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graphic: Waldemart Klyuzko


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

experimental theatre piece in English and Ukrainian
by Yara Arts Group

created and performed by
Julian Kytasty, Maria Pleshkevich, Mykola Shkaraban,
Jeremy Tardy, Barak Tucker & Shona Tucker
conceived and directed by Virlana Tkacz
projections & graphics: Waldemart Klyuzko
with translations by Virlana Tkacz & Wanda Phipps
costumes: Keiko Obremski
lights: Yevhen Kopiyov
assistant director: Nadia Sokolenko

April 28 at 14:30 -- Odesa -- Pedagogical University -- Staroportofrankivska vul 26 - free entrance
May 2,3,4 at 19:00 -- Lviv -- Les Kurbas Theatre, Les Kurbas vul 3 -- tickets 50 - 60 hr --255-3845
May 9, 10, 11 at 19:00 -- Kyiv’s Kurbas National Theatre Center, Volodymyrska 23-V -- tickets 50 hr (044) 279-5069 or (050) 385-2758

“Dark Night Bright Stars is a new theatre piece conceived and directed by Virlana Tkacz who developed the original work in rehearsals with the cast in New York. Taras Shevchenko, is the bard of Ukraine. He was born a serf near Kyiv and grew up in great poverty. His great talent as a painter was recognized and a group of artists in St Petersburg helped buy his freedom. He studied painting in St Petersburg, but also wrote poetry in Ukrainian, some of which was very critical of the Tsar. He was arrested and sent to serve a 25 year sentence 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. Our piece is multilingual and is about communication beyond language.

The core texts of “Dark Night Bright Stars are: Shevchenko poems translated by Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps and excerpts from Shakespearean plays performed by Aldridge. Shevchenko’s meetings with Aldridge were documented in the diaries of a 15 girl, Count Tolstoy’s daughter Katya. The production intertwines performances in English and Ukrainian and incorporates traditional Ukrainian songs and spirituals into an original musical score created by Julian Kytasty. This modernist interdisciplinary work draws upon historical materials to juxtapose the work of these two great artists from Ukraine and America, who rose up from the serfdom and slavery that surrounded them and for one moment found a common language in art and song.

Virlana Tkacz is the founding director of Yara and has created 25 original theater pieces with the company, all of which had their premieres at La MaMa. Michael Bettencourt wrote of Yara’s “Scythian Stones,” “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.” Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps together were awarded the Agni Translation Prize, the National Theatre Translation Fund Award, 9 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 is composed by Julian Kytasty and features of the instrumental music of his bandura. A third generation bandurist, born in US, his music combines a mastery of traditional styles with a distinctly contemporary sensibility. His collaborators include 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 a recent graduate of Juilliard who created the part of Luke in Yara’s “Fire Water Night” last June and appeared in “Fetch Clay Make Man directed by Des McAnuff at NYTW this fall. Other recent credits include: Booth in Topdog/Underdog, the role of Dauphin in the Classical Theatre of Harlem’s production of Henry V. Other Americans in the cast include Maria Pleshkevich as Katya Tolstoy, 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 Mykola Shkaraban from Kyiv who has worked with Yara since 1991.

Projections will be by Waldemart Klyuzko from Kyiv, who was nominated for a New York Innovative Theatre Award for his work on Yara’s “Raven.” The set and lights will be by Yevhen Kopiyov from Kyiv and the costumes are by Keiko Obremski from New York. Nadia Sokolenko is the assistant director.

It is fitting that Yara’s 25th season opens with a piece that revisits two Shevchenko poems featured in Yara’s first theatre piece. 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 found common understanding, despite the bigotry that surrounded them.

Since 1990 Yara Arts Group has created twenty eight international collaborative cultural projects with contemporary and traditional artists from Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Siberia. Favorite shows 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 and Scythian Stones with Nina and Tonia Matvienko, and the recent Capt. John Smith Goes to Ukraine.

Dark Night Bright Stars” was made possible by the US Embassy in Kyiv, the Coca-Cola Company and the friends of Yara Arts Group.

Additional information:
TARAS SHEVCHENKO (1814-1861) is the most important Ukrainian poet of the 19th century. Born a serf, he was orphaned early in life and grew up in great poverty. Shevchenko was freed in 1838 and studied painting at the St. Petersburg Academy of Art. His first collection, Kobzar ("The Bard" 1840), is generally acknowledged to be the most important event in Ukrainian literature. He was arrested in 1847 and punished with twenty five years of compulsory service in a military outpost in Central Asia for writing poems that satirized the Tsar. Forbidden to write or paint, he continued to do so clandestinely. Four of the poems included here are from this period. He was released in the spring of 1858. That fall he met Ira Aldridge in St. Petersburg and drew his portrait. Shevchenko tried to visit his homeland the following summer, but was arrested and sent back to St. Petersburg. He died March 10, 1861, a day after his 47th birthday and seven days before the emancipation of serfs in Russia was announced.

IRA ALDRIDGE (1807-1867) was an African American actor born in New York and educated at the African Free School. He left for London and performed primarily in Europe where eventually he found great honors and acclaim. Best known for his portrayals of Shakespeare’s Othello, Macbeth, Shylock and King Lear, Aldridge also performed in comedic parts. He met Shevchenko on his first tour of Russia in 1858 and returned to tour Kyiv after Shevchenko’s death.

EKATERINA TOLSTOY YUNGE (1843-1913) was the daughter of Count Theodor Tolstoy, artist and the Vice-President of the Imperial Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg. When Katya grew up she became a respected Russian painter. Her memoirs published in 1913 are the primary source detailing the meetings between Taras Shevchenko and Ira Aldridge.


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