Gogolfest - EFFE Laureate

Simon Mundy - 23 Sep 2019

Simon Mundy interviews Andrew Patanyi, Programme Director of Gogolfest

I suspect that Nikolai Gogol (1809 – 1852) would have thoroughly enjoyed the festival that bears his name in his native Ukraine. He was famously ambitious, as is the festival, and equally famously unafraid of pointing out the absurdities of those in authority. There was nothing anarchic about him, though many of his works portrayed the anarchy that authorities could cause through their venality and stupidity. Importantly for present politics too, he was equally at home in the Ukrainian and Russian languages. What he perhaps would have liked best is that there is nothing normal about Gogolfest.

Gogol Small

Most festivals are held in a particular place or region at a particular time of year. Gogolfest is not. It seeks out partner cities that are prepared to hold a festival to make a strong case for solidarity in the face of the forces, emotional or physical, that are tearing communities apart. In Ukraine the age-old tensions, not only of language, but of the different traditions in the four corners of the country, always need drawing together.

Andrew Patanyi, Programme Director, says the aim of a Gogolfest event, 'is to make our country safe through uniting it.' The festival is relaxed about how they operate. 'There are several cities where we have started events ourselves and others where local activists have put together a festival and we have come in to make sure it continues.'

'The core of the festival is always theatre but in many different forms,' Andrew tells me. It started in 2007, a tumultuous period in Ukrainian politics, with actors led by Vlad Troitskyi taking over a 'huge and abandoned factory in Kyiv. They cleaned it up and had a week-long festival there. It came out of the underground artist movement of a decade or more ago.'

He goes on, demonstrating the scope by talking to me from a literary event in Lviv, 'that theatre core, though, is always multidisciplinary. If you like it's our first or outer circle but there is also a second, inner, circle that means we have synergy – music of many kinds, visual arts and literature – and there's always a lot of attention for children.'

Just what multidisciplinary means can be seen from the extraordinary week of festival in Mariupol this April, the city on the Sea of Azov only a few kilometres from the de facto front line with Russia-backed armed units. In the harbour and shipyard there Gogolfest climaxed with a ballet of loading cranes and an opera on a ship's deck which was tilted and half sunk in the process. Hardly small black box theatre! If the term festival is to be relevant through this century, then Gogolfest will surely be a cornerstone of these times just as Edinburgh and Aix were of last century.

Note from the EFFE International Jury

GogolFest is an incredible platform for artistic development: not only a single festival in one city but a whole movement presented in different festival formats and disciplines throughout the immense country of Ukraine. The strategic and artistic choices are exceptionally strong: contemporary, innovative, energetic, presented in a context of very limited financial means and political upheaval.

Gogolfefst - Multidisciplinary International Festival of Contemporary Art

26 Apr 2019 - 01 May 2019

Kyiv, Ukraine

Mariupol', Ukraine

Dnipro, Ukraine

Vinnytsia, Ukraine