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created by Yara Arts Group
December 21-23, 2000
at La MaMa E.T.C.

Yara Arts Group, a resident company of La MaMa, creates new World Music Theater pieces by combining stunning singing, breath-taking design and the oldest folk sources imaginable. Recently they traveled to the Carpathians and found ancient winter songs and dances that pre-date Christian times. They also recorded beautiful polyphonic women's songs in the villages of Poltava. The resulting creation, Song Tree, is a work in which spirits of ancient myths descend on a woman who has buried herself in work and science. The production, directed by Virlana Tkacz, features traditional Ukrainian female songs and Gogol Bordello, a very hot, explosive Ukrainian Gypsy ethno-avant-garde band.

Bob Holman, of the Poetry Gathering, called Song Tree: "a luscious experience, flowing from folk to avant-garde, from the bizarre to the holy. It was jampacked, juicy -- a dream where you can live forever and nobody collects the rent." Helen Smindak wrote: "the overall effect of multilingual songs, dances, music, costumes and stage setting created a stunning original work that had the audience spellbound." Writing for the Ukrainian Weekly, Cathy Zadoretzky noted: "Winter solstice magic on the Lower East Side? It surely was. If you were lucky, you were there to experience it and to walk away uplifted by a novel vision of spring to come."

Last summer Yara's director Virlana Tkacz and video director Andrea Odezynska traveled to Ukraine. Together with Ukrainian artists Maryana Sadovska and Yaryna Turianska, they recorded ancient pre-Christian carols and winter songs in the villages of Poltava and the Carpathians. (For more information on this trip see "Kriachkivka: A Village That Sings" and "Utoropy: A Village With Salt in Its History")

Song Tree is an orginal World Music theatre piece created in rehearsals by the ensemble based on the research material the artists collected. It is a collaborative work by Yara Arts Group, artists from Ukraine and the band Gogol Bordello. Music is by Mariana Sadovska, Yaryna Turianska and Eugene Hutz of Gogol Bordello. The set and lights are by Watoku Ueno, costumes by Olya Danyliuk and video by Andrea Odezynska. The show features the soaring vocals of Mariana Sadovska as well as Yara's great singers Zabryna Guevara, Akiko Hiroshima, Jina Oh, Meredith Wright. The musicians of Gogol Bordello, appear in the piece Eugene Hutz, Sergei Ryabtsev and Alexander Kozachkoff playing both traditional Ukrainian and Gypsy music, as well as their own brand of ethno-avant-garde. They are joined on stage by percussionist Aaron Alexander and the fabulous the Gypsy singer Piroshka.

Director Virlana Tkacz heads the Yara Arts Group and has created nine original theater pieces with the company, all of which had their American premieres at La MaMa. Video is by Andrea Odezynska, whose film, "Dora Was Dysfunctional," won awards at the Hamptons Film Festival and Rotterdam Film Festival and was an Academy Awards Short Subject Finalist. The set and lights are by Watoku Ueno, resident designer and founding member of Yara Arts Group. Costumes are by Olya Danyliuk, a graduate of the Lviv Academy of Arts who currently works in New York as a theatre costume designer. The piece is multilingual but is easily accessible to English speaking audiences. Its traditional Ukrainian songs are translated into English by Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps.

Musical director and co-composer Maryana Sadovska was was born in Lviv and performed with the Kurbas Young Theatre. She worked with Yara on the group's first project in Ukraine in 1991, titled In the Light. Since then she has been working at the Gardzienice Experimental Theatre in Poland as actor and musical director. She has appeared in that theater's productions of The Life of Protopope Awwakum Carmina Burana and Metamorphosis or The Golden Ass, which she co-created using ancient Greek music. She has organized expeditions to collect Ukrainian folk songs for the last ten years. Co-composer Yaryna Turianska is an ethnomusicologist who has been collecting songs in villages near the Carpathians for ten years. This summer she released the first world music CD in Ukraine entitled "Black Stream." Gogol Bordello, led by Eugene Hutz, has become one of the hottest upcoming bands in America, packing the houses at Joe's Pub and Bowery Ballroom. Eugene Hutz is a founding member of Nova Nomada and the author of the books "Newiuorski kazochky" (New York Fables) and "Raised by Cats."

Last spring, Yara created Circle at La MaMa, an exhilarating World Music Theater work with artists from the Buryat Republic in Siberia. The Village Voice called it "a stunningly beautiful work [that] rushes at your senses, makes your heart pound, and shakes your feelings loose." Backstage (Irene Backalenick) praised the intermingling of Buddhism and Shamanism, music and dance in this "haunting" work, citing its rich singing and exciting staging and deeming the production a "rich, exotic experience that holds us in its thrall."

Founded in 1990, Yara creates original pieces that explore timely issues rooted in the East through the diverse cultural perspectives of the group's members. Yara artists are of Asian, African, Eastern and Western European ethnic origin. They 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 five pieces based on materials from Ukraine including: A Light from the East, Blind Sight, Yara's Forest Song, and Waterfall/Reflections. The New York Times (D.J.R. Bruckner) called the last of these, developed with folk singer Nina Matvienko, "a theatrical enchantment given cohesion by choreographed movement and by music on a prodigal scale." Since 1996 Yara has created four more theater pieces with Buryat artists from Siberia.

Writing for the Kyiv journal Ukrainian Culture Kateryna Talan so aptly characterized Yara as "a unique psychological and cultural experiment. Virlana Tkacz and her actors perform Ukrainian songs, legends and literary texts that speak to people of other cultures. At the same time Ms Tkacz is consumed with what is unique and original about Ukrainian culture and has totally involved her actors in this project. So a dialogue arises between the past and present, between many cultures creating an fascinating model of human understanding."

Song Tree performed at La MaMa "Theatre of the World" in New York City December 21-23, 2001. The production was made possible, by Yara's numerous individual contributors and with public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs Cultural Challenge Program. Song Tree has been invited to Kyiv for the Berezillia Arts Festival and is currently scheduled to perform there on April 25, 2001. For more information check the calendar and what's new

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Copyright (c)1995-2000 Yara Arts Group; all rights reserved. B&W photos by Algis Norvila, color photos by Watoku Ueno
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