Kyrgyz and Ukrainian Artists in “Scythian Stones” in New York

Yara Arts Group will summon ancient epics and rituals from Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan for “Scythian Stones,” an original, experimental World Music Theatre piece with choreography, which will presented by La MaMa from April 16 to May 2, 2010. The piece, created by Virlana Tkacz, features famed Ukrainian singer Nina Matvienko, her daughter Tonia and artists from Kyrgyzstan.

n68“Scythian Stones” constructs parallel journeys for two young women, from village life and nomadic tradition into the city. Their separate journeys become epic descents into the Great Below—the modern global desert where songs, skills and languages vanish, leaving behind only mute markers like the Scythian Stones found today throughout the grasslands of Ukraine and Central Asia. The production, staged by Virlana Tkacz and Watoku Ueno, will feature Ukrainian and Kyrgyz traditional music, as well as modern music, design and movement. Interweaving performances in Ukrainian, Kyrgyz and English, “Scythian Stones” remains completely accessible to American audiences.

Yara Arts Group has made multiple trips to both Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan to create interdisciplinary dramatic pieces based on regional epics. This piece was developed in Kyiv from March 5 to 27, after which the company returned to NYC and rehearsed here with Yara artists.

“Scythian Stones” incorporates traditional songs from Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan into the structure of an ancient Sumerian epic about the Descent of Inanna (perhaps the oldest piece of literature on Earth, dating from 2000 BCE, about a goddess who goes to the Great Below). Virlana Tkacz says, “Epics are usually male stories about growing up, but not this one. We wanted to do an epic story about a woman, and examine how quickly so many cultures are disappearing today. The piece imagines an alternative ending, linking the past with a future in which poetry would carry the familial into the cosmos.”

“Scythian Stones” is Yara’s first production to combine artists from Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. The piece will feature singers Nina Matvienko (who has been regarded as the “Voice of Ukraine” and has appeared in Yara’s “Waterfall/Reflections” in 1995), her daughter Tonia Matvienko, Kenzhegul Satybaldieva (who played the title role in Yara’s “Janyl” in 2007) and Ainura Kachkynbek kyzy (who created the part of Bektoro, the Spirit Girl in Yara’s “Er Toshtuk” last year). Nurbek Serkebaev (from Kyrgyzstan) will perform on ancient instruments, including the “kyl-kiyak”(a small, bowed, unfretted fiddle with two strings and a plaintive tone), the “chopo cho’or” (a pottery ocarina), the “temir o komuz” (a metal jaw’s harp) and the “jygach ooz komuz” (a wooden jaw’s harp with one string, unique to Kyrgyz music, which sounds like throat singing). Julian Kytasty also performs additional music on “bandura.” The Greek Chorus in the Great Below will be portrayed by The Debutante Hour, a New York girl group with musical roots in American country, blues and the occasional Carpathian Mountain stomp. Yara artist in the piece is Cecilia Arana, while Eleanor Lipat and Meredith Wright worked on the show. The production is designed by Watoku Ueno, who received the Edith Lutyens and Norman Bel Geddes Foundation Award for his work on Yara’s production of “Er Toshtuk” last year. Movement is by Katja Kolcio, who teaches at Wesleyan and previously worked with Yara Arts Group on its production of “Howling.”

Tkacz says, “Tradition is not static, it’s constantly evolving, and we are asking, ‘How do you engage people today to create a link to the future?’” All of her theatrical creations to-date have been new works that contain fragments of ancient art forms, but none of them have tackled this question so directly.

Tkacz says, “Tradition is not static, it’s constantly evolving, and we are asking, ‘How do you engage people today to create a link to the future?’” All of her theatrical creations to-date have been new works that contain fragments of ancient art forms, but none of them have tackled this question so directly.

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