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Ian Wen as Spring Flood
and Shona Tucker as Oendine
in "Yara's Forest Song" at La MaMa

show photos by Watoku Ueno

Sylph(Karen-Angela Bishop) calls out "Don't cut don't kill" to Luke (Oleh Drach)

Karen-Angela Bishop as Sylph and Andriy Vodichev as Spark

Karen-Angela bishop casts a spell on Oleh Drach as Andriy Vodichev as part of the forest

Natalka Korpan as the Field Nymph
begs Karen-Angela Bishop as Sylph
to spare the field
at the performance in Lviv

Karen-Angela Bishop and Natalka Polovynka lament the loss of the field

Andrew Colteaux as the Keeper of the Spirits
taunts Karen-Angela Bishop as Sylph
as Natalka Polovynka as the BIrch looks on

Andrew Colteaux as Keeper of the Shadows
takes Karen-Angela Bishop as Sylph
to Oblivion with Shona Tucker as the Bar Goddess

Karen-Angela Bishop as Sylph
recognizes Natalka Polovynka as the Birch outside the bar and decides the join her as a tree in the city


exploring the shifting boundaries between wilderness and civilization

created by Virlana Tkacz with the Yara Arts Group
based on Forest Song by Lesia Ukrainka
translated by Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps

directed by Virlana Tkacz
designed by Watoku Ueno
music by Genji Ito
movement by Shigeko Suga
Ukrainian co-translators: Oksana Batiuk, Victor Neborak & Virlana Tkacz
slides: Watoku Ueno & Ole Hein Pedersen, slide projection: Oleh Tsona
assistant director: Jude Domski, Lviv literary manager: Kateryna Slipchenko
production coordinator: Kaori Fujiyabu, stage manager: Miyan Levenson
graphics by Carmen Pujols

with: Karen-Angela Bishop, Andrew Colteaux, Jude Domski, Oleh Drach, Tetiana Kaspruk, Victoria Linchon, Natalka Polovynka, Shigeko Suga, Shona Tucker, Andrei Vodichev and Ian Wen

New York - La Mama E.T.C. June 10 - 26, 1994

"Director Virlana Tkacz has transported Forest Song, a Ukrainian classic by Lesia Ukrainka, into a dazzling parable for our time, using sound, song, movement, as well as both English and Ukrainian language to tell the tale of Sylph, a woodland nymph who falls in love with a young man....The use of Ukrainian myth, combined with poetry and song ranging from David Wagoner's "Lost" to Van Morrison's "Gloria," makes Yara's Forest Song exotic, enchanting and thought provoking. Ms. Tkacz and Wanda Phipps deserve much credit for taking such diverse material and seamlessly adapting it into a coherent piece of theatre. Shigeko Suga's choreography is faultless. A young company of actors, both Ukrainian and American, are quite good, with Ms. Bishop particularly touching as the heroine. Natalka Polovynka, a lovely singer with a face straight out of a Pre-Raphaelite painting, is captivating as Birch, and Shona Tucker's water splashing Ondine is as fun and frisky as a filly." Marc Raphael, NY Casting, June 21, 1994

"This summer, at New York's La Mama E.T.C., the Yara Arts Group presented Yara's Forest Song, a stunning elaboration of Ukrainka's earlier work, reminding us that myth is visionary, if not prophetic... As has become a characteristic device, the members of Yara infused this classic Ukrainian drama with mythic and artistic material from the East and the West. Their boundlessness was made manifest in poetry, ancient incantations, spells, chants and hard rock. Genji Ito's original score includes Ukrainian folk songs collected by Lesya Ukrainka for Forest Song. Actors played water brats and a spring flood, fields, field nymphs, trees and flowers, realized in fluid sculptural choreography by Shigeko Suga. Especially affecting performances were those of Shona Tucker as Ondine and the Bar Goddess, Andrew Colteaux as the Keeper of the Shadows and Andrei Vodichev as Spark. Watoku Ueno's set, assembled chiefly of raw materials, was sublime substantiation of the collaborative discipline of the group. Water and bare tree branches were manipulated by actors before projections of conceptional and naturalistic imagery invoking the change of seasons." Catherine E. Zadoretzky, Ukrainian Herald, September 22, 1994

"I must admit I was amazed by the accuracy and mastery of the textual "images" Virlana Tkacz used to expansively stretch the canvas of the drama, approaching the original text with the attitude favored by the Noh theatre. This choice created waves of scintillating ideas, out of which the concept of the show arose like Aphrodite out of the foam. Sound and movement worked towards this same goal. This was an audiovisual symphony with movement, the likes of which I've never seen before -- stunning movement, masterful singing and acting, complex interplay of lights and shadows, electronic music and sound, which included fragments of Lesia Ukrainka's verses in the original. The original stage situations emerge like the original version of a musical theme in a labyrinth of variations. Indeed, all this works, stirs our interest, impresses us with the scope of its imagination, with its ceaseless innovation, unexpected contrasts and heady pace. Sitting in the dark auditorium, you say to yourself: yes, this is the Forest Song you've never seen. This is the Ukrainian avant-garde theatre, about which we only dreamed of under the Soviets, assuming that only our descendants would ever actually see it. But you're watching it here, in New York.." Leonid Hrabovsky, Svoboda, January 11, 1995

"The young actors from Lviv tells us about their work with the actors from New York and how warmly they were received by their multicultural friends at La Mama, where they are now staying. Their thoughts and impressions are fresh -- this is their first visit to the continent. They tell of their honest friendships with the American members of Yara, which began during the rehearsals and work in Lviv... In addition, the actors note that their American friends had a fresh approach to the material and a more positive attitude towards working with the Ukrainian actors than other local actors. They mention how Karen, who played Sylph, learned the Ukrainian texts so well that she even played one scene in Ukrainian. They all agree that the audience loved her Sylph. Oleh Drach adds that he has played the role of Luke several times. In his opinion the American actors are free of the stereotypes which often dominate Ukrainian productions of the original Forest Song ... Virlana Tkacz and her co-workers have "infected" the guests with enthusiasm, as did the mutual understanding of theatre they found with the Yara Arts Group and the director of La Mama, Ellen Stewart, who was in Lviv for the opening of the show. "We immediately found a common language, although we don't know much English and our hosts don't speak much Ukrainian" asserted the actors of the Kurbas Young Theatre...." Olha Kuzmovych, Svoboda, June 4, 1994

Lviv, Ukraine - Kurbas Young Theatre May 14 - 22, 1994 with: Karen-Angela Bishop, Andrew Colteaux, Jude Domski, Oleh Drach, Tetiana Kaspruk, Lesia Kachor, Natalka Korpan, Natalka Polovynka, Shigeko Suga, Andrei Vodichev and Ian Wen

"Ms.Tkacz wants to work in a culture that is not limited by space and language. Those who have followed her work must admit that she is indeed proceeding towards her goal." Olha Kuzmovych, Svoboda, April 13, 1994

"'We try to work with actors who want to create, rather than to do exactly what is asked of them. Ukraine is a vast resource of creativity. Our work is based on friendship. In our travels we collect and combine our energies with Ukrainian actors to enrich our themes,' said Ms. Tkacz." Natalia Olynec, Intelnews, April 25, 1994

"Just as every tree is different in a forest and you have to learn to recognize it, so every person is different and has its own place, time and unique voice which you must also learn to recognize. The idea that today we are destroying the forest, uprooting trees, and uprooting humanity, is central to the production of Lesia Ukrainka's Forest Song, the Ukrainian-America collaborative project of the Yara Arts Group from La Mama Theatre in New York and the Kurbas Theatre from Lviv... It is a rather unexpected look at our culture. It demands that we reevaluate our cultural treasures... The production has been shaped by several Americans of Japanese ancestry. The slides of nature projected during the show are dreamy and romantic, the music is melodious, tranquil, the movement refined and flowing -- you become self-conscious when you discover that somewhere far away, there is someone who feels just like you do, who responds in unison. In Yara's production Mavka (Karen-Angel Bishop) speaks English from beginning to end. She is so full of surprise, grace and sincerity; she is a Mavka, who speaks a language we don't understand, but whom we understand, not only because we know the text... The American production lets us look at this play we all know since childhood, and see it in a new greatness, depth, see it again for the first time, hear it from the mouths of "foreigners," and wonder can this indeed be our Ukrainian piece. Only Virlana Tkacz is from a Ukrainian background, the other artists in the Yara Arts Group are of Asian, African, Eastern and Western European heritage. Their creative process -- "a meditation on a topic" which fuses poetry drama, song, historical materials and scientific texts. What a deep well.... In the American production Mavka winds up in a "winter" of skyscrapers on some avenue where spiritual cold rules and the frozen desert is filthy. This is not a metaphor, but documentary reality. Human souls find it difficult to live there, but a tree cracks the asphalt with its roots and stretches towards the few rays of light." Halyna Domanska, Za vilnu Ukrainu (Lviv) January 17, 1995

New York - workshop, First Street Workshop Space La Mama December 3 - 5, 1993 with: Richarda Abrams, Jude Domski, Yunjin Kim, Victoria Linchon, Tim Reynolds, Sean Runnette, Katy Selverstone, Irina Soto, Shigeko Suga, Ian Wen stage manager: Nancy Kramer

"Yara's Forest Song, as this production is now called, is a very free adaptation by Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps. The adapters have not attempted to reproduce the complex verse forms of Lesia Ukrainka's original, but instead have striven for the spareness and directness of free verse. They simplify, consolidate, and eliminate some characters... Forest Song (1911), "fairy drama in three acts," is one of the outstanding works of Ukrainian literature, rich in folklore and love of the landscapes and forests of Ukrainka's native Polissia. The themes of alienation from nature and betrayal of one's own nature are beautifully intertwined... One's first impression on reading Ukrainka's Forest Song is that it is an unproducible, if beautiful, closet drama with its talking plants and animals, living growing scenery, and seemingly unrealizable stage effects. Yara's production, however, demonstrates that such an impression is due to a poverty of imagination and that the simplest means are often the best. The piece adapts very well to Yara's minimalist presentational staging, reminiscent of the Royal Shakespeare Company's Nicholas Nickleby . Assuming multiple roles with simple changes of costume pieces, members of the ensemble easily transform themselves from the trees of the forest to a field of wheat to the barroom customers in an ecologically devastated future...The simple abstract setting, designed by Watoku Ueno, consists of a large white rectangle with a smaller one in front of it. Images of nature and, as the evening progressed, abstract collages of the detritus of civilization are project on them. The smaller rectangle serves at first as Ondine's lake, concealing a transparent water tray illuminated from below in which the actors play with their hands and seem to submerge themselves effectively creating a rippling water effect on the ceiling. These simple but evocative means creates a watery environment that is both poetic and convincing. The Yara company exhibits a pleasing blend of ethnicities and styles. Katy Selverstone was outstanding in the cast as Ondine and other characters; she has an authoritative stage presence and a trained voice. The Sylph was expressively portrayed with open-eyed innocence, graceful movement and raw vulnerability by Yunjin Kim... Some of the most lyrical passages are echoed in Ukrainian by one of the actresses, Irina Soto and more Ukrainian text by Oksana Batiuk and Attila Mohylny will be added. The goal is a truly bilingual production, each language providing a musical accompaniment to the other. One added poem was spoken simultaneously in Japanese. The influence of Chinese and Japanese theatre was also apparent in the pervasive use of music (composed by Genji Ito), stylized movement (choreography by Shigeko), impersonation of inanimate objects, and the use of symbolic props. When the company returns to La Mama this spring it will be a fine chance to see an imaginative production of one of the most interesting and unusual Symbolist dramas by a distinguished and too-little-known poet, Lesya Ukrainka, and also to see an innovative intercultural theatre group developing a fascinating synthesis of East European, Asian and American folkways and theatrical traditions." Roxana Stuart, Slavic and East European Performance, spring 1994

Bucknell University - work-in-progress, November 29, 1993

"Astounding captivating and provocative are just a few words to describe the performance by the Yara Arts Group." Kristie Robson, The Bucknellian, December 3, 1993

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