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Ondine (Romana Soutus) water emerges
photos by Waldemart Klyuzko

The forest wakes with Jenny Leona as Sylph and Shigeko Suga as Willow

The trees listen to Luke (Jeremy Tardy) play for Sylph (Jenny Leona)

Luke (Jeremy Tardy) plays flute

The village women appear
singing spring songs

Spark (Yarko Dobiransky dances with Sylph (Jenny Leona)

The trees hear the village women sing midsummer songs

The trees panic as the villagers set the forest on fire during rituals

Luke (Jeremy Tardy) and Jenny Leona (Sylph)

Ondine (Romana Soutus) decides to drown all humans with the Water Brats (J Moliere and Stanislav Golopadiuk)

Kylyna (Tamar Ilana) and Luke's Mother (Masha Pruss)

The village women reap against a scene from Dovzhenko's "Earth"

Sylph and Luke as the harvesters retreat and snow begins to fall.



When Trees Move and Women Burn
World Music Theatre Performance on the Move by Yara Arts Group
director: Virlana Tkacz
music: Alla Zagaykevych & Lemon Bucket Orkestra
movement: Shigeko Suga, lights: by Jeff Nash
projections: Mikhail Shraga & Waldemart Klyuzko,
with Vivian Strosberg, sound: Tim Schellenbaum
set: Yevhen Kopiov & Stephan Moravski
costumes: Keiko Obremski & Alexandra Baczynskyj
fragments of "Forest Song" by Lesya Ukrainka,
as translated by Virlana Tkacz & Wanda Phipps,
plus spring & midsummer night songs

June 7-16, 2013
La MaMa Theatre New York City

PRESS in New York

The Yara arts Group is a resident company at the fabled off-off-Broadway production company La MaMa. Their mission is to work with traditional-form artists from Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Siberia. Their latest piece (June 2013) is Fire. Water. Night., directed by Virlana Tkacz, is based on movement, dance and song. The loose narrative concerns a forest nymph who falls in love with a man. There are 22 physical performers, ten of them musicians. Without set or props, the bodies represent trees and crops they also represent people, two types of nymphs, et al. The work moves from lobby to stage to lobby to stage as the seasons change. The "stage" is sometimes the usual open space and sometimes the raised platforms usually reserved for the audience. Creative use of space here… The performance was given primarily in English with occasional flights into Ukrainian. It's really cool; the Ukrainian is spoken so eloquently that we think we speak the language. Above all, there's marvelous singing, unison singing or simple melodies with a droning undercurrent of harmony. Sometimes the actors speak and clap in unison. This is a tradition of strong, bold vocal work… Fire. Water. Night. is terrific.
Steve Capra New York Critic

            Yara Arts Group's Fire. Water. Night, conceived and directed by Virlana Tkacz, was a sudden immersion experience for me into the international, interdisciplinary forms of theater that La MaMa is known for. This combination of dance and theatre based on Ukrainian myth was incredibly dynamic, featuring audience participation in every facet of the piece…
          One of the most central elements of Fire. Water. Night. was the movement of the audience. There was no one stage, and no one area where the audience was expected to sit and watch. The performance began rather suddenly, as the lights suddenly turned off as we milled about in the lobby of the Ellen Stewart Theatre. Several performers perforated the audience, walking in slow, calculated steps while singing a somber, high-pitched song. With dark lights, icy tones, and white flashes both in costume and lighting, the feeling of winter was inescapable. This introduction, which later featured the drowning of a young peasant man for the apparent pleasure of a water nymph, set the dark tone of what was to come…
           The second portion of the performance took place inside the theater, but with the audience sitting below the players, on the stage, while the performers acted on the bleachers usually reserved for spectators. The action did not present itself through conventional conversation, but rather imitated the voices of the forest as the characters, each representing an element of the forest such as a birch or a berry tree, responded to one another through either repetition (both in English and Ukrainian) or movement. Based on the season of spring, this segment began with a rather literal interpretation as all of the actors slowly "thawed" and "bloomed," unraveling from compressed and contorted positions slowly and carefully…. It was at this point that they introduced a love story between a forest-nymph and a young human man.
           The next portion of the performance was overwhelming... Folk music was sung loudly by all the players, accompanied by the joyous fiddling of Lemon Bucket Orkestra of Toronto, all while dancing frenetically in circles…. This portion functioned as a simultaneous intermission, dance party, and performance, and delicious homemade drinks were served. In the final stage of the performance, the audience moved back into the theater, with the positions reversed as we sat in the bleachers while the performance took place on stage.
           As we returned, the cast guided us to our seats, referring to us as vegetables all the while. The nymph and the man seemed to have gotten married by this point, yet unforeseen strains took hold. The nymph was reviled by her mother-in-law and reluctant to do any farm work that would kill her plant-friends; this romance did not seem to work out. The final portion of the performance also featured great deal of historical film footage of female farm laborers that was projected onto a screen in the background.
           Ultimately, my first time at La MaMa was pleasant. I may have been lost some of the time, and there may have been more participation than I was used to, but I was exhilarated by the effort that went into this raw performance.
William Gutierrez, New York Theatre Wire

Using the classic "Lisova Pisnia" and Kupalo as an inspiration, Ms. Tkacz has developed a magnificent new work that reaches through time with traditional village songs and looks into the future through environmental issues, all intricate­ly interwoven in a love story. Jenny Leona, as "Sylph," brilliantly portrayed the full range of emotions of the Lisova Mavka, from wonderment, love, unbridled freedom and heartbreak to passion. Jeremy Tardy, as "Luke," gave a very convincing performance as the confused young man, his emotional state pulled by his love for Sylph and the demands of his mother and the young widow who was picked by his mother to marry him. Alla Zagaykevych, the sound artist from Kyiv, added extraordinary aural atmospheres throughout the performance by creating thoughtful combinations of traditional and synthesized sounds.
            The setting of the Kupalo festivities was a masterpiece of stagecraft. The projections by Mikhail Shraga and Waldemart Klyuzko created a bonfire whose flames licked around the stage. Songs performed by the women and others sung with the men brought this festival of the summer solstice to full effect. With the singers behind translucent screens and then moving in and out of lit areas, it was as if flames lit the faces of persons standing around the fire. The emotions between Sylph and Luke became deeply developed during these scenes.
Ihor Slabicky Ukrainian Weekly July 14, 2013

At the heart of Fire. Water. Night. is Ukrainian playwright Lesya Ukrainka’s (1871-1913) Forest Song and a love story between a human Luke, played by Jeremy Tardy, and a forest nymph, played by Jenny Leona.  The forest comes alive as trees are played by actors, emphasizing the sensitivity of nature.  Throughout the piece nature is threatened and in the end it is overtaken by technology as Oleksander Dovzhenko’s film Earth offers a glance into what it is like when farming is mechanized. 
           Director Virlana Tkacz makes use of every inch of space in La MaMa’s Ellen Stewart Theatre.  The show begins with a song in the lobby as actresses scatter and part the crowd awaiting entry into the theatre.  When the audience follows the actors into the theatre the audience takes a seat on carpets in what is traditionally the stage area.  The actors perform in the bleachers, bathed in warm light.  Each configuration of actors’ bodies as trees offers a beautiful snapshot.  The piece is choreographed by Shigeko Suga. The audience then turns around to find themselves in a video forest, created by Mikhail Shraga and Waldemart Klyuzko with Vivian Strosberg.  They are mesmerized by the scene of summer solstice St. John’s Eve when actors jump over bonfires to ward off evil spirits.  Light flashes on stage.
           The audience is then guided into the lobby with the pretense of catching fireflies.  The water nymph is mischievous, played by Roman Soutus.  She wishes to drown humans.  A member of the audience is pulled from the group, his head is immersed in water, and he comes away wearing a funny animal mask.  Then the audience is given a love potion to drink.  Then they learn the words to a song, My v kry-vo-mu tansiu idemo.  Finally, audience members are pulled one by one into a circle that twists and bends around the room and in the end, makes its way back into the theatre.  This time the audience sits where the actors acted.  They are in for more visual treats as they face nature projections.
           The most effective scene in the second act is one in which the actors are on the ground like stalks of rye.  They are cut with the sickle crashing to the ground as an actress fiercely dances, played by Tamar Ilana, a flamenco dancer.
           The show is filled with stunning images and fluid movement from one piece to the next.  The audience seems to move in time with the actors, participating in the performance by establishing a oneness with nature.  The show reveals how beauty can be destroyed leaving technology in its wake.             
Olena Jennings, Our Life, September 2013.

Fire Water Night is a highlight among the 24 shows created by Virlana Tkacz with Yara Arts Group over the past 22 years. It is magical and real; simple and complex; clear and posing with many questions; with many unexpected turns and directorial ideas all in spirit of Virlana Tkacz.
The action starts in the lobby. Actors move slowly, singing a Native American poem about the creation of ice - Winter. The characters then experience all four seasons. First, Spring Flood breaks through the ice and the Water Brats emerge to inform him that Ondine is playing with a dead fisherman on the bottom of the lake… The actors invite us into the theatre. We sit on felt rugs spread out in the center of the theatre (Virlana sits on one). The risers where the audience normally sit are our stage and they fill with actors… playing trees. This is Lesia Ukrainka’s forest. Each tree is real, truly alive! Each, individually, experiences the pain and the joy of a spring awakening. Some like, Sylph’s Mother Willow also feel the onset of age. Every tree has a soul. This spring the young Sylph (Jenny Leona) wakes among the trees. Luke enters this living forest playing his flute. He is brilliantly portrayed by Jeremy Tardy, a tall young African American. Soon we experience a total change of scene. The trees walk right through the audience.
            Summer… time of spirit chasing songs… and the Midsummer Night… ritual celebrations… bonfires… virtual, of course! The most important action is in the songs – ritual songs. These traditional folk songs are pre-Christian. Women singing folk songs appear on top of the risers near the ceiling. They sound like a authentic Ukrainian folk ensemble with accurate pronunciation and ritual vocal style (later I learned that these were folk songs from evacuated villages in the Chornobyl Region.) After the show I found out that there were no Ukrainians among the singers. These are American actresses from various ethnic heritages that have totally mastered our folk style of singing….
            The actors invite us back into the lobby – to a party with Lemon Bucket Orkestra which is part of the show. We dance back into the theatre into an almost realist scene from “Forest Song”. Luke’s Mother (Masha Pruss) abuses Sylph. Kylyna (Tamar Ilana from Canada) appears. We witness Luke’s betrayal and the destruction of the field by Kylyna… The actors who once played the trees are now the blades of rye in a field. Kalyna destroys them to flamenco’s rhythm of death.
            After this tragic harvest scenes from Alexander Dovzhenko’s silent film “Earth” are screened. The characters are now village women reaping in white scarves… No wonder that Virlana Tkacz always emphasizes that for all her admiration for Lesia Ukrainka, Alexander Dovzhenko, Les Kurbas, and many contemporary Ukrainian poets, she creates not Ukrainian, but New York shows. This international production is about humanity and global issues.
            In the show we hear songs from the repertoire of “Drevo” the Kyiv folk ensemble lead by Yevhen Efremov. Also from Kyiv are the composer Alla Zagaykevych, and set designer Yevhen Kopiov, and video artist and photographer Volodymyr Klyuzko. Several American and Canadian Ukrainians take part in the show, among them Alexandra Baczynskyj, Yarko Dobriansky, Romana Soutus and others.
Lidia Korsun, Nova Hazeta (New York), June 13, 2013

Yara is an experimental theatre. There is no limit to Virlana Tkacz’s creative imagination, fantasy and daring as a director. Her attempts and ability to see the universal in the local are amazing (but can annoy the conservative viewer). The everyday becomes the sublime. Her theatre is metaphorical. Before you grasp one thing, you are being swept away by the next mise-en-scene, the next turn… You have to think about these later. At any given moment you enjoy the magic of the creativity, fantasy and imagination…What I saw last weekend during “Fire Water Night” totally captivated and enchanted me. “Fire…” is definitely one of Yara’s best works.
           How many ideas, thoughts and concepts are expressed in this brief hour and a half show! Luke is brilliantly portrayed by Jeremy Tardy, a tall young African American. Why Luke is African-American? Because then he represents everyman, no matter his color, in the struggle between the ideal and the practical, or as the poet Rylsky wrote – the beautiful and the useful.
           Audience members can pose tens of questions to the author and director Virlana Tkacz. But even if we don’t know the answers, the magic of this show will definitely enchant you. The enthusiasm and the love of the actors of this multicultural group to their craft and the Ukrainian source material is spellbinding. Their sincerity and spontaneity is spellbinding. The flight of the imagination of the creators is spellbinding. This is an international production about humanity and global issues.
Chas i Podii (Chicago), June 20, 2013

Yara is an experimental theatre. There is no limit to Virlana Tkacz’s creative imagination, fantasy and daring as a director. Her attempts and ability to see the universal in the local are amazing (but can annoy the conservative viewer). The everyday becomes the sublime. Her theatre is metaphorical. Before you grasp one thing, you are being swept away by the next mise-en-scene, the next turn… You have to think about these later. At any given moment you enjoy the magic of the creativity, fantasy and imagination…What I saw last weekend during “Fire Water Night” totally captivated and enchanted me. “Fire…” is definitely one of Yara’s best works.
Ukrainske Slovo (Kyiv), July 31, 2013


The show at the Ellen Stewart Theater at La Mama is brilliant theater.You are all terrific as trees or dancers or lovers or musicians!  Virlana you did wonderful work.  I pity any person with any poetry in their soul who misses this universally appealing uniquely presented tale of Love profaned as Nature is devastated and exploited for greed.  But the physical presentation is a breakthrough in imaginative photography staging and choreography with compelling music and highly talented acting.  Move over Cats this unpretentious off-off Broadway theater experience has just surpassed you! 
            If you can get a ticket and love imaginative new interpretations of ancient tradition you will regain your respect for imaginative theater thanks to NY State NY City and Coca Cola assistance and persistent hard work for this assembled talent!  Try to go see this lyrical gorgeous production about the heartbreaking way we have lost our way.  You will find your way but lose your heart    
by Sandra Alpert

Fire Water Night in New York - June 7 - 16, 2013
photos from La MaMa
more photos from La MaMa

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