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Scythian Stones

world music theatre piece – the journeys of
two women become epic descents into the Great Below,
where songs, skills and languages vanish

April 16 to May 2, 2010
presented by La MaMa E.T.C. and Yara Arts Group
La MaMa Theater, 74A East Fourth Street
Thur-Sat 8PM + Sun matinee 2:30
$18; Box Office (212) 475-7710 or

Yara Arts Group will summon ancient epics and rituals from Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan for "Scythian Stones," an original, experimental World Music Theatre piece with choreography, which will presented by La MaMa from April 16 to May 2. The piece, created by Virlana Tkacz, features famed Ukrainian singer Nina Matvienko, her daughter Tonia and artists from Kyrgyzstan.

"Scythian Stones" constructs parallel journeys for two young women, from village life and nomadic tradition into the city. Their separate journeys become epic descents into the Great Below—the modern global desert where songs, skills and languages vanish, leaving behind only mute markers like the Scythian Stones found today throughout the grasslands of Ukraine and Central Asia. The production, staged by Virlana Tkacz and Watoku Ueno, will feature Ukrainian and Kyrgyz traditional music, as well as modern music, design and movement. Interweaving performances in Ukrainian, Kyrgyz and English, "Scythian Stones" remains completely accessible to American audiences.

Yara Arts Group has made multiple trips to both Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan to create interdisciplinary dramatic pieces based on regional epics. This piece was developed in Kyiv from March 5 to 27, after which the company returned to NYC and rehearsed here with Yara artists.

"Scythian Stones" incorporates traditional songs from Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan into the structure of an ancient Sumerian epic about the Descent of Inanna (perhaps the oldest piece of literature on Earth, dating from 2000 BCE, about a goddess who goes to the Great Below). Virlana Tkacz says, “Epics are usually male stories about growing up, but not this one. We wanted to do an epic story about a woman, and examine how quickly so many cultures are disappearing today. The piece imagines an alternative ending, linking the past with a future in which poetry would carry the familial into the cosmos.”

“Scythian Stones” is Yara's first production to combine artists from Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. The piece will feature singers Nina Matvienko (who has been regarded as the "Voice of Ukraine" and has appeared in Yara's "Waterfall/Reflections" in 1995), her daughter Tonia Matvienko, Kenzhegul Satybaldieva (who played the title role in Yara's "Janyl" in 2007) and Ainura Kachkynbek kyzy (who created the part of Bektoro, the Spirit Girl in Yara’s “Er Toshtuk” last year). Nurbek Serkebaev (from Kyrgyzstan) will perform on ancient instruments, including the “kyl-kiyak”(a small, bowed, unfretted fiddle with two strings and a plaintive tone), the “chopo cho'or” (a pottery ocarina), the “temir o komuz” (a metal jaw's harp) and the “jygach ooz komuz” (a wooden jaw's harp with one string, unique to Kyrgyz music, which sounds like throat singing). Julian Kytasty also performs additional music on “bandura.” The Greek Chorus in the Great Below will be portrayed by The Debutante Hour, a New York girl group with musical roots in American country, blues and the occasional Carpathian Mountain stomp. Yara artist in the piece is Cecilia Arana, while Eleanor Lipat and Meredith Wright worked on the show. The production is designed by Watoku Ueno, who received the Edith Lutyens and Norman Bel Geddes Foundation Award for his work on Yara’s production of “Er Toshtuk” last year. Movement is by Katja Kolcio, who teaches at Wesleyan and previously worked with Yara Arts Group on its production of "Howling."

Tkacz says, "Tradition is not static, it's constantly evolving, and we are asking, ‘How do you engage people today to create a link to the future?’" All of her theatrical creations to-date have been new works that contain fragments of ancient art forms, but none of them have tackled this question so directly.

Virlana Tkacz and Watoku Ueno are founding members of Yara Arts Group and have created twenty original theater pieces with the company, all of which had their American premieres at La MaMa. Reviewing "Circle" (2000), a collaboration with theater artists of the Buryat National Theater (near lake Baikal), The Village Voice (Eva Yaa Asantewaa) called the production "a stunningly beautiful work that rushes at your senses, makes your heart pound, and shakes your feelings loose." Reviewing Tkacz's production of "The Warrior's Sister" (2004), based on a Siberian epic, Laura Shea wrote in American Theatre Web, "Multilingual, though easily accessible to English-speaking audiences, the performance reminds us of what theater should be and rarely is—the opportunity to step in to a world that is virtually unknown to us." In 2009, when Tkacz created “Er Toshtuk” with Kyrgyz artists, Backstage wrote, “The epic is full of humor and terrific physicality... the performance ought to be a requirement for every actor in New York, particularly those interested in physical work.”

Founded in 1990, Yara Arts Group, a resident company of La MaMa, creates original pieces that explore timely issues rooted in the East through the diverse cultural perspectives of the group's members. Yara artists bring together poetry, song, historical materials and scientific texts, primarily from the East, to form what one critic described as "extended meditation on an idea." The company has created ten pieces based on materials from Ukraine and Eastern Europe, including: "A Light from the East,” "Blind Sight," "Yara's Forest Song," "Swan" and "Waterfall/Reflections." The last of these was developed with folk singer Nina Matvienko, and The New York Times (D.J.R. Bruckner) called it "a theatrical enchantment given cohesion by choreographed movement and by music on a prodigal scale." Yara has also created six theater pieces with Buryat artists from Siberia, three with artists from Kyrgyzstan and two based on Japanese material.

Yara plans to schedule concerts for the traditional musicians appearing in "Scythian Stones.” For times and locations of these events, please check Yara Arts Group celebrated its 20th anniversary, January 22 to 24, 2010, at the Ukrainian Institute of America in NYC. Virlana Tkacz was awarded the Order of Princess Olha from the government of Ukraine in recognition for her contributions to Ukrainian culture worldwide.

"Scythian Stones" was made possible in part by the Self-Reliance Federal Credit Union, public funds from the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, the New York City Department of Culture, the New York State Council on the Arts and the numerous friends of Yara Arts Group, a resident company of La MaMa Experimental Theatre in New York.

For pictures and reviews of Scythian Stones at LaMaMa April 2010
For information on workshop in Kyiv of Scythian Stones March 2010
For more on Yara's theatre events

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