i am root begins with a traditional Acknowledgement of Country, before Canadian-born Olenka Toroshenko calls upon her own ancestors to join her performance. From fleeing war and settling in Canada, to following love to Australia, what follows is a personal and eclectic mix of Ukrainian poetry, storytelling, dance, comedy and even cooking.
There are tragic stories that truly bring a tear to your eyes, while a symbolic recreation of a traditional Borsch soup leads into her musing on food as a ritual practice. Death and tragedy play a big role in this performance, including tales of her Baba (grandmother) who cheated death twice. But the intent is not to dwell on the morbid side of life, but to rejoice in the miracle of every-day life.
Poignant observations about traditional Ukrainian life contrast vividly with the vast quiet, yet beautiful outback of Australia. Simple props became icons of the stories – a cane and scarf served to illustrate a memory of an old woman determined to vote freely in the Ukrainian election for the first time in her eighty years. A strong contrast to the laissez-faire attitude to voting that her Canadian colleagues had. And those are just the tales we heard; one gets the impression that the untold stories could fill a whole day of listening.
Despite the intensely personal narrative, her soul laid bare for all to see, Toroshenko’s shining sense of humour brings us back to reality. She’s a natural story-teller, stripping back the lighting, sound and props to allow the message to be delivered in the most direct way.
Ultimately, Toroshenko’s message is clear and simple. Don’t take each day for granted. Be grateful for the time you have on this earth. And, above all, respect the ancestors that came before us.
FOUR STARS OUT OF FIVE
Olenka Toroshenko’s i am root plays at The Mill as part of the Adelaide Fringe. Performances on Mar 3/4/5/17 – tickets and more info here