Cover Image for Pilates Time

Pilates Time

Olha Matsiupa, trans. by Daisy Gibbons
Issue Three

Daisy Gibbons’ translation of an abstract play by Olha Matsiupa (written in 2017) is one of the winning entries for the Ukrainian Literature in Translation Prize. As the translator explains, this experimental piece documents ‘war trauma without showing frontline experience’. Set in Kyiv and framed by a Pilates class, the play involves incongruous characters, including a Pilates instructor who turns into an executioner, Herostratus, who orchestrates an arson thus killing the protagonist’s parents, and the protagonist’s traumatised partner.

 

 

INNA

FITNESS INSTRUCTOR/SALESWOMAN 

INNA’S MUM/ANNA 

INNA’S DAD/JOACHIM/THE MAN IN UNIFORM

HEROSTRATUS

 

Four or five actors are required for this play. Varying character combinations are possible. 

 

The yellow middle of a flower

 

Breathe in

Breathe out

Breathe in

Breathe out

Arms down

Perched in their cages are three crows

Everyone from Kyiv knows the ones

Breathe in

Shoulders straight

Breathe out

Arms down

They can predict your fate

Or your downfall

Breathe in

Breathe out

We put value in things

We fear separation

And one more time

Breathe in

Breathe out

And one more time

Breathing deeply

Without holding our breath

The birds soar steeply

Body like a stone

Stone like a body

Make sure you do it well

Listen to the ringtone

Of Piano Concerto No. 2

Rachmaninoff

The smell of lovage

Lilies

Lilies of the valley

And basil on his body

You know the rustling sound lindens make

Your beloved, he is awake

Your beloved, he cannot sleep

Olive-coloured camouflage

When we’re sitting on the mat

It’s not like those beach outings

For soldiers and their families

Legs parallel

Parallel knees

Arms in front

You should reduce your caffeine intake

Back straight

Stomach sucked in

And let go

A complete fitness package

Watching our lower back

Shoulder blades mustn’t touch the floor

Our body mustn’t touch the sky

And the people in power ignore

Any sense of precaution

Cheeks bereft of the wind’s touch

These cages are not for birds

Measuring our steps and such

On every supermarket trip

The flowers of consumerism

Just like

The flowers of despotism

Between chin and chest

Could fit a chasm

The size of a fist

And one more time

Breathe in

And out

Your bedding is so soft

Inna your parents have died

A few minutes ago

Breathe in

Breathe out

Now, taking our elastic bands

And pulling on one leg

On an out breath we lie down

On the floor

Lifting up one leg with our bands

Letting the other fall parallel beside it

Inna, please accept my condolences

For your parents’ death

My condolences

And back to the starting position

Breathe in

Breathe out

The same with the left leg

This exercise is good for your core

And your arms

This is not for the poor

In spirit or blind in body

Right arm down

Left up

Breathe in

And out

I am stone 

I am solid earth

Which hides the setting sun

Air can wear away stone

The body can become elastic

Plastic

Blood flowing through the body

Breathe in

Breathe out

Inna, what are you still doing here

Your parents need burying

Their bodies lay

On Zolotoustivska Street*

The street of ‘gilded lips’*

Breathe in

Breathe out

Your dad was in Afghanistan

And now he’s dead on a civvy street

Once we’re done with the exercise on our left leg

We pull our knees to our chest

And return to the sitting position

Taking our heels off the floor

There’s no need to fear other people

Keeping our balance as if we’re a chair

We place the band underneath us

Now pull it across

And upwards

On an exhale we open up

Feet forward

Hands and shoulders behind you

Lower back resting on the floor

Stomach sucked in

And on the exhale we open up

Why should we feed bluetits

If they’re made of stone

Now we lie down

On the inhale we return

To our original position

And one

Two

Three

Four

Breathe in

And out

One more time

Pilates allows us to unite our body and consciousness

And to become beautiful

That’s what you want

Breathe in, and out

Inna,

It’s not a mistake

The ambulance has already arrived

The police, too

Nobody can establish the cause of death

There were no witnesses

Your post has already got 29 ‘sad’ reacts on it

And 18 comments

Please accept our condolences

Do make sure

Your arms and head are level

And one last time

Breathe in

Breathe out

Let’s go back to the starting position

Sit down

Legs crossed

Back straight

Folding the stretch band in half

And pulling it apart

Arms up and parallel

On the inhale we bend our right arm

And on the exhale straighten it to the side

The left stays in the same position

Next the same exercise with the left arm

Let’s go

Breathe in

And out

Women shouldn’t just worry about their health

But their beauty

Beauty comes first

Breathe in

Breathe out

Inna,

It is very unfortunate that your parents

had to die in such mysterious circumstances

on your birthday

With the spirits of the righteous departed

O Lord our Saviour, lay to rest the souls of your servants and

bless them with eternal life

O Lord lay to rest

the souls of your servants

and your fathers 

in the city of lightness

in the city of gladness

and grant them eternal memory

and breathe in, and breathe out

This exercise is good for your arm muscles,

back muscles

Watching out for the basics

we draw apart the band like a bow

keeping our shoulders on a level row

no hunching up to our ears

In one line

ribs and tummy tight

no rushing

no bumblebee’s flight

The body is risen from the ashes

Lord our God,

who formed man of the dust

and from his rib made a woman,

and gave man a helper,

who answers to him,

for it pleased the Lord

that man would not walk alone on this earth

and together they will return to the earth

Without rounding our backs

or hunching over

we stay level

head stretched to the ceiling

and without forgetting our breathing

Breathe in

and out

Pilates develops one’s flexibility, stamina, and dexterity

Breathe in

Breathe out

 

Inna stands up and drinks water 

 

INNA 

It’s not possible

 

FITNESS INSTRUCTOR 

Anything’s possible

 

INNA 

I’m leaving

 

FITNESS INSTRUCTOR 

But we haven’t finished yet

 

INNA 

But my parents

This must be a mistake

 

FITNESS INSTRUCTOR 

Hands held folded in front of us

 

INNA

They can’t be dead

 

FITNESS INSTRUCTOR

You still need to lose another kilo

Or thereabouts

 

INNA  

Can I go?

 

FITNESS INSTRUCTOR

My dear, now is pilates time

You’re the one who wanted the perfect body

Letting our heads drop down

Breathe in

Breathe out

Now, let’s lie on our tummies

Holding on tight to the floor

Fold the band in half

And pull

Arms wide

Lifting our toes up off the ground

Breathe in

Breathe out

 

INNA  

But it’s my birthday

 

FITNESS INSTRUCTOR

Inna, you’re falling behind the rest of the group

 

INNA  

I don’t care

I want to go

 

FITNESS INSTRUCTOR

But it’s not like your parents are coming back anyway

 

INNA  

But it’s my birthday today

Still

I have to go

 

FITNESS INSTRUCTOR

But you haven’t been born yet

 

INNA 

But I haven’t even died

 

FITNESS INSTRUCTOR

Let’s try one more time

Breathe in

And breathe in

And out

Pilates helps us to be resilient

It helps soldiers in their rehabilitation

Pilates improves our awareness of our body’s physical form

But most importantly it grants grace and lightness

to the female body

Which may seduce, and seduce, and seduce…

 

INNA 

Ow, that hurts

 

FITNESS INSTRUCTOR goes up to Inna and hurts her 

 

INNA  

That hurts

 

FITNESS INSTRUCTOR

It’s in your head

 

INNA 

It’s hurting me, stop it

 

FITNESS INSTRUCTOR

You’re not flexible enough

 

INNA 

But you can’t force it, ow

 

A scream

 

FITNESS INSTRUCTOR

You have nothing to live for

Look how brittle, how weak you are

 

INNA  

I still want to live

 

FITNESS INSTRUCTOR

Let’s try one more time

Breathe in

Breathe out

Now let’s lie on our tummies

Holding on tight to the ground

Now we fold the band in half

And pull

Pilates gives us control over our body

Breathe in

And out

It enhances our sensuality 

Attractiveness and femininity

Our fire and passion in bed

Pilates classes can certainly

Help you please a man in bed

 

INNA 

I see the ships floating on the Dnipro River*

Arms wide

Lifting our toes up off the ground

Breathe in

And out

Pilates gives us control over our body

Since we don’t have a soul, do we?

 

FITNESS INSTRUCTOR

You’re not pulling the stretch band properly

Breathe in

Breathe out

 

INNA 

It hurts

Stop

Aaaaaaaaa

You’ve pulled my arm off

 

FITNESS INSTRUCTOR 

Thanks to pilates the metabolic function in the body is strengthened

And you can lose weight fast

 

White petal: one 

 

In a watch shop  

 

JOACHIM 

Why don’t we buy her one with daisies on it

 

ANNA 

Could we even find one like that?

 

JOACHIM 

Well, why don’t we ask

 

SALESWOMAN 

We haven’t any with daisies,

but we do with olives,

basil, lovage,

and lilies

 

JOACHIM 

Do you have any others?

 

SALESWOMAN 

We have ones with snakes, like Kyiv’s House of Snakes*

with cherubim and seraphim

with hoarfrost

and mulberries

with caterpillars

moth pupae

with caged birds

or a dead bride

 

JOACHIM

Are there any watches with stones on them?

 

SALESWOMAN 

With stones?

We have ones with gilded lips

like Kyiv’s Zlatoustivska Street*

With the city Golden Gates*

Brodsky’s Mill*

The Covered Market*

Baron’s Castle*

Magister Mykhailo Hrushchevskyi’s house*

Or Merchant Novikov’s House*

 

JOACHIM 

This is supposed to be a present for my daughter

 

ANNA 

It is her birthday today

 

SALESWOMAN 

But watches are a present given upon separation, upon parting

 

ANNA  

We don’t believe in these superstitions

 

JOACHIM 

We’ve come from another city

 

ANNA  

We see each other a few times a year

 

JOACHIM 

We live separately

 

ANNA 

But we’re not separated

 

JOACHIM 

And we’ll never be separated

 

SALESWOMAN 

But one gives watches for eternal separation

 

ANNA  

In which case we’ll take a walk, and you’ll have a look for us

You might find a watch with two daisies on it

White as snow

Snow white

 

SALESWOMAN 

I said, we don’t have any

 

ANNA 

We are waiting in hope

That our daughter

Will be married this year

 

JOACHIM  

And it has to be daisies

To match her dress

 

SALESWOMAN 

But daisies are such primitive flowers

 

ANNA  

Maybe we could buy the one with a mill?

 

SALESWOMAN 

With Brodsky’s Mill

 

JOACHIM

The mill looks like a watch

 

ANNA

The watch looks like a mill

 

JOACHIM

It looks like a flower

 

ANNA 

Like a daisy

 

SALESWOMAN 

They took down the mill in 2005*

Now it’s a Sheraton hotel

That they built for Euro 2012

Or not

Sorry, maybe I made a mistake

 

JOACHIM 

In that case we will take a walk and have a think

 

ANNA  

We’ll have a think what to buy

 

SALESWOMAN 

A watch is for separation

 

JOACHIM 

Stop repeating that

 

SALESWOMAN 

Buy yourselves a watch with chestnuts on the clockface

with Kyiv chestnut trees

Daisies are rather primitive flowers

 

JOACHIM  

I don’t need a watch

I use the sun to tell the time

 

SALESWOMAN 

Buy this one of a haunted house

if you want a house of spirits

You’ll find that, in Kyiv

They are legion

 

ANNA 

Leave us alone

 

SALESWOMAN 

And buy a watch for yourselves

 

JOACHIM 

We’re not going to buy any

For ourselves

 

SALESWOMAN 

You can still buy one for yourself, you’re not your daughter

 

JOACHIM 

It’s her birthday today

 

ANNA 

Today was the day we were supposed to meet her fiancé

 

JOACHIM 

At least we hope

He’s her fiancé

 

ANNA 

Wait, what’s that on your arm?

 

SALESWOMAN

This was a gift from volunteers

in the conflict zone

from a town called Joy

It’s in Luhansk region

 

Anna goes up to her and tears off the watch 

 

SALESWOMAN

Ouch, that hurts, you’re not having it

 

JOACHIM

It’s a separation gift, for eternal separation

 

SALESWOMAN 

I’m calling the police, you hurt me

What has the time come for now?

 

JOACHIM  

Pilates time

 

ANNA 

Our daughter has pilates time

Because it improves one’s health

and prolongs life

 

JOACHIM 

But we are going to church

 

SALESWOMAN 

Where?

 

JOACHIM 

To church

For a funeral

Or a wedding

 

A scream

 

JOACHIM  

She loves me

 

ANNA 

He loves me not

 

 

 

Petal: two   

 

The Fitness Instructor and Inna, who is missing an arm 

Both are in military uniform 

 

FITNESS INSTRUCTOR

He loves me

 

INNA 

He loves me not

 

FITNESS INSTRUCTOR

He loves me

 

INNA 

He loves me not

 

FITNESS INSTRUCTOR

Breathe in

 

INNA 

Breathe out

 

… 

Enter Man in Military Uniform. Inna and the Fitness Instructor do not see him. 

 

INNA 

My father loved me not, when I left my slippers lying around

 

FITNESS INSTRUCTOR

He loves me

 

INNA 

My mother loved me not, when I failed to wash my underwear

 

FITNESS INSTRUCTOR

192 sad reacts

 

INNA 

I loved him not, when he beat my mother

 

FITNESS INSTRUCTOR

198 sad reacts, one like

 

INNA 

But he has PTSD

 

FITNESS INSTRUCTOR

200 sad reacts and comments expressing sympathies

 

INNA 

He was in Afghan

 

FITNESS INSTRUCTOR

No-one has liked it for the last minute

 

INNA 

They came to Kyiv for my birthday

 

FITNESS INSTRUCTOR

My condolences

 

INNA 

We were supposed to celebrate my birthday this evening

 

FITNESS INSTRUCTOR

Breathe in

 

INNA

I went to pilates after lunch

 

FITNESS INSTRUCTOR

Breathe out

 

INNA 

And they decided to take a walk around the city whilst I was gone

 

FITNESS INSTRUCTOR

Don’t cry

 

INNA 

I’m not crying, I can’t believe it, I want them to be alive

 

FITNESS INSTRUCTOR

201 sad reacts

 

INNA 

We were supposed to go on a tour round Kyiv

 

FITNESS INSTRUCTOR

With the spirits of the righteous departed

 

INNA 

I was supposed to introduce them to Josef

 

FITNESS INSTRUCTOR

O Lord our Saviour, rest the souls of your servants

 

INNA 

We were supposed to tell my parents that we were getting married

 

FITNESS INSTRUCTOR

And bless them with eternal life

 

INNA 

They would have been so happy to hear the news

 

FITNESS INSTRUCTOR

The One, Lover of mankind

 

INNA 

I’m leaving, I’m scared

 

FITNESS INSTRUCTOR

But we still need to warm down

 

INNA 

I cannot wait any longer

 

FITNESS INSTRUCTOR

Shall I make you some tea? It’s brewed with chamomile daisies

 

INNA 

I want to meet them again

At the station

 

FITNESS INSTRUCTOR

But we are at the gym

Inside the shopping centre

Pilates will help you relax and release tension

 

INNA 

I want tea

I want chamomile tea

 

FITNESS INSTRUCTOR

Actually

We don’t have any tea

None made from chamomile daisies

 

INNA 

Alright, let’s go with mint then

 

FITNESS INSTRUCTOR

Ok, why don’t we see

Looks like we’re out of mint tea

 

INNA 

Fine, I’m off

 

MAN IN ARMY UNIFORM 

To get fucked?

 

INNA 

Josef?

You were supposed to make dinner, you promised

 

MAN IN ARMY UNIFORM  

I’ve already made it

 

INNA  

What, have you signed up to pilates too?

 

MAN IN ARMY UNIFORM 

The classes were free

 

INNA 

But I haven’t seen you

 

MAN IN ARMY UNIFORM 

You didn’t see me

Because it’s a surprise

For your birthday

Fuck

I want to be near you

 

INNA 

Have you seen what’s happened?

 

MAN IN ARMY UNIFORM 

They’re already in heaven

 

INNA 

It’s some kind of mistake

 

FITNESS INSTRUCTOR

We’ll drink some acacia tea

 

MAN IN ARMY UNIFORM 

I’m undergoing a rehabilitation course

Doing pilates

It helps one achieve inner harmony through bodily health

 

INNA 

It’s your PTSD

My father was also in Afghan

 

MAN IN ARMY UNIFORM 

I’ve survived being held captive

 

FITNESS INSTRUCTOR

Drink the tea

Calm down a little

 

MAN IN ARMY UNIFORM 

Ay ay ay, it burns, it’s hot

 

INNA 

Ay ay ay…

 

A scream 

 

Leave me with one arm at least

Please

 

 

 

 

Petal: three

  

MAN IN ARMY UNIFORM 

Breathe in

Breathe out

I cooked dinner

I had to go out

To get flour

From the mill

From the grain elevator

Brodsky’s Mill*

On the Dnipro River*

On Naberezhno-Khreshchatytska Street, on the riverfront*

Radishes

And cucumbers

I should have bought them

At the Covered Market

Or the Haymarket, people call it

But I couldn’t find them

They weren’t there

Only massive ruins

and massive hotels

and complexes

Support the sky

Birds don’t fly over the Dnipro

That is

Before my eyes

The stone fragments

of dilapidated houses

Fuck

I’ll smash them up

With a hammer

Into smaller pieces

Son of a bitch

And I do

All sorts of physical exercises

Like pilates

Fucking waste of time

They say it helps

To overcome

Post-traumatic stress disorder

And improve the function of one’s internal organs

Breathe in

Breathe out

I made us

Dinner

From stone fragments

And I was supposed

To buy flowers

For Inna

But on my way

All I could find

Was

These shitty little daisies

Fucking, cunting little daisies

And I thought to myself

These flowers are so primitive

The battlefields

And the steppes

Are sown full of them

All around them

Might be

Grenades

Tripwires

breathe in

breathe out

breathe in

breathe in

The padre

In our unit

He told me to pray

And all this shall pass

He told me just to pray

To the Mother of God

To God

And to find myself a woman

 

 

 

Petal: four  

 

JOACHIM 

Back during the war, a bomb destroyed a house

There I saw a girl picking flowers

have her arm blown off

But this was the war

It is still here, right before my eyes

I have seen many blown-off arms and legs

of my brothers-in-arms

 

HEROSTRATUS

No one remembers this girl

Doesn’t the National Geographic

Have her photo in it

She has all her arms

And all her legs

Her pictures are all over the internet

No-one remembers her

Like me

I set fire to all of Kyiv’s landmarks

Well, you know my story

But it wasn’t like that

I didn’t mean for everyone to remember me

Because of that temple to the gods that burnt down

That never existed anyway

I just really believe

That all old buildings and churches are evil

Besides, I had an artistic goal

I have a picture gallery

With selfies of me

In front of buildings

That don’t exist

And this House of Daisies

Where you both met

It’s not even a tourist sight

It’s just

Just an old house

How much can you pray for an ancient building

How much can you really pray for it

How much can you really pray

How much can you really love something that doesn’t exist

 

 

The final petal 

 

HEROSTRATUS

I shall come to a meadow where daisies bloom, and I shall pluck a flower and tell my fortune: she loves me, he loves me not. I know no one loves me. I am hated. That is why it is better for me to practice pilates on the meadow, or yoga or pilates or yoga or pilates, on the meadow, surrounded by the singing of uncaged birds. With my perfect body, that will grow more gaunt and transparent, I will flood the city with blood—with unclean menstrual blood—and when I will go and be an economic migrant in Italy; when my husband beats me because he changed beyond recognition after Afghan; when people ask me, ‘Are you from Russia?’, I will reply, ‘No, I am from Ukraine, while spewing up this blood. And they will say ‘beautiful women from Eastern Europe’, as they wipe the blood off themselves and smile. I am a beautiful women and I have enough blood for everyone. For the Polish parliament, first of all. I am a beautiful women and I will keep doing pilates until every mine bedded in amongst those primitive flowers, fields and stones, explodes. Until I am consumed by a yellow flame, within a white flower.

 

[Read in Ukrainian here].

 


 

Translator Notes

The buildings mentioned in the play and marked by an asterisk are old Kyiv landmarks that have been destroyed. One or two still exist but are minor local places of interest. The playwright has suggested that the producer may replace them with similar landmarks from the city where the play is being performed. I prefer to leave them in and preserve the work’s Ukrainian context until the play has been performed at least once.

For the ‘X loves me, X loves me not’ passages, any pronoun can be substituted for ‘X’.

This translation was made possible by the Ukrainian Institute’s Transmission.UA: Drama on the Move project, funded by the British Council, and supported by Birkbeck’s Centre for Contemporary Theatre and the Royal Court Theatre. It also appears courtesy of the Ukrainian Institute in the forthcoming anthology Ukrainian New Drama After the Euromaidan Revolution (Bloomsbury Publishing, September 2023).

Image: Piazza Armerina, Sicily, Villa Romana del Casale, Mosaic, detail. Creative Commons.


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