Modern interpretation of traditional Vertep: youngsters place long-standing traditions in current Ukrainian context


Kyiv, January 13, 2016. On the occasion of the Saint Melania holiday, celebrated across Eastern Europe on January 13, students of the First Ukrainian Academy of Leadership presented a modern version of traditional Ukrainian religious nativity play “Vertep” at Ukraine Crisis Media Center. Students wrote the script and chose the costumes themselves. They performed traditional Christmas carols (kolyadky), kept all the traditional Vertep characters in the play but decided to set the play “in modern context”.

The play begins with a scene set in the combat actions zone. According to the screenplay Ukrainian servicemen start losing their faith in the possibility to win or at least to survive in this hell. When a bright (Christmas) star starts shining in the sky signaling that Jesus was born, the fighters take it for hostile missiles. But the Angel comes down to them telling them that this is “good news” and calls on them to “confidently follow the light of the star”. Three Kings – characters from the classic Vertep are presented as new heroes – the volunteer, the medic and the journalist. The Evil that opposes them also gained a modern form – these are all main “enemies” of the Ukrainian state including corruption, oligarchs and pessimistic moods in the society. A fight for people’s souls starts between the God and the Devil. The latter is convincing that people are only “killing, stealing, are tight-fisted, envying and hating” and never get better. However, the Savior is defending people and claims that they also “repent, give birth, make gifts, love, believe, fight for justice and respect freedom of others.” Defeated evil has to flee. Ukrainian soldier is citing the verse of a local writer Serhiy Zhadan, he is now sure that “this is not yet the end. Thousands of hearts are beating in the air. Each of them is incurable and warm. Each of them is beating for you.”

According to students, the modern interpretation has been presented in Lviv including performance at the main Lviv Vertep festival. “The Academy’s Vertep is also unique because its participants are students from all regions of Ukraine,” noted coordinators of the play. According to the students from eastern Ukraine it was an extraordinary experience as the “tradition to sing traditional songs ‘Kolyadky’ and ‘Shedrivky’ was preserved in the region but there was no such Christmas spirit that the authentic Ukrainian Vertep is bringing.”

Traditional Christmas Star was hand-painted by one of the participants – one of the girls has recently got permission to be holding this Vertep attribute from the Ukrainian Star Guild.