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photo: Waldemart Klyuzko

Dark Night Bright Stars

In 1858 the Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko was set free after 10 years imprisonment.
He me the great African American actor Ira Aldridge and drew his portrait.

June 3 to 19, 2016
La MaMa E.T.C. (First Floor Theater), 74a East Fourth Street
Presented by La MaMa E.T.C. and Yara Arts Group
Thur-Sat at 7:30, Sun at 2:00 PM
Tickets $18, $13 students/seniors
Ten $10 tickets will be available to every performance on a first-come, first-served basis.
Box office (646) 430-5374
Runs 60 min.  Reviewers are invited on or after June 4 Night Bright Stars" by Virlana Tkacz, Jeremy Tardy and Yara Arts Group recreates the meeting of Taras Shevchenko (1814-1861), the great Ukrainian poet and painter, and Ira Aldridge (1807-1867), the African-American actor who was much honored in Europe. La MaMa E.T.C. will present the American premiere of the work June 3 to 19 in its First Floor Theater 74 East Fourth Street, Manhattan. The show is directed by Virlana Tkacz.

The two great artists, who rose up from serfdom and slavery, could not speak to each other directly but in one historical moment, found a common language in art and song. Their meetings were documented in the diary of Count Tolstoy's 15 year old daughter, Katya (Ekaterina Tolstoy Yunge).
Communication without translation is at the heart of the show created by Virlana Tkacz and her cast, which paradoxically, also places focus on the word, providing it with great depth and multidimensionality. The characters exchange only a few important words - revealing the multiplicity of meanings which usually escapes us in ordinary speech. Words like "mama" "Ukraine -Little Russia" "home" "portrait" and "friend" acquire the kind of depth of meaning only found in poetry.

Taras Shevchenko, the bard of Ukraine, was born a serf near Kyiv and grew up in absolute poverty. His talent as a painter was recognized and a group of artists in St. Petersburg helped buy his freedom. He studied painting at the Academy of Art, but also wrote poetry in Ukrainian, some of which was very critical of the Tsar. He was arrested and sent to serve 25 years in Central Asia. He was freed after 10 years through the intercession of Count Tolstoy, who introduced him to Ira Aldridge, an African American actor who had left the US to perform Shakespeare in Europe and Russia. During these meetings in 1858, Shevchenko drew his famous portrait of Aldridge. In the process they became close friends.

Art becomes an additional means of communication in "Dark Nigh Bright Stars." The play expands the source material of Ekaterina Tolstoy Yunge's diary with poems by Shevchenko, which were translated by Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps, and excerpts from Shakespearean plays that are known to have been performed by Aldridge. These texts are performed in both English and Ukrainian. An original musical score, created by Julian Kytasty, employs traditional Ukrainian songs which Shevchenko knew, as well as songs from AME Zion Church hymnal, a church which Ira Aldridge's father attended. The selection of poetry by Taras Shevchenko deeply resounds with contemporary events, as do Aldridge's monologues and Shevchenko's paintings.

Director Virlana Tkacz is the founding director of Yara and has created 30 original theater pieces with the company, all of which had their premieres at La MaMa. Writing on Yara's "Scythian Stones," Michael Bettencourt (Off-Off Online) declared, "the performance builds what good theatre should always build: an alternate world that allows us to re-learn and reflect upon the great questions at the core of our being human." The team of Tkacz and Phipps have been awarded the Agni Translation Prize, the National Theatre Translation Fund Award, eleven translation grants from NYSCA and a Poetry Translation Fellowship from the NEA. Their first translation in 1989 was a poem by Taras Shevchenko.

The music for the production is composed by Julian Kytasty and features the instrumental music of the bandura, a Ukrainian stringed instrument of the lute family. A third generation bandurist born in the US, his music combines a mastery of traditional styles with a distinctly contemporary sensibility. His collaborators have included artists as diverse as Chinese pipa virtuoso Wu Man, pioneering klezmer revivalist Michael Alpert and composer/saxophonist John Zorn. He has worked with Yara since 1998. Taras Shevchenko's most famous book is "The Kobzar," referring to the bards who played the bandura.

The cast includes Jeremy Tardy (as Ira Aldridge), Sean Eden (as Taras Shevchenko), Maria Pleshkevich (as Katya Tolstoy), Audelco Award winner Shona Tucker, who appeared in Yara's first show in Ukraine, and Shona's son Barak Tucker (as the young Ira). The set and lights are by Watoku Ueno. Costumes are by Keiko Obremski (NYC). Projections are by Waldemart Klyuzko, who was nominated for a New York Innovative Theatre Award for his work on Yara's "Raven."

In 2014 a developmental reading of "Dark Night Bright Stars" was held last spring at La MaMa, followed by performances in Ukraine at the American Festival in Odesa and experimental theaters in Lviv and Kyiv.

Since 1990 Yara Arts Group has created thirty four international collaborative cultural projects with contemporary and traditional artists from Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Siberia. These include: "Blind Sight," about a blind Ukrainian writer who became a Japanese writer in 1914, "Circle" with Buryat artists from Siberia and Gogol Bordello, "Swan" and "Raven" based on poetry by Oleh Lysheha, "Er Toshtuk" based on a Kyrgyz epic, "Scythian Stones" with Nina and Tonia Matvienko and the recent "Hitting Bedrock," about the war in East Ukraine.

"Dark Night Bright Stars" was made possible with public funds from New York State Council on the Arts, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, as well as the Self-Reliance (NY) FCU and friends of Yara Arts Group.

Vote for "Dark Night Bright Stars" as Innovative Theatre New York IT Awards

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