Penn Live Arts Blog


Posted February 12, 2024

Ukraine, a country steeped in rich artistic traditions, has a centuries-old heritage of music, dance, folk traditions and visual art. But today, Ukraine is quite literally on the front line of defending freedom, a fight representative of the hope for thriving democracies around the world. How are Ukrainian artists responding? Our weeklong focus, Ukraine: The Edge of Freedom, takes a deep dive into the culture of the country, bringing to our stages Ukrainian artists from across the globe, and from within our own city of Philadelphia.

“Art gives us the unique opportunity to experience other cultures while also addressing issues of contemporary concern,” says Penn Live Arts Executive & Artistic Director Christopher Gruits. “We all know about the war happening in Ukraine and the fight for democracy, but what many may not know is that this is also a fight for the survival of Ukrainian heritage and culture, its language and traditions. It is a timely and urgent issue and, as we have since our beginning, we’ll bring the issues and the art home, engaging all of us in a broader view of the culture and struggles of the country.”

The weeklong The Edge of Freedom series kicks off February 25 with Balaklava Blues, an activist-driven ensemble that mixes thousand-year-old polyphonic folk traditions with contemporary dance styles such as EDM, resulting in a full-blown multimedia techno concert. Co-presented with World Cafe Live, where the performance takes place, Balaklava Blues infuses its performance with personal stories and arresting visuals, spotlighting universal themes of identity, displacement, oppression and trauma.

Safety Instructions, a visual art exhibition by Kyiv-based artists Anna Khodkova and Kristina Yarosh, founders of the print studio Etchingroom1, is another component of The Edge of Freedom. The exhibition is on view in the Annenberg Center’s Feintuch Family Lobby beginning on February 27 at 5 PM with an opening celebration and talk with the artists. An artistic exploration into the fragility and transience of safety within the modern world, the 14 new graphic works on display in Safety Instructions employ diverse techniques, including etching, silkscreen and drawing. The first-ever U.S. exhibition for Etchingroom1, Safety Instructions will be on view through June 28.

Brooklyn-based Ukrainian jazz pianist and film composer, Fima Chupakhin, makes his PLA debut February 29 with The Song of Tomorrow, a world premiere we commissioned that is dedicated to the resilience and perseverance of the Ukrainian people. Leader of the award-winning Acoustic Quartet jazz group in Ukraine, Chupakhin first came to the U.S. to study on a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship and quickly became a versatile player and producer on the New York music scene. His performances are masterful and emotive, making for a stellar evening of jazz.

In The Night is Just Beginning, vocal artist and composer Mariana Sadovska blends Ukrainian folk song, avant-garde theatre and social activism into a vivid depiction of her travels along the front lines of the first invasion of eastern Ukraine in 2014. This Philadelphia premiere on March 1, also Sadovska’s Penn Live Arts debut, is a stunning evocation of the turbulent poetry of war.

On March 3, we make global connections to Philadelphia by featuring local Ukrainian American artists in a free community celebration on March 3. This showcase of impressive talent features the Prometheus Ukrainian Male Chorus and Voloshky Ukrainian Dance Ensemble as well as performances by students from Philadelphia Performing Arts: A String Theory Charter School.

Ukraine: The Edge of Freedom closes later that evening with Kyiv’s electrifying DakhaBrakha, making its Penn Live Arts debut in a powerful celebration of the limitless power of music. The quartet calls its sound “ethno-chaos,” a spot-on description of the fusion of ancient Ukrainian folk melodies with contemporary indie rock, pop, hip hop, avant-garde and traditional instrumentation. The group’s fresh, spirited and urgent subversive musical synthesis leaves us with a message of peace and solidarity. NPR has hailed DakhaBrakha’s live performances as “utter brilliance,” and we think you’ll agree.

Join us for this celebration of Ukrainian culture. Visit Ukraine: The Edge of Freedom for tickets and more information.

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