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portrait of Ira Aldridge by Taras Shevcehnko


Two Icons and Friends

The Ukrainian Museum and Yara Arts Group from La MaMa Experimental Theatre in New York will present "Ira Aldridge and Taras Shevchenko." The event will feature a lecture presented by Bernth Lindfors, Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Texas and author of a 4-volume set of books on Ira Aldridge. The evening will be introduced by the award-winning Broadway performer and director, André De Shields, who will speak about the importance of Ira Aldridge to American theatre artists, and his impact on him personally. Yara Arts Group will read from "Dark Night Bright Stars," its original theatre piece about Taras Shevchenko and his portrait of Ira Aldridge. The event will take place in the gallery where the original Shevchenko portrait of Aldridge hangs, currently on loan from Kyiv, Ukraine, as part of the exhibition Taras Shevchenko: Poet, Artist, Icon (through November 30). This iconic portrait is reproduced in numerous books and articles on the great African Tragedian, as Aldridge is often called. It is the first time the original portrait has been exhibited in the United States.

Ira Aldridge (1807–1867) was an African American actor born in New York and educated at the African Free School. As a young man, he left for London and performed primarily in Europe and Russia where he eventually achieved great honor and acclaim. He was best known for his portrayals of Shakespeare's Othello, Macbeth, Shylock and King Lear. He met Taras Shevchenko on his first tour of Russia in 1858, and returned to tour Kyiv and numerous other cities in the East after Shevchenko's death.

Taras Shevchenko (1814–1861) is the Bard of Ukraine. Born a serf near Kyiv, he grew up in great poverty. His innate talent for painting, recognized by his owner, was nurtured to some degree through apprenticeships with well-known artists of the time. A group of artists who befriended him in St. Petersburg helped buy his freedom. As a student at the Academy of Art, Shevchenko started writing poetry in Ukrainian, some of which was very critical of the Tsar. For his "crime," he was arrested and sent to serve 25 years in exile in Central Asia. He was freed after 10 years through the intercession of close friends, especially Count Fyodor Tolstoy, who later introduced him to Ira Aldridge. The two became close friends, and it was during their meetings in 1858 when Shevchenko drew his famous portrait of Aldridge.

Yara Arts Group, led by artistic director Virlana Tkacz, created "Dark Night Bright Stars" last spring and toured Kyiv, Lviv and Odesa with the production, which will premiere at La MaMa February 19 and will run through March 8, 2015. The cast present at the event will include Sean Eden, who has worked with Yara since 1990, Maria Pleshkevich, Audelco Award winner Shona Tucker, who appeared in Yara's first show in Ukraine, and Shona's nine-year-old son Barak Tucker. They will be joined by Olga Shuhan who has worked with Yara since 1991.Yara has always been interested in moments of cultural dialogue on stage and has explored the surprising ways people manage to communicate beyond language. "Dark Night Bright Stars" focuses on just such a moment in the 19th century when two great artists from opposite ends of the world forged a friendship based on the shared experience of the bigotry that surrounded them.

The Ukrainian Museum acquires, preserves, and exhibits articles of artistic or historic significance to the rich cultural heritage of Ukrainian Americans; its collections include thousands of items of folk art, fine art, and archival material. At its founding in 1976 by the Ukrainian National Women's League of America, the Museum was hailed as one of the finest achievements of Americans of Ukrainian descent. Since then, and particularly since its move in 2005 to a new, state-of-the-art building in Manhattan's vibrant East Village, it has become known as one of the most interesting and dynamic smaller museums in New York City. Each year, the Museum organizes several exhibitions, publishes bilingual (English/Ukrainian) catalogues, and presents a wide range of public and educational programs, including concerts, films, lectures, courses, workshops, and special events.

photos from Shevchenko Museum in Kyiv

Dark Night Bright Stars in Odesa, Lviv, & Kyiv April-May, 2014
press release in English -- in Ukrainian | reviews and photos

Photos from Dark Night Bright Stars in Odesa | Lviv | Kyiv
| more photos from Kyiv show

Yara's "Dark Night Bright Stars"

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