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Janyl remembers the horses of her homeland

all photos by Margaret Morton

Eunice Wong and Kenjegul Saltibaldieva as two aspects of Janyl

MunarbekAlibbaev and Ilgis Junusov as the twin warriors who invade Janyl's land

The battle begins

Janyl's battle the twin warriors

The plot against Janyl

A trick is used to capture Janyl

Janyl struggles with her warrior spirit

Janyl's warrior spirit takes over

Janyl's revenge


a woman warrior in a traditional society

an original theatre piece created by the artists
of Yara Arts Group from La MaMa Experimental Theatre in New York
and Sakhna Theatre of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
based on the Kyrgyz epic “Janyl Myrza”
as told by Ibraim Abdyrakhmanov

Alymkan Abdykadyrova, Munarbek Alibaev, Myrambek Borgoev,
Bakyt Janibekov, Askar Jetigenov, Ilgis Junusov,
Tilek Kasymaliev, Asel Momytova, Kenjegul Satibaldieva,
Shigeko Sara Suga, Ainura Temirova and Eunice Wong
and featuring Omurzak Kaypov as the storyteller or dastanchi
and the musician Asylbek Nasirdinov on Kyrgyz folk instruments,
and the epic singer or manashchi Azamat Serkebaev

directed by Virlana Tkacz
choreography by Shigeko Sara Suga
music: traditional and composed by Asylbek Nasirdinov
English translation by Roza Mukasheva, Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps
photography by Margaret Morton
costumes by Aynura Asynbekova
lights: Damir Nasybullin
assistant director: Altyn Kapalova
stage manager: Asel Nasbekova
Kyrgyz script typed by Ayjana Akmatova
with the images of Tenti Jamanakov as Baytoro and Char as Ker-Taigan,
as well as Kalkan ulu Keremaly who pointed out the lands of Janyl to us

artistic director of Sakhna Theatre: Nurlan Asanbekov
artistic director of Yara Arts Group: Virlana Tkacz
artistic director of City Artists: Shaarbek Amankul

August 22, 2006, 8 PM
City of Artists, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Janyl Myrza tells the story of a woman who is a great marksman with skill in archery so refined that she never misses. This makes her very powerful, but also provokes neighboring tribesmen to challenge her skill and invade her land. She remains undefeated until her weakness is revealed. She is captured and forced to take on the traditional role of a wife. Although she retains her respect, the precariousness of her position is revealed in a series of incidences.
This show is dedicated to all the people who have told this story through the ages

The workshop production of Janyl Myrza was made possible by grants from CEC ArtsLink, US Embassy in Bishkek and Yara’s individual donors


Virlana Tkacz is a theatre director and the artistic director of the Yara Arts Group from La MaMa Experimental Theatre in New York. She is staging a show in Kyrgyzstan based on the Kyrgyz epic “Janyl Myrza.” Currently, work on the project takes place every day at City of Artist Gallery: the actors of the Sakhna Theatre rehearse with Eunice Wong, who came with Virlana and is playing the part of Janyl Myrza.

Virlana first arrived in Kyrgyzstan in March of 2005. “I started going to the theatre, I saw shows at the Kyrgyz Dramatic Theatre, the Russian Drama Theatre, and the Bishkek City Theatre. Someone told me there was an interesting group named “Sakhna.” I got in touch with them and they told me they were going to be appearing in Karakol. So I drove there to see the show. I really liked the production. These are artists who understand experimental theatre, and are really good actors. I showed them photographs of my productions and told them about my work. We immediately found a common language.”

“We both do epics. They have their way – we have ours. It’s wonderful that we can do something together. I asked Nural Asanbekov, the artistic director of the theatre, ‘what kind of epics do you have? I’ve heard about Manas, but don’t think I should stage it.’ He answered: ‘We have 40 other epics, read them.’ I headed to the National Library, but ran into a problem. It turned out that most of them had not been translated.”

Roza Mukasheva, a poet and a person well-known in Kyrgyz artistic circles, helped Virlana become acquainted with Kyrgyz epics. She read almost 20 epics and retold their stories to the American director. From these Virlana chose the story of a warrior woman, the great archer Janyl Myrza. From the numerous versions of the story she chose one by the great bard and ethnographer Ibraim Abdrakhmanov which was over 70 pages long. She then translated it with Roza Mukasheva into English. Currently, Virlana is working with American poet Wanda Phipps on a poetic translation and hopes to have it published.

During this, her fourth visit to Kyrgyzstan, the director together with her actors and those from Sakhna, as well as her photographer, traveled to the shores of Lake Issyk-Kul, where they recorded traditional Kyrgyz songs, laments, and tales. Then they headed to southern Naryn, where the epic took place. They were lucky to meet Kalkan Kerym uulu, a descendant of Kalmatay, who according to the epic was the old man Janyl Myrza was forced to marry. Virlana plans to return to the area next year to stage the show.

“People turn to epics for various reasons: for instance, from patriotisms. I am interested not so much in the traditional material itself, but in the ideas expressed in it. I am very touched by the past – by what it can say to us today. To feel the space of time, the dialog through time. That is why I am not interested in presenting the past in its pure form, in my shows the modern co-exists with ancient.

“Now we are doing a workshop production. This is not a full production; it’s only an outline of a show. An epic is not a drama, first you have to create the dramatic structure. Today we also worked with an archer and learned how to hold a bow. We won’t be using props in this show, we will be stylizing the movement. But to stylize a movement well you must see what gives birth to it in life. Our work with the eagle hunter was also fascinating. We will see what comes of all this. First of all, we will show our piece to our friends. Next summer we will show the full production to audiences here.
by Aliya Moldalieva, Slovo Kyrgyzstana (Bishkek), August 23, 2006.

Today there’s an unusual treat for lovers of chamber theatre – the show ‘Janyl Myrza.’ This Kyrgyz small epic will be staged by Virlana Tkacz, a director from the US. Actors from a local theatre and an American one appear in major roles.

Virlana Tkacz first saw Kyrgyzstan after the [revolutionary] events of March 24, [2005]. Before that she knew little about our land. Tkacz came here to learn about Bishkek theatres. Closest to her heart proved the Sakhna Theatre which stages small epics producing such shows as “Kerez,” “Kurmanbek” and “Ak-Matym.” So, Virlana had the idea of creating her own original show [based on a Kyrgyz epic]. But which epic to use? The director approached the topic seriously and spent several days r in the library studying traditional literature. She discovered that most of the epics are not translated. So, she turned to poet Roza Mukasheva and asked her to read them.

"I came to see her every day and listened to her retell the stories of several epics. When I heard the story of “Janyl Myrza” I knew this was what I was searching for,” says Virlana. “We then found an interesting version of the epic [and started working on a translation.]. Roza would translate each line word for word for me and I would write it down in English. This epic is over 70 pages long. Ours is not a word for word translation, but rather we try to convey the ideas of each phrase.”

Later American poet Wanda Phipps worked on the English translation of the epic in the US. The pre-history of the show did not end there. Before starting work on the show, Virlana wanted to be inspired by the places where the epic took place, and to absorb the local culture by traveling through Kyrgyzstan. Her team visited in the wide open spaces of Dzumgal, the shores of Issyk-Kul and the highlands of Naryn and At-Bashi.

The American-Kyrgyz theatre expedition met with local people, collected folk songs, legends, epics and laments. Virlana was especially impressed by work of folk artists making shyrdaks (felt rugs) and toshoks (quilts) and met a real eagle hunter. But the most interesting events lay ahead. In the high-altitudes of Ak-Say she experienced life in the jailoo (high summer pastures) and saw another way of life.

In the village of Kyzyl Tuu of the At-Bashi region the director met a descendant of one of the characters in the epic -- Kalkan Kerymal uulu, who is also the author of one of the versions of the “Janyl Myrza” epic. The elder showed Virlana the places where the brave warrior woman once lived.

“The trip made an unforgettable impression on me,” Virlana shares. I saw how people lived. I love the fact that this epic is a true story about real historical people, events and places. Today world culture is looking at the past, reviewing it. Sources like this are very rich, and give us the opportunity to better understand ourselves.”

And of course, it is interesting to hear the director’s ideas about the heroine of the story, the legendary woman warrior, who made the Noygut clan famous, dealing with all who wanted to limit her freedom and dignity. Janyl was an excellent marksman and archer. In the epic she first kills Khan Tursun of Kashgar. Afterwards she falls in love with Tulku, but they are not destined to live together. Janyl is captured and forced to marry Kalmatay. The story of this brave woman ends differently in all the versions, but always tragically.

“What can be said about Janyl Myrza? the directors says thoughtfully. She was a woman with a unique talent, and because of it she could not find a place in life. When someone is so gifted there often are problems with society. I am very interested in the character and would want everyone to find something of themselves in this show.

The leading role of Janyl Myrza is played by two actresses Eunice Wong and Kenje Satybaldieva. The show is unique in many respects – it is bilingual, there is a minimal set and a maximum of movement, gesture, and melody. In a word, the audience will be delighted watching it.
by Tynymgul Yeshieva Vecherny Bishkek, August 22, 2006

For more pictures and information on Yara's research trip to The Land of Janyl Myrza

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