Swan

First Floor Theatre
June 12 - 29, 2003
Thursday - Sunday 8:00pm
Sunday Matinee 3:00pm

based on poetry by: Oleh Lysheha
company: Yara Arts Group
directed by: Virlana Tkacz
set, lights and costumes by: Watoku Ueno
featuring: Andrew Colteaux and Soomi Kim
composer & cellist: Paul Brantley
vocalist: Meredith Wright


"Swan," the newest work by Yara Arts Group is a music-theatre piece based on a poem of the same name by prominent Ukrainian poet Oleh Lysheha. The poem is contained in "Selected Poems of Oleh Lysheha" (Harvard University, 1999), translated by the author and James Brasfield, which won the PEN Translation Prize last year. Virlana Tkacz directs.

Oleh Lysheha has been called a metaphysician of the natural world. His poetic sensibility is akin to that of Rilke, Montale, and Simic. American author/critic James Carroll has written that Lysheha's poetry "offers American readers in particular not just a new voice, but, even in translation, a new language, a new way of seeing." Yara 's show, performed in English, will once again reflect Yara's commitment to cross-cultural understanding by presenting an original piece created by multicultural artists that is based on masterpieces of art, literature, and music from a culture little-known in the West.

"Swan" is now being created in rehearsals by director Virlana Tkacz, actor Andrew Colteaux, cellist Paul Brantley, blues vocalist Meredith Wright and Yara's designer Watoku Ueno. The show will feature live virtuoso instrumentals by composer Paul Brantley with vocals by Meredith Wright. Set, lights and costumes are by Watoku Ueno, and video by Andrea Odezynska. The cast includes Yara artists Andrew Colteaux and Soomi Kim.

Director Virlana Tkacz was recently was named one of the finalists for the Alan Schneider Directing Award by Theatre Communication Group. She heads the Yara Arts Group and has created eleven previous original theater pieces with the company, all of which had their American premieres at La MaMa. Paul Brantley has had his music published by Oxford University Press and performs with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. Meredith Wright has appeared in Yara productions since 1997, most recently creating original vocals for "Howling". Set, lights and costumes are by Watoku Ueno, Yara's resident designer and founding member who is an NEA/TCG award-winning designer.

Few who have been privileged to catch a glimpse into the special world of Oleh Lysheha will ever forget it. He was born in the Carpathian region of Ukraine in 1949 and studied English at the University of Lviv, where he began translating the poems of Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, D.H. Lawrence, Sylvia Plath, and William Carlos Williams into Ukrainian. He called his own early poems "songs" and numbered them instead of assigning titles. Expelled from school during the purges in 1972 for contributing to the literary journal Skrynia (Chest), he was drafted and sent to Siberia to serve his term in the army in the Buryat Republic. This initiated his interest in Asian philosophy, arts and culture which would eventually become a major influence on his work. Returning to Ukraine, Lysheha settled in Kyiv and worked on his poetry while holding menial jobs. He managed to totally isolate himself from the official literary world and his first collection of poetry, "The Great Bridge" (1989) was truly unique. Shortly afterwards he wrote his first play, "Brother Li Po, Friend Tu Fu," about the great 8th century Chinese poets. Budmo Theatre produced the play in Kyiv and toured it in Germany in 1993.

Paradoxically, Lysheha is more popular now in the US and Canada than in Ukraine, where his poetry is only now being published and his poetic form is finally appreciated. His second book "To Snow and Fire," which includes the poem "Swan" was only published this winter in Ukraine.

The Harvard University Press writes, "Oleh Lysheha is considered the 'poet's poet' of contemporary Ukraine. A dissident and iconoclast, he was forbidden to publish in the Soviet Union from 1972 to 1988. Since then his reputation has grown to legendary proportions. His work is informed by transcendentalism and Zen-like introspection with meditations on the essence of the human experience and man's place in nature."

The translations of Oleh Lysheha's poetry used in the production are by Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps, who received several New York State Council on The Arts Translation Awards and the National Theatre Translation Prize for their work with Ukrainian verse. Most recently, they won the Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry Award for their translations with Sayan Zhambalov of Buryat shaman chants.

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 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 six pieces based on materials from Eastern Europe including: "A Light from the East," "Blind Sight," "Yara's Forest Song," and "Waterfall/Reflections." The New York Times (D.J.R. Bruckner) called this piece, 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 five more theater pieces with Buryat artists from Siberia.

Reviewing Yara's musical work, "Circle," for Rhythm Magazine, Michal Shapiro wrote, "The next time someone tells you that the Yara Arts Group at La MaMa is putting on a show, go see it! It isn't often that one can enjoy such a satisfying evening of Theatre perfectly fused with music. This is what good art is all about--exhilarating, uplifting and entertaining. And for the world music lover, it is a feast of gorgeous singing, authentic costuming and masterly instrumentals."

"Swan" was made possible, in part, with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts and grants from the Alliance for Resident Theatre of New York, and Yara's numerous individual contributors. For more information check the calendar on Yara 's web site at www.brama.com/yara/.

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