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conceived and directed by Virlana Tkacz created by Yara Arts Group and artists from the Buryat National Theatre music composed by Genji Ito includes songs by Vladlen Pantaev and traditional Buryat Mongolian music designed by Watoku Ueno, movement shaped by Cheng-Chieh Yu text consultants: Wanda Phipps, Jennifer Wollerman and Erzhena Zhambalov English translations by Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps Buryat translations by Sayan Zhambalov NEW YORK at La MaMa Experimental Theatre -- Annex January 16-26, 1997 with: Cecilia Arana, Zabryna Guevara, Tom Lee, Eleanor Lipat, Andrew Pang, Katie Takahashi, Erdeny Zhaltsanov, Erzhena Zhambalov and Sayan Zhambalov costumes by Luba Kierkosz, production stage manager: Alison Mitchell stage manager Eleanor Lipat, production assistants: Burcu Cavus, Tsewang and Sara Zatz
First of all, see Virtual Souls... Virtual Souls is perhaps the most complete and satisfying show I have seen at La MaMa (and anywhere else?) at least since Alice Farley's immensely imaginative production about the transformation of Daphne into a tree in the same space [two years ago]. It was conceived and directed by Virlana Tkacz and the Yara Arts Group and artists from the Buryat National Theatre....The legend of the founding of the Buryat people concerns a maiden who was a swan (yes, Swan Lake). We eventually get around to that in this rich, rich evening. What we begin with is a group of modern young 'uns surfing the Web. This section might be a bit extended as it is a while before we reach Siberia, but it never bores and it is well worth the wait. We eventually get to the Northern past and now we have a superb integration of two languages of music: Buryat, soft rock (by Genji Ito, who excelled even himself here) and a song by Vladlen Pantaev. We have dramatic tension, withdrawal, rest,: just like real plays are supposed to have. We have both transitions and surprises, no transitions but shock. We have a free relaxed use of stage space that suggests a world. We have fine acting, people who can read lines, people who can move. Tom Lee, as the Hunter, amazes. He can impart meaning to lines, even stylized repeated lines, he can move like a dream, he sings... He is not the only one on this stage. I can't identify each performer by name but even in moments of movement, swan invocations and the like, we can all learn from this cast. The Buryat actors especially had something important to teach us. What more to add? The movement shaped by Cheng-Chieh Yu, the simple quasi-ballet of the Swans was again a surprise in the fullness of the evening -- the physical look of the whole narrative, the sound, the graphics, the slides, the stage management... just about everything. Theatrical truth exists... As I write this, I recall little memorable moments as when Katie Takahashi as the swan flies away, a Buryat actor's movement in a narration about the Swan, the scene that builds in two languages but one common intention between the Hunter and a Buryat actor. The music here was especially effective. "The Swan is our mother and the birch -- our family tree" Yes, indeed. Perhaps of us all. See Virtual Souls. Forget Broadway. See Virtual Souls. Do I make myself clear? Bert Wechsler, First Nite Reviews,

Yara Arts Group at La MaMa has produced Virtual Souls , an experimental opera with "virtual reality" and the Internet as its leit motifs. The opera begins with the frame of two men and three women isolated from each other in "downtown" New York. Two young women talk about meeting men in "chat rooms" on the Internet; one of whom works at home and has only met the people for whom she works in virtual space; the other walks by fire stations and corners of drug dealers on her way to work through soulless culture. A young man at a computer sings an aria about the grandeur of the "binary system" which structures our computers, ritualistically chanting the numbers 1-0-1 to a crescendo. The actors are on a narrow platform with scrim screens behind them on which are projected flashing images. Suddenly, one young man sings "open-window-mouse-click!" and they are transported to a cyberspace mythical time (like the Aborigines' "dream time") of the Buryat Mongols of Siberia.... A strikingly beautiful woman in ornamental, oriental dress turns towards the audience and sings an alluring song in the tongue of these nomads and hunters, who are both Bhuddists and Shamanists. It is as if director Virlana Tkacz used a laser beam to remove thin layers of culture film from our eyes and transported us to a primeval state. The music, composed by Genji Ito, includes the unusual sound of the morin khoor, a cello-like instrument, with the sung sounds of throat singing which combines a vibrating drone with melodic notes. The actors from the two cultures perform together with aria, dance and changing exotic costume to the wild shamanic drum beats, the "origin myth": for the Buryat-Mongolians their mother is the swan and their family tree the birch tree. It is an ironic, intricate myth, sung in Buryat and English and with themes somewhat like the more familiar "Swan Lake." This Pirandellian, richly woven multi-cultural, multi-media, chamber opera, of high originality, and intense performance, sped through its hour-and-a-half like a lucid dream! Melinda Jo Guttman, This Month on Stage, February, 1997

*** JANUARY PICK for Simon Says - a supplement to the Village Voice
VILLAGE VOICE -- THEATRE CHOICE for January 21, 1997
Less than two years ago Virlana Tkacz staged a very successful production at La MaMa which was based on Ukrainian folk traditions and featured the unsurpassable Nina Matvienko. Now she has staged at La MaMa (from January 16-26, 1997) a piece based on Buryat mythology and traditions. Buryatia, a republic in Siberia, is a part of the Russian Federation and is located on the shores of Lake Baikal. Three actors from the Buryat National Theatre are featured in this production. The plot is very clear: a group of American websurfers accidentally make contact with Buryats... and land in a mythical Buryatia.... The production does not rely on the plot -- it is a dance theatre piece. Virlana Tkacz has very successfully combined singing, music, dynamic movement and choreography into a unified style which visually transmits not only the narrative, but also the spiritual content of the piece and gives us a sense of the Buryat world.The acting is harmonious and on an very high level. One must, however, single out Tom Lee, who transformed from an American actor into a Buryat hunter and set the tone for the entire production. with his movements and mise-en-scenes. The excellent acting of the three Buryat actors: Erdeny Zhaltsanov, (Bard) Erzhena Zhambalov (Woman with the Wind) and Sayan Zhambalov (Wind) also deserves special mention. They brought to the show aspects of Buryat culture and traditions which are unique and totally unknown here. Bohdan Boychuk, Svoboda, January 31, 1997

ULAN UDE, SIBERIA at the Buryat National Theatre -- September 7, 1996 with: Cecilia Arana, Zabryna Guevara, Tom Lee, Eleanor Lipat, Andrew Pang, Erdeny Zhaltsanov, Erzhena Zhambalov and Sayan Zhambalov, stage manager Eleanor Lipat, production manager: Lena Gambaeva, projections: Arkadi Bulgatov

On Monday the American actors from La MaMa Experimental Theatre flew back to the States. During their stay here, together with their director Virlana Tkacz, they worked with their Buryat colleagues Sayan and Erzhena Zhambalov and Erdeny Zhaltsanov on the production Virtual Souls...During the work on the production (I consiously avoid the word "play," although undoubtedly there is dramaturgy here, or rather a dramaturgical canvas on which are drawn the words of the actors, their movements, songs, the set, color and light) a new element arose -- the Buryat legend about the shamaness Asuikhan, and Khoridoi. Still in New York composer Vladlen Pantaev took an active part in the work on the production, writing several songs so that he is listed as the co-creator of the music with the Japanese composer Genji Ito. In America Vladlen recommended Sayan and Erzhena Zhambalov and Erdeny Zhaltsanov to director Virlana Tkacz who cast them in the production that will be done at La MaMa Experimental Theatre. Our actors were very successfully included in the show -- they became an organic part of the ensemble, and one assumes that they have all worked together for a long time. In terms of movement, words, and songs -- everything was organic and artistic, so alive. This can be attested by the lucky few who managed to see the show on Saturday September 7 at the Buryat National Theatre, which included mostly the actors and the theatrical staff. It is a shame that more people could not see Virlana Tkacz's production. But the director and the actors did not want to perform this work-in-progress before a larger audience. The evening was above all a gesture of respect and thanks to the entire collective of the Buryat National Theatre for support, help and interest. It was a pleasure to see the respectful attitude displayed to everyone who took part in the production. The program listed not only the roles and the performers, but also the lighting technicians and the various consultants: Nina Tsydenova, Lena Zhambaeva, Liudmila Levintas, Arkady Bulhatov, Zhargal Radnaev... Erzhena Zhambalov, who spoke to the audience before the show: "This piece includes movement, words, song, dance -- it is a poetic movement and music piece." We heard English, Russian, Buryat texts, songs and the morin khoor in the hands of Erdeny Zhaltsanov lent its mournful sounds, slides appeared on stretched sails of the set, and the shaman drum resounded. The image of the swan mother and the beautiful swans who have no place in this cruel, hostile world... But peace will come and people will learn to understand one another and the swans will return to the Baikal. You can believe this as long as there is art. This is primarily what I understood from this show. Finally, we should list the American actors who appeared in the show: Cecilia Arana, Zabryna Guevara, Tom Lee, Andrew Pang and Eleanor Lipat. All of them are professional actors, who have completed American theatre schools, some in Pennsylvania, others at Columbia. They have appeared in many production by leading directors, in films and on television. They are by heritage from various continents, from various races. For instance Andrew Pang is Korean, Cecilia is Creole and Tom's father is Chinese. They are multicultural -- from all races and nations. And this is interesting. Their general impression: "We fell in love with Buryatia, with its peaceful and friendly people." It was a real pleasure to hear that. Chinggis Gomboin, Pravda Buriatii (Ulan Ude, Siberia) September 13, 1996

The group from La Mama is working on a new piece about the East... The Americans decided to establish a creative relationship with the Buryat Theatre. The director of the Buryat National Theatre, Maydari Zhapkhandaev, an Honored Artist of Russia, gladly supported this idea. And so the Americans are in Buryatia. They are continuing their work on the production. Three Buryat actors are taking part in the project -- Sayan and Erzhena Zhambalov and Erdeny Zhaltsov. The project is very interesting and useful, not only for the participants, but also for the entire company The make up of the company from La Mama is international. The performers are Latin Americans, Europeans, Japanese and now also Buryats. The music was written by a Japanese (Genji Ito) and our Vladlen Pantaev. The director is Virlana Tkacz, born in America but whose parents came from Ukraine. The actor Tom Lee is also an American, of Chinese descent. Last year Virlana Tkacz staged Waterfall/Reflections both in New York and in Ukraine with the wonderful folk singer Nina Matvienko. The show was a great success, especially with the Ukrainian diaspora in New York. Incidentally, as Virlana Tkacz tells us, her group's trip to Buryatia was partially supported by the generosity of the Ukrainian diaspora.The Americans will be in Buryatia till September 9th. Before them lies much creative work, acquaintance with our land, the beauty of which takes your breath away, as Tom Lee and Virlana put it. Chinggis Gomboin, Pravda Buriatii (Ulan Ude, Siberia) August 22, 1996

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