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created by Yara Arts Group
at La MaMa E.T.C.
and the 6B Community Garden
in New York City
June-July, 2001

Alla and Iryna sing with Yara's Jina.

Yara Arts Group celebrated Kupala, the Ukrainian pagan Midsummer Night with three events in New York City in June and July. There were workshops in Ukrainian ritual Midsummer songs with Mariana Sadovska at La MaMa, an indoor concert at La MaMa La Galleria celebrating Kupala and an evening of outdoor Midsummer Night rituals, songs, poetry and art in a luscious garden situated in the heart of New York.

On Saturday and Sunday June 16 & 17 Mariana Sadovska conducted workshops in traditional Ukrainian ritual midsummer songs. The workshops were open to all who love to sing and were well attended by both Ukrainians and people of other heritages. Mariana, who is 28, was born in Lviv and worked with Gardzienice Theatre. For the last ten summers she has been traveling through the villages of Ukraine collecting folk songs and rituals. This year she is Yara's resident-artist, appeared in two shows with Yara, and conducted a series of workshops in ritual songs that included winter song, early and late spring songs, as well as midsummer songs. Reviewing Mariana Sadovska's concert this spring, the critic for the New York Times wrote: "Sometimes a musician has such an inborn desire to communicate that her message naturally becomes universal… Such is the case with the Ukrainian singer Mariana Sadovska…"

Yara's Meredith and Zabryna perform with Mariana.

On Saturday, June 23, Yara presented a concert New Traditions for Midsummer Night. The evening was held at La MaMa La Galleria and began with Odarka Polanskyj Stockert's renditions of traditional Kupala songs on harp. Soon the mood shifted from the lyrical to the boisterous when the Budmo Musical Ensemble took over the stage. The group, which includes Valeryi Zhmud on violin, Roman Galynsky on accordion, Mykhailo Gnatyuk on second violin, and Petro Gorganyuk on "tsymbaly," performed rousing renditions of traditional dance tunes from various regions of Ukraine that were enthusiastically received by the standing room only audience.

Julian, Mike and Jurij of the Experimental Bandura Trio.

Then the women of Yara Arts Group led by Mariana Sadovska took over. They included Laura Biagi, Marina Celander, Akiko Hiroshima, Allison Hiroto and Meredith Wright. Their first songs such as "Na sviatoho Iana sobitku palime" conveyed the magical night atmosphere of Kupala. The lights were turned off and only the bouquets of herbs and flowers the girls held glowed in the dark. The trilling high tones of Ms. Celander and Ms. Sadovksa's "Calling Songs," gave way to the powerful solos of Iryna Hrechko and Alla Kutsevych. The Yara actors sang "Yo teper Kuapal" with great Bacchic gusto, and seemed to pull apart a goose, just as the lyrics of this song suggest. Songs from Sweden, Japan, and Italy were woven into the presentation of other Kupala tunes, as was a section by the Experimental Bandura Trio which includes Julian Kytasty, Mike Andrec, and Jurij Fedynsky. After their version of "Kupala na Yvana," Yara ended its section by toasting and teaching the audience one of the songs. Just as it seemed there was no way to top the event, Eugene Hutz, the rocker who put ethno-avant-garde on the map, did just that with a wild short set that included the Budmo musicians and Paula Henderson on baritone sax.

Piroshka listens to the Budmo Musical Group.

On Friday July 6 in the Community Garden at 6th St and Ave B, Yara presented Kupala Freakout - Midsummer Night Rituals, Songs and Anarchy. The events began in the beautiful nooks and hidden corners of the garden. Hidden among the leaves you could find Odarka Polanskyj Stockert playing ritual songs on her harp, as Yara's Shona Tucker read people's fortunes. Under the grapevines the Experimental Bandura Trio played their renditions of traditional music, while a classical cello and violin duo and Budmo, played in other corners. Yara artists taught audience members to sing one of the traditional songs. In the gazebo Roksolana Luchkan showed people how to make their own wreaths from flowers, while in another corner Meredith Wright painted the faces of the participating children.

Then Wanda Phipps, the African-American poet who translates Ukrainian poetry with Virlana Tkacz, and experimental filmmaker Joel Schlemowitz presented their collaborative work "The Golden Game of the Solar King and the Lunar Queen." Ms. Phipps read her own poetry while Mr. Schlemowitz projected films onto her and onto the screen. Then Yara artists Jina Oh, Zabryna Guevara, Meredith Wright, Alla Kutsevich, Iryna Hrechko, and Mariana Sadovksa sang midsummer songs, many in the traditional "bylyi holos," or "white-voice" style of singing. As a lyrical break Alexis Kochan, the renowned singer from Winnipeg, sang a Kupala song and the Experimental Bandura Trio performed their interpretation of a traditional.

Yara artists cut open the "zubr."

Then the Yara artists came on again and were joined by the musicians of Budmo. During the climactic moment in the concert there was a special surprise, a "zubr" descended from above. It was made by food artist Olesia Lew, based on tales her grandmother told her about night-long Kupalo feasts in Ukraine. A whole "zubr," or bison was roasted on such occasions. Olesia decided to create a papier-mâché bison, and fill it with candy like a piñata. The girls cut open the "zubr" and red colored candy descended on the spectators. Budmo hit into dance tunes and the spectators joined in the joyous celebrations. A special treat was the ferocious dancing of the Gypsy performer Piroshka. At the end participants each picked a fortune from the "hiltse" and floated candles in water to see if their fortune would come true.

Dancing to the wild sounds of Budmo.

Yara organized indoor and outdoor Kupala celebrations in New York two years ago, and in 1995 presented a show based on midsummer ritual songs starring Nina Matvienko called Waterfall/Reflections.

Last summer Yara's director Virlana Tkacz and video director Andrea Odezynska traveled to Ukraine. Together with Ukrainian artists Mariana Sadovska and Yaryna Turianska, they recorded ancient ritual songs in the villages of Poltava and the Carpathians. (For more information on this trip see "Kriachkivka: A Village That Sings" and "Utoropy: A Village With Salt in Its History.")

Also see Helen Smindak on Yara's Kupala in Ukrainian Weekly.

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Copyright (c)1995-2001 Yara Arts Group; all rights reserved. All photos on this page by Mark Bodnar.
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