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Obo: Our Shamanism
created by Yara Arts Group
March 15 to April 1, 2001
La MaMa E.T.C.
New York City

New York Theatre Wire REVIEW
by Kristina Lucenko

The closest most New Yorkers come to communing with the spirit world is a Sunday afternoon mass, a Friday night Seder, or a nature walk through Central Park. Thanks to Virlana Tkacz and the Yara Arts Group, Eastern spirits touched down from March 15 through April 1, 2001 in downtown Manhattan's La MaMa Theatre, offering the audience a taste of ancient Buryat ritual and shaman songs, and an interpretation of the mysterious link between us and them.

Badmahanda makes an offering to the spirits

Yara Arts Group first experienced Buryat songs and rituals in 1996, and has traveled to Siberia every summer since then, collecting folk material, recording ghost stories, translating shaman chants, and collaborating with artists from the Buryat National Theatre in Ulan Ude in eastern Siberia. Obo: Our Shamanism, created by director Virlana Tkacz and Yara collaborators Sayan and Erzhena Zhambalov, Mariana Sadovska, Battuvshin, and Badmahanda Aiusheyeva, is based on shaman initiation rituals that the artists witnessed firsthand when they traveled in 2000 to the Buryat Aginsk region of Siberia, near the borders of China and Mongolia.

Badmahanda sings on fire with the spirits

In the play, a young girl-played by renowned Buryat singer Badmahanda-is overcome with uncontrollable laughing fits that her parents-played by the Zhambalovs-try to rid her of. The two perform a shaman ritual in which they call down ancestral spirits to help them diagnose and treat the source of their daughter's condition, and, one can infer, jumpstart the inevitable rite of passage from immaturity to seriousness, from childhood to adulthood. The spirits (played by Buryat throat singer Battuvshin and the astonishingly gifted Ukrainian singer Mariana Sadovska) sang plaintive and haunting old Buryat and Ukrainian songs, the switching between languages suggesting that spirit-talk is multilayered and immeasurable, native and utterly exotic.

"The play was really about finding contact with the other world," says Tkacz. "We wanted to convey how shamans speak to the spirits. These souls are part of the family; they have a vested interest in seeing their line continue, in seeing sicknesses healed. They stick around because something isn't right."

The shaman ritual is complete

The footage of an actual shaman ceremony, which was projected onto a semi-sheer backdrop, echoed the dramatic interpretation of the ritual being performed onstage. The virtuoso performances by musicians Sayan Zhambalov and Battuvshin, and the breathtaking vocalizations by Badmahanda and Sadovska made Obo: Our Shamanism a richly hypnotic experience of mysticism, myth, tradition, and family that worked its own magic on the crowd. [NYTW]

For more information on this show and pictures from the ceremony see Obo: Our Shamanism

Also see Helen Smindak on Yara's latest work Kupalo
in Ukrainian Weekly

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