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photo by Margaret Morton


world music theatre piece based on Kyrgyz epic
about a magical and darkly humorous journey
into the Underworld and out into the Cosmos

created by Virlana Tkacz & Kenzhegul Satybaldieva
with Yara Arts Group and Kyrgyz artists
design by Watoku Ueno, movement by Shigeko Suga
translation by Virlana Tkacz, Roza Mukasheva & Wanda Phipps
featuring Kyrgyz music played by Nurbek Serkebaev
with: Daniel Darrow, Eldiiar Dzharashev, Nurlan Erzhanov,
Susan Hyon, Ainura Kachkynbek kyzy, Umarbek Kadyrov,
Azamat Serkebaev and Kenzhegul Satybaldieva
Video Recorded by Character Generators April 10, 2009 La MaMa E.T.C., New York

March 27 to April 12, 2009
La MaMa E.T.C.

La MaMa E.T.C. (First Floor Theater), 74A East Fourth Street (Presented by La MaMa E.T.C. and Yara Arts Group) Thur-Sat at 8:00; Sun at 2:30. $18; Box Office (212) 475-7710;

"Er Toshtuk" (Sir Toshtuk), a magical and darkly humorous theatre piece, is based on one of the oldest Kyrgyz epics about a journey into the underworld and out into the cosmos. Toshtuk, a young warrior, falls into the Underworld and must battle giants, monsters and a killer cauldron as he grows up, finding love and loyal friends. The tale is a part of the cultural heritage of the people of Kyrgyzstan, a land of nomadic horsemen, whose memory is rich with the mythical adventures of ancestral warriors. It will be staged by Yara Arts Group and presented by Manhattan's famed La MaMa Experimental Theater Club from March 27 to April 12, 2009

The production, created by Virlana Tkacz and Kenzhegul Satybaldieva, with Kyrgyz artists and Yara Arts Group, features traditional music, modern design and movement. It will be performed in a combination of Kyrgyz and English but will be completely accessible to American audiences.

"Er Toshtuk" is one of the "short epics" of the Kyrgyz people, who have one of the richest oral traditions in the world. It is probably their second oldest story, originating as a shaman tale. It begins on the edge between worlds. A warrior named Toshtuk looses his soul and falls into the Underworld pursuing it. With the help of his magical horse and some very unusual friends, he struggles with dark forces. Eventually reunited with his spirit, he saves the chicks in a nest on the Tree of Life and is flown out into the cosmos by their thankful Mother Bird.

The performance will be very visual, combining movement, song, dance and shadow puppetry. Designer Watoku Ueno has created shadow puppets for the production based on traditional designs. Movement will include a traditional shamanic dance called jinde-be (a dance of being possessed by a spirit). Music will be performed by Nurbek Serkebaev (Kyrgyzstan) on ancient instruments including the kyl-kiyak (a small, bowed, unfretted fiddle with two strings and a plaintive tone), chopo cho'or (a pottery ocarina), temir o komuz (a metal jaw's harp) and jygach ooz komuz (a wooden jaw's harp with one string, unique to Kyrgyz music, that sounds like throat singing). Costume design includes Kyrgyz embroideries incorporated into modern costumes.

New York-based Yara artists will include Susan Hyon and Daniel Darrow. The Kyrgyz cast includes Kenzhegul Satybaldieva (who created the title role in Yara Arts Group's "Janyl" at La MaMa in 2007) and five artists from Kyrgyzstan: Umarbek Kadyrov, Ainura Kachkynbek kyzy, Azamat Serkebaev, Eldiiar Dzharashev, and Nurlan Erzhanov.

Yara Arts Group has made multiple trips to Kyrgyzstan to create dramatic pieces based on Kyrgyz epics. Work started on this project when director Virlana Tkacz was a Fulbright Scholar there last spring, when she did the initial translation and developed the piece. Its first workshops were held last summer at an art gallery in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, after which it toured through remote villages in Kyrgyzstan and played to packed houses. Yara's work on Kyrgyz epics is chronicled in a recent book, "Kyrgyz Epic Theatre in New York," with photos by Margaret Morton (published by University of Central Asia).

The script uses the oldest known version of the epic, which was passed down orally for hundreds of years and first recorded in the 19th century by Vasiliy Radlov. The script also includes excerpts from the well-known version by Sayakbay Karalaev, as well as additional songs and laments. Virlana Tkacz worked with Kyrgyz poet Roza Mukasheva to create the performance text from the traditional sources and translated it into English with Wanda Phipps. The production was developed Virlana Tkacz in collaboration with Kenzhegul Satybaldieva.

Director Virlana Tkacz heads the Yara Arts Group and has created eighteen 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 to a world that is virtually unknown to us." Two years ago, Tkacz created the first Kyrgyz-American theatre project, "Janyl," a World Music-Theater piece based on an epic about a woman warrior in the Celestial Mountains during the 17th century. It was performed at La MaMa, in Bishkek (the capital of Kyrgyzstan) and in villages where the events of the story originally took place.

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 seven 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. 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." Since 1996 Yara has also created seven theater pieces with Buryat artists from Siberia.

Yara plans to schedule concerts for the traditional musicians appearing in "Er Toshtuk." There will also be a photo exhibit and book presentation for "Kyrgyz Epic Theatre in New York: Photographs by Margaret Morton," which was published by University of Central Asia.

"Er Toshtuk" was made possible in part by the Open Society Institute, The Edith Lutyens and Norman Bel Geddes Foundation, public funds from 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.

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