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CIRCLE (1999-2000)

Siberian legends, shaman chants and post-Soviet reality intermingle

in an outrageous look at contemporary wedding in Buryatia when

Gogol Bordello, a hot gypsy punk band, arrives to make sure everything goes wrong

created by Yara Arts Group, artists from the Buryat National Theatre of Siberia

and Gogol Bordello

directed by Virlana Tkacz

music by Erzhena Zhambalov and Eugene Hutz

with traditional Buryat folk music, throat singing by Battuvshin

percussion by Yukio Tsuji & Ukrainian Gypsy punk of Gogol Bordello

movement by Igor Grigurko

production design: Watoku Ueno

costumes by Rachel Comey, video by Andrea Odezynska

translations: Sayan Zhambalov, Virlana Tkacz, Meredith Wright & Tom Lee

production stage manager: Susan Elkind Weston

stage manager: Kanako Hiyama, asst. stage manager: Anna Zastrow

with : 

Eunice Wong, Jina Oh, Angela Rubino, Tom Lee, Erzhena Zhambalov, Sayan Zhambalov, Laura Biagi, Shigeko Suga, Marina Celander, Yoko Hirayama, Allison Hiroto, Akiko Kiuchi, Catherine Scarboro, Akin Ndlovu, Badmahanda Aiusheyeva, Tristra Newyear and Meredith Wright

Gogol Bordello: Eugene Hutz, Alexandr Kozatchkoff, and Sergei Ryabtsev

musicians: Yukio Tsuj, Battuvshin

at La MaMa Experimental Theatre March 24 - April 9, 2000

at the Mongolian National Opera House as part of the 3rd Festival of Mongolian Language Theatres in Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia October 9, 2001 

currently playing as Ulean Girls at the Buryat National Theatre in Ulan-Ude  




The Yara Arts Group is a resident troupe at the La MaMa. Under the direction of Virlana Tkacz, the ensemble has traveled to Siberia each summer for the past four years to collaborate with local artists and they have collected a wealth of myths and music from which to create the rich aural and visual texture of their dramas….

The show was graced by several extraordinary Buryat musicians - Erzhena Zhambalov, Sayan Zhambalov, Badmahanda Aiusheyeva and Battuvshin. Gogol Bordello, a Ukrainian group comprising guitar and vocal, bayan and violin, provided a healthy dash of anarchy and expanded their usual "Gypsy thrash" repertoire with several traditional melodies.

The play began in the lobby. The theatre doors burst open, and the wedding was upon us. The audience was called on to help out with some wedding games, notably the hiding of the bride from the groom. This was all done great excitement, and Angela Rubino played the master of ceremonies to the hilt, with real comic charisma. The demonic playing of Gogol Bordello then ushered the wedding party and the audience into the theatre, where the stage was dark except for the singing of the spirits that inhabit the land…The sound of overtone singing issued from the vial of fire, portending trouble.

Yet the wedding that followed was truly joyful, buoyed by whimsical direction... But when the father of the groom decided to bestow the stolen fire on his son, we knew from the ominous overtone motif that ill fortune was coming.

Dukhey appeared and spirited the groom away, leaving the bride to call upon her and her retinue to make her one of them. In a hypnotic scene, she was bound up in veils. Perhaps because unhappy women exist everywhere, not only in Buryatia, this scene was accompanied by lovely Japanese, Korean and Swedish songs that flowed seamlessly into the play…People have wished for that they have desired, and having received it, found the price to be very high.

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 masterful instrumental playing.
Michal Shapiro, Rhythm Magazine, August 2000

In Yara Arts Group's Circle (La MaMa), inspired by Buryat Mongolian legends and music, world collide, unleashing explosive energy. Modern (Western) and traditional (Eastern) elements interlock in the nuptials of two bright-eyed youngsters; heady, bawdy celebration interweaves with eerie visitations from the beyond. A stunningly beautiful work, Circle, rushes at your senses, makes your heart pound, and shakes your feeling loose. I always cry at wedding, but I also laughed a good deal at this one.
Eva Yaa Asantewaa, Village Voice May 23, 2000

…a unique piece of theatre that seems to emanate from a distant land. And indeed it does. The Yara Arts Group, a resident company of La MaMa, has worked for four years with theater artists of eastern Siberia (the Buryat National Theater, located in Ulan Ude) to create this haunting work. Traditional Mongolian musical instruments-percussion, flute, and the morin khoor (horse-head fiddle)-vie with the raw Gypsy/punk music of the Gogol Bordello (a contemporary band based in downtown New York)… In short, a mish-mash. But it works… Onstage the wedding begins, lyrical and lively, with wedding guests dancing up a storm... But soon the story succumbs to darker elements, as the ancient spirits take over and weave their magic. A spell is cast over the groom-and over us all, thanks to this gifted company.

Director Virlana Tkacz has welded her multi-ethnic cast into a unified whole, but with each performer making his own contribution. In addition, the exquisite (and presumably authentic) costumes of Rachel Comey, the background video images of Andrea Odezynska, the choreography of Igor Grigurko all serve to enhance the mood. All told, a rich, exotic experience that holds us in its thrall.
Irene Backalenick, Back Stage April 7, 2000

Virlana Tkacz assembles drama, poetry, music, dance, myth, and movement into multimedia, multilingual explorations that resist summation and disavow conventional plot. Her performances, usually around an hour long, are compressed, ethereal ruminations on language and culture, on dreams and folklore.

These transformative qualities are present in Yara’s newest piece, Circle, which came out of the songs and stories that Virlana and her Buryat collaborators, Erzhena and Sayan Zhambalov, collected during a four-week trip to Ust-Orda last summer…The songs they liked most—called "yoxors," or round dances—are performed today during holidays and family occasions, and so they thought, why not stage a wedding? Moreover, they had collected a number of ghost stories. The ghost story that most enchanted the group was that of Duhkey, a beautiful young patron saint of Buryat women unhappy in love. Dukhey’s legion of ghostly followers (called Ulean spirits) who float across the stage look eerily ethereal, thanks to the modern and immobile white frocks designed by Rachel Comey. Their graceful movements, choreographed with fine restraint by Igor Grigurko, seem to mirror an elusive icy landscape, as much an interior as an exterior one. Andrea Odezynska, another frequent Yara collaborator, created the hypnotic video projections that locate the play in a dramatic natural landscape. Extreme close-ups of water and ice evoke a frozen terrain while close-ups of fire are interposed with images from the groups’ travels. Footage of Buryats in traditional costumes look like they are burning—in danger of being destroyed forever but also strikingly vibrant and alive.

The image of the consuming fire speaks to Virlana’s desire to not only remember the songs and the folklore but to allow the stories to inspire new works of art. "Ukraine and Buryatia have these cultural masterpieces and no one in the West has ever heard.” From the words and images that intrigue her—frozen, fire, spirit, Buryat, Ukrainian, unhappy wedding, round dance—Virlana pieces together resonant dramas of myth, memory, story, and song.

Kristina Lucenko, Slavic and East European Performance, summer, 2000.

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