “We’re not getting into any movements, and we don’t want to take any radical point of view,” Havrylyuk says. “We’re not calling ourselves a feminist collective. We think that harmony and balance is the best way. Both female and male energies have to be in balance. We never had any problem with this in our country. Ukraine is very feminine in energy, and image. For us, it’s totally natural and that’s what we’re about. We’re moving into a bright future in which everyone can express themselves.”
Dakh Daughters perform at the York Theatre from Tuesday to next Saturday (January 15 to 19).More