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A Ukrainian Carmina Burana with an Amersfoort touch, thanks to Gerard Mosterd.

'Carmina Burana is the first project in Ukraine where I had a free hand to really turn it into something completely different. I didn't have to adapt an existing production, but could create a whole new performance from scratch.' Gerard Mosterd (1964) has a long career behind him as a dancer and choreographer. Now he is also producer of a series of performances by The National Opera and Ballet of Ukraine from Odessa: Carmina Burana.

We meet in Amersfoort, shortly before the start of the series of performances in Dutch theatres.

More modern and accessible

You come now with a danced, scenic version of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana from the State Opera of Ukraine, which is based in Odessa. Definitely a unique event, as the country groans under the Russian invasion. Plenty of reason to support and watch art from Ukraine and honour its creators, but there is also a downside: opera from the former Soviet states often has a somewhat corny reputation. How is that with this performance?

'The corny reputation of opera and ballet from the countries living in the Russian sphere of influence is because of the way of making art as it was in Soviet times. It was a duty back then to perform it as tightly and traditionally as it was ever written. This also applies a bit to opera and dance from Ukraine: you could often call it corny. But now that I am involved in it as a producer and choreographer, I have been able to contribute to making it more modern and accessible, and more up to the demands of a Western audience.'

How big are the differences?

This Carmina Burana has a very curious history. A bit bizarre too, because I wasn't supposed to be working on a play at all. We were going to play a Carmina Burana in Flanders that was already booked and already sold out. And as co-producer, I was shown a video of the production they had there. I saw that video and watched a performance that I actually expect to see at the Efteling.


With all due respect to the Efteling, there is obviously a different kind of audience there than in the theatre. In the theatre, audiences still want to see a more contemporary dressed-up and directed show.

I alerted the co-producer to it and they started looking for someone who wanted to make it. Eventually, he came back to me. They knew that by now I had made 40, often full-length, productions. I spent six months working on a powerpoint presentation.'

Directing via PowerPoint? Tell.

Odessa's theatre is a fantastically beautiful one. The company gets a salary every month, but it is a thoroughly bureaucratic institution because of its Soviet past. If you want to bring a new production there, it has to be put on the table, in meetings of all the different departments: dance, choir, set, orchestra, technology. The management also has to speak out about it. So you have to convince that whole team, which can also be very divided. I had to go to Odessa several times for that with a powerpoint which then also had to be adapted. So the performance was mainly created at the drawing board.


In Ukraine, a repertory company hardly spends any time rehearsing. All the time is spent playing performances. They are not used to working on a new project for one or two months in fantastic studios, as in the Netherlands.

Five weeks

I had scheduled five weeks for this Ukrainian production, but in the end I was able to work on it for three weeks and even then rehearsals were taken away. Anyway, it managed to put down that full-length performance. As an interdisciplinary project with more than 130 collaborators.

What are the adjustments you have made?

Carmina Burana may be based on medieval poetry, but Carl Orff wrote very modernist music to it. So I thought it should at least look modernist. They had originally made something with an explicit wheel of fortune with monk's hoods, priests and medieval orgy scenes. That leaves little to the imagination.


I made it, I think, much more sober. In that respect, I am really a Dutchman. I come from the Protestant Netherlands, so I make it sober, more abstract. I know that in the Netherlands we are actually quite far in making best as a modern dance.

Could you convey that?

In making that piece, I tried to also pull the dancers out of their shell to let them move much more freely. I wanted to keep it sober and also individualistic. And the abstraction, that inspired me a bit. I come from Amersfoort. I think Piet Mondrian is a great artist. A radical man who just wanted to do things differently for once. In Ukraine, for instance, I know artists who inspire me in the same way. Malevich, for instance. That's a kind of Ukrainian Piet Mondrian after all.

How did that fall in Odessa?

The audience embraced the play. It is totally sold out every time it is performed there and everyone knows that. So actually this play has triggered something.


On another note, Carmina Burana also has a slightly controversial image because it was written and performed in Nazi Germany, with eager approval from Hitler.

Stalin, too, was a fan of the work. And Odessa does exude something totalitarian in everything. Close to the theatre, which itself is colossal, are the famous 'Potemkin Steps', which play a crucial role in Russian Sergei Eisenstein's world-famous film. Those stairs also feature in the video footage I incorporated into the performance. But no footage from the film itself.

This production was created before the start of the war. What was working in Odessa like in those days before the war?

It is a very special city for me. The very first time I went there was sometime in the 1990s. I felt like I was back in the days of the Beatles. 'Back in the USSR'.Everything was drab and not well-maintained. It is an impoverished situation. So it was the same during the Soviet era.

Past glory

It was once a very rich city with aristocratic boulevards and buildings and the history there breathes Pushkin, Trotsky, Babel, Paustovsky, Tchaikovsky. All those great people walked around there. Everywhere you see placards: here lived those and there was that historical event.' They were refurbishing before the war, but the past glory there has only become more palpable.

The company was originally a mixed company, with Russian and Ukrainian dancers. Is that still the case?

A few months before the war, we had a tour in Flanders. Even then, two dancers could not join us because they had Russian passports. Even then there was a huge troop build-up along the border. Everyone felt something was coming.

It is very tragic the way the two brotherly nations have been pitted against each other.

Carmina Burana by National Opera and Ballet of Ukraine, Odessa. Choreography and direction: Gerard Mosterd. Information and tickets.

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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