| "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
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
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
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
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/.