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Toshtuk is enchanted by Bektoro
photo by Carl Whetham

Toshtuk asks Eleman to give Bektoro
a black scarf as a present

Instead Eleman discovers a family with nine daughters for his nine sons

The witch Dzelmogus demands from Eleman
Toshtuk's soul which he has hidden
in a steel file

Kenzheke, Toshtuk's bride and her magic horse, Chalkyuruk meet Bektoro

Toshtuk flies on Chalkyuruk, the magic horse

Toshtuk asks the witch Dzhelmogus
for the file with his soul

In the underworld Toshtuk
makes friends with the Mamyts

The evil giant Gogdu rules the underworld

Gogdu sends Toshtuk for the killer kettle
which Chalkyuruk manages to get
with Bektoro's help

Toshtuk saves the chicks on tree of life
from the dragon

Their mother bird flies Toshtuk home


a magical and humorous theatre piece about
a journey into the underworld and out into the cosmos
based on a Kyrgyz epic

created by Virlana Tkacz, Kenzhegul Satybaldieva
and the students of the Theatre Insitute at the
Kyrgyz National Dramatic Theatre, Bishekek

May 23-July 13, 2008 at B’Art Center in the capital city - Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
July 16-19, 2008 at Village Cultural Center, Kara Suu, Celestial Mountains
September 8, 2008 at the 3rd National Theatre Festival in Karakol, Kyrgyzstan


“ER TOSHTUK: A Contmporary Verison of a Kyrgyz Epic” May 24, 2008

"An experimental American theatre director in Kyrgyzstan has created a contemporary version of the ancient Kyrgyz epic Er Toshtuk with the Bishkek Theatre Institute. American director Virlana Tkacz, who came up with the idea of doing a new version of this old epic, has worked with world folklore for many years. The inhabitants of the underworld -- including the relentless Mamyts, the enchanting Bektoro, and all kinds of evil creatures – had to be created visually and through movement, so they could be understood without language. This is the art of directing. The art of acting lies in the ability to feel your partner on stage, and to exist with them in the same frame. The director, together with the actors and designers, has created a lucid vision of an ancient era. Thanks to masterful performances both the mythical and realistic scenes in the epic are woven together into a fine stage production. "

A Director from the U.S. Introduces Our Folk Culture to Americans”
by Tynymgul Yeshyeva
Argumenty i fakty v Kyrgystane (Bishkek) May 27, 2008

“All spring Virlana has been working with second and third year students at the Theatre Institute at the Kyrgyz National theatre. She has twenty students. The production is co-created with Kenzhegul Satybaldieva, an actress from Sakhna Theatre, who performed the title role in Janyl Myrza last year…An American citizen – Virlana Tkacz has Ukrainian roots. She was born in Newark, graduated from an art school and studied directing at Columbia University. She remembers her roots, knows Ukrainian literature well, and especially loves the poetry of Taras Shevchenko. Her international contacts are extensive -- she has worked with Ukrainian, Buryat, Chinese and Mongolian artists. Many of her theatre pieces are based on folk material seen through a contemporary lens. Ms. Tkacz prepares extensively for her projects, studying the material and poetry, as well as traditional life. She translates the poetic works she chooses. Her translations of Ukrainian poetry with African American poet Wanda Phipps are considered some of the best in US. In 2005 she was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Translation Fellowship…

Th theatre piece Ms. Tkacz created is both magical and humorous, about a journey into the underworld and out into the cosmos. It incorporates absolute contradictions. “We found a fascinating version of the epic recorded by the famous Russian Turkic scholar Vasily Radlov, which is very dramatic and mysterious. Saiakbay Karalaev’s version is more heroic. So we decided to use the best of both,” says the American director.

What attracts you to epics? “Time is my subject. Our relationship to the past is very important today: what happened to us, how do we lose memory? Many people have worked on these epics. When you study them you see how refined they are, how polished. To make history and the past live today – is not easy… When we started working on Er Toshtuk we invited Nurbek Serkebaev, a musician who performs on traditional instruments, to join us. He came to our rehearsals, watched and became a part of the show. It was all very organic.”

What is the story line of the theatre piece? “We use excerpts from the epic, as well as folk songs and laments. The epic tell of the warrior Toshtuk who falls into the underworld, where with the help of some very unusual friends, he battles with giants, monsters and a killer kettle to find his soul. Eventually, Toshtuk saves the chicks in a nest on the Tree of Life and is flown to earth by their giant Mother Bird. Visually, the production combines traditional and contemporary elements. Some monsters are created with shadow puppets from Indonesia. There are many mystical parts, as well as humorous ones – such as the monster who has one arm in Bukhara and the other in Tajikistan.”

Theatre is your life? I live for the theatre because it can reveal our relationship to the past, present and future. It unites people, brings them together. Here you are sitting next to me and I feel your energy. If we were doing this interview by phone or over the internet I wouldn’t feel this. This is the essence and the point of theatre – a dialogue with the world around us.”

by Nadezhda Popova
MSN (Bishkek) May 23, 2008

A show based on the Kyrgyz epic Er Toshtuk will premiere today at the B’Art Center (formerly known as the City of Artists). The new theatre piece is the second project that Virlana Tkacz, an American director, has created with our actors. Yara Arts Group, which she heads, is a resident company of La MaMa Experimental Theatre in New York. The first show she did was based on the epic Janyl Myrza, which premiered in New York last spring. Its success inspired the creators to take on this project.

“After the premiere of Janyl Myrza in Kyrgyzstan I was invited to conduct seminar on American Experimental Theatre for the students of the Theatre Institute,” says the director. “The idea of staging Er Toshtuk just happened naturally. The young actors are perfect for the story. And they are so enthusiastic!” “We read the epic beforehand,” says Umarbek Kadyrov, who plays the title role. “Last fall our entire group read Saiakbay Karalaev’s version of Er Toshtuk. We really looked forward to the rehearsals.” “We chose this epic,” notes Virlana Tkacz, “because it is very dramatic and full of conflict. Also the story of Toshtuk is full of mysterious episodes: supernatural creatures accompany him on his adventures.

The participants agreed to work four hours a day, four times a week. We started rehearsing at the beginning of March, said the director. The music and movements were developed in rehearsal. Our musician Nurbek Serkebaev has worked in theatre before, creating music for Janyl Myrza. The students took part in developing the composition, even though previously many hadn’t heard a live performance of a traditional instrument. They all enjoyed the work. One more surprise in the production of Er Toshtuk, were the monsters – created with shadow puppets which Virlana Tkacz brought from Indonesia. There are many mythical characters that make the show captivating,” said the director. The stage roils with life and holds it audience in high state of tension."

by Vitalina Skripina May 23, 2008

On May 22 there was an open rehearsal at the B’Art Center of a new theatre production Er Toshtuk based on the Kyrgyz epic and staged by American director Virlana Tkacz. The show opened the following night for the general public.

Working with Virlana Tkacz, the artistic director of Yara Arts Group at La MaMa Experimental Theatre in New York, were: Kenzhegul Satybaldieva, an actress with Sakhna Theatre, and the students of the Theatre Institute at the Kyrgyz National Theatre.

“This is the story of a hero who falls into the underworld and looses his soul. It is a great story of how we grow as individuals, how our hearts and souls are forged, says Ms. Tkacz. He learns to find friends who help him. In the end our hero, Toshtuk, saves the chicks in a nest on the tree of life from a dragon and returns home on their giant Mother Bird.” According to Ms. Tkacz the production used two version of the epic including one by Saiakbay Karalaev that is over 16,000 verses long. The students were encouraged to improvise. “We had them come up with newer and better versions of the same scene and chose the best one.” Ainura Kachkynbek kyzy, an actress in the theatre piece, said that this process of work was simpler – you didn’t have to live your part. “You simply play, it’s like a children’s game, you show and play at the same time, she says. It is based on play and the language of movement.”

Last year’s production of Janyl Myrza became the first Kyrgyz American theatre project and Virlana Tkacz first production in Kyrgyzstan. According to Ms. Tkacz she is “very interested in working with young actors in Kyrgyzstan.” La MaMa is the most famous experimental theatre in New York and founded in 1961 by Ellen Stewart. It began in a small basement and now has three theatre stages and an art gallery. Such famous artists as Robert de Niro and Danny de Vito once worked there.
by Vitalina Skripina May 23, 2008

For more pictures and information on Er Toshtuk

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