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"CIRCLE" BY YARA ARTS GROUP
Siberian legends, traditional music, shaman chants and post-Soviet reality intermingle
in an outrageous look at contemporary life in Buryatia.
Hot gypsy punk music by Gogol Bordello
March 24 to April 9
SIBERIAN PERFORMANCE ART -- Tom Lee (groom), Badmahanda Aiusheyeva (hanging), Eunice Wong (bride) in Yara Arts Group's "Circle." (photo by Watoku Ueno)
La MaMa E.T.C. (Annex Theater), 74A East Fourth Street
(Presented by La MaMa E.T.C.)
Th-Sat at 8:00 pm, Sun at 3:30 pm and 8:00 pm; Fri & Sat $20/tdf; Th & Sun $15/tdf
(212) 475-7710 For four years, Yara Arts Group, a resident company of La MaMa, has traveled to Siberia each summer to collaborate with prominent theater artists of the Buryat National Theater of Ulan Ude, near Lake Baikal. The company has returned with a succession of theatrical works that blend east-meets-west idealism, Buryat performance styles and Mongolian throat singing. Yara's latest creation., "Circle," is an interdisciplinary music and dance work in which spirits of ancient Buryat myths descend upon a modern Siberian nuptial feast. The evening, directed by Virlana Tkacz, features traditional Buryat music and Gogol Bordello, a very hot, explosive Ukrainian Gypsy punk band. Shaman chants mix with post-Soviet reality and the raw music of Gogol Bordello to create an outrageous picture of contemporary life in Siberia.
The production was created as a joint collaboration of Yara Arts Group, artists from Buryatia and the band Gogol Bordello. It aims at the creation of a unique kind of environmental theater that expresses the Buryat notion that the spirit world is constantly with us. The audience enters into the lobby of La MaMa's Annex Theater, which is decorated for a traditional Soviet-style wedding dinner. The pre-wedding games are in full swing: in one, the bride is kidnapped and the groom must pay "ransom" to get her back (it's performed with audience involvement).
As the performance moves into the Annex Theater's main playing area, the atmosphere shifts--realism is abandoned and spirits whirl in a wild round dance with the living. At center-stage is a shamanist monument best described as a "spirit hitching-post." The wedding feast is set up over it just as the real world is layered over the spirit world. A gypsy wedding band arrives "to make sure that everything goes wrong." Into this mayhem, a beautiful girl appears singing traditional Mongolian songs. In the course of the evening, the groom is going to fall in love with her and attempt to go off with her. This will force the bride to invoke the Ulean spirits, as unhappy lovers have for centuries in Buryat Mongolia. The grandmothers come to the rescue, transforming into girl-spirits with magic powers to put things right. (In their travels last summer to the Ust-Orda region, Yara Arts Group members recorded Buryat grandmothers singing.)
Music for the production is composed by Buryat composer Erzhena Zhambalov and Golgo Bordello's Eugene Hutz. It features the soaring vocals of Badmahanda Aiusheyeva, of Badma Seseg (a Buryat musical ensemble), and Erzhena Zhambalov, a star of the Buryat National Theatre in Ulan Ude, Siberia. Traditional Buryat Mongolian music is played live on the morin khur (horse-head fiddle) and limbe (Mongolian flute) by master musician Battuvshin. Movement is by Igor Grigurko, who heads AsiaArt Movement Theater in Ulan Ude.
The cast also includes Yara ensemble members Laura Biagi, Marina Celander, Yoko Hirayama, Allison Hiroto, Akiko Kiuchi, Thu Le, Tom Lee, Akim Ndlovu, Tristra Newyear, Jina Oh, Eileen Jin Park, Angela Rubino, Catherine Scarboro, Mariko Shibata, Shigeko Suga, Eunice Wong and Meredith Wright. The musicians of Gogol Bordello are Eugene Hutz, Vlad Solovar, Alexandr Kazatchkoff and Sergei Rjabtsev.
The production is designed by Watoku Ueno, a recipient of the NEA/TCG Design Fellowship. Costumes are by Rachel Comey of a Rose Has No Teeth Design. Video is by Andrea Odezynska.
The piece is multilingual but is easily accessible to English speaking audiences. The traditional Buryat songs are translated into English by Sayan Zhambalov, Virlana Tkacz and company. (The translations will are soon be published by Agni Review and Shaman Drum.)
Erzhena Zhambalov and Sayan Zhambalov are the premiere artists of their generation at the Buryat National Theatre in Ulan Ude, Siberia and have been recognized as Honored Artists of the Republic for their achievements. Previously, they collaborated with Yara on the creation of "Virtual Souls" and "Flight of the White Bird" in Ulan Ude, New York and Kyiv. Battuvshin is a master musician and throat singer who was recently also named Honored Artist of the Buryat Republic.
Yara Arts Group's "Flight of the White Bird" (1999)
To-date, Yara Arts Group has created two major theater pieces on Buryat themes. "Virtual Souls" (La MaMa, 1997) was an experimental opera that depicted a chance meeting of American and Buryat young people via the Internet and their shared of fascination with the Buryat Myth of the Swan (which is also the premise of the ballet "Swan Lake"). Critic Bert Wechsler (New York Theatre Wire) cheered, "Virtual Souls is perhaps the most complete and satisfying show I have seen at La MaMa" and urged readers, "Forget Broadway. See 'Virtual Souls.'" Yara's "Flight of the White Bird" (1999) was an all-sung work depicting an American in Siberia today who finds herself in the footsteps of a 16th century Buryat princess.
Yara is a resident company of La MaMa and this is its eighth production there. Founded in 1990, the group 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 began in 1990 with "A Light from the East," a collection of text and images from the diaries of the formative Ukrainian theater artist Les Kurbas, and Tkacz led Yara on a tour of Ukraine with the production. In the two years following, Yara developed "Explosions," a theater work on technological disasters, followed by "Blind Sight," a play on the blind Ukrainian poet Vasyl Yeroshenko (who had traveled to Japan in 1914 and started writing in Japanese). The production wove documentary material from Yeroshenko's life with his own poetry and works by other Ukrainian and Japanese poets. The Village Voice's Roderick Mason Faber wrote, "'Blind Sight' is like a ballet without dance, or a fantasy by a modernist Watteau, delicate and ethereal in the extreme, yet somehow simultaneously as tough as steel, hard as nails....That 'Blind Sight' works at all is a minor miracle; that it works so well is a blessing." In 1994, Yara created a bilingual work called "Yara's Forest Song," based on a classic play by Lesia Ukrainka, in collaboration with the Kurbas Young Theatre of Lviv, and presented its American debut at La MaMa. In 1996, it developed "Waterfall/Reflections" in Kiev, in collaboration with popular Ukrainian singer Nina Matvienko, and presented its American premiere at La MaMa. 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."
"Circle" was made possible, in part, by the support of The Trust for Mutual Understanding, The Edith Markson Travel Fund and The New York State Council on the Arts. More information on Yara Arts Group is available on its website, www.brama.com/yara/. [NYTW]
Related article: La MaMa sets 1999-2000 season schedule
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