BLIND SIGHT (1993)
Japan 1914, as Vasyl Yeroshenko, a blind poet, saw it
created by Virlana Tkacz, Wanda Phipps and Watoku Ueno
directed by Virlana Tkacz, set & lights by Watoku Ueno
costumes by Carol Ann Pelletier
dramaturgs: Wanda Phipps & Katerina Slipchenko
Ukrainian translations: Attila Mohylny & Virlana Tkacz
music: Vincent Katz sound: Eugene Kuziw
stage manager: Nancy Kramer graphics by Carmen Pujols
with Richarda Abrams, Andrew Colteaux, Jennifer Kato, Ichiro Kishimoto, Candace Dian Leverett, Olya Radchuk, Shigeko, Mykola Shkaraban and Ian Wen
New York - La Mama E.T.C. April 15 - May 2, 1993
& Kharkiv, Ukraine -- Berezil International Theatre Festival, April 2 - 3, 1993
Kiev, Ukraine -- Berezillia Art Festival of Experimental Theatre, April 5, 1993
with: Richarda Abrams, Andrew Colteaux, Ichiro Kishimoto, Candace Dian Leverett, Jeffrey Ricketts, Dawn Saito and Shigeko
New York - workshop La Mama First Street Workshop, December 4 - 6, 1992 &
New York University - Tisch School of the Arts, work-in-progress, December 9, 1992
BLIND SIGHT Press
"Based on autobiographical material from Vasyl Yeroshenko (1890-1952), a blind Ukrainian poet, 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. It's a 'conceptual piece,' an extended meditation on the idea of blindness, and yet -- perhaps because it is based on actually experienced feelings and events -- it moves about firmly in the realms of reality. Yeroshenko is not the only writer recontextualized by the Yara Group collaborators. Especially effective are some translations from the 7th and 12th century Japanese by the venerable American poet Kenneth Rexroth. That Blind Sight works at all is a minor miracle; that it works so well is a blessing."
Roderick Mason Faber, Village Voice, May 4, 1993
"Blind Sight is a wonderfully creative work by a company that occupies a unique place in contemporary theatre practice. Blind Sight works to find a dramatic means to establish dialogues between the past and the present and between different cultures.... Like Vasyl Yeroshenko, the Yara Arts Group is seeking light in life and art with the aim of overcoming our human "darkness": racial, cultural and social prejudice."
Irene Miller, Slavic and East European Performance, fall 1993
"It is hard to imagine a better ensemble, tuned as finely as the best violin in the hands, not of an iron-fisted director, but someone who shares her thoughts and is a co-creator. It is rare that one sees something so democratic, so international and so all-embracing. It's hard to imagine such a kaleidoscope of languages, and such incredible grace in the actors' movements... In this show the languages of text and theatre are fused by Virlana into a single concept. Yeroshenko is filtered through her being and brought to life... All of Virlana's pieces have an amazing sense of space and are very dynamic, complex, polyphonic and multilayered."
Liubart Lishchynsky, Svoboda, June 12, 1993
"This captivating piece is based on a true story of a blind Ukrainian poet, Vasyl Yeroshenko... The play focuses on Yeroshenko's "visions" of other cultures and... employs the visions of the actors. 'We're a multicultural group, [so we examined] how we move across cultures, how can we not be blind to each other?' says Tkacz, 'And out of that came the piece.'"
Halyna Kuzyszyn, The Observer (Fordham University), December 1, 1993
"Ukraine gained political independence in 1991 upon the collapse of the USSR but inherited a shattered culture due to centuries of autocratic rule and political repression. Fortunately, cultural heritage can be reclaimed, at least in part, through memory -- and one of the people helping Ukraine rediscover its voice is Virlana Tkacz, artistic director of the Yara Arts Group at LA Mama E.T.C. in New York.... With just such a vision in mind, Tkacz created Blind Sight, based on the true story of the life of a blind Ukrainian poet named Vasyl Yeroshenko, to traveled to Tokyo in 1914 and, writing in Japanese, became a noted author there. Blind Sight, La Mama's entry in the first Berezil Festival last spring, examined communication across barriers of language and nationality as a sightless artist "sees" cultures throughout Asia... With an international cast that included local Ukrainian actors, the production excited sold-out audiences in Kharkiv and Kiev, before returning to La Mama for its American premiere."
Peter Bejger, American Theatre, September 1993
"La Mama, the American theatre from New York, generated enormous interest with its production of Blind Sight, which was created by the gifted director Virlana Tkacz, who is of Ukrainian heritage and has dedicated herself to studying and perpetuating Les Kurabas' legacy. The startling directorial concept of her improvised avant-garde production had great impact on the audience, as did her seminal, conceptually unique paper, which she delivered at the International Theatre Studies Conference, where Les Kurbas's work was examined in the context of world art."
Iuri Stanishevsky, Holos Ukrainy (Kiev) April 30, 1993
"I found the use of multilingualism in Blind Sight very interesting. The show was created by V. Tkacz, W. Ueno and W. Phipps with the Yara Arts Group from New York's La Mama Experimental Theatre. Actors of various nationalities took part and each spoke their own language on stage (English, Japanese, Chinese and Ukrainian). Such multilingualism has long been used in music, but is new on the dramatic stage. Here we have the first attempt to create and employ both its artistic and utilitarian (the audience understands the content). The harmony of languages and cultures united through action and justified emotionally by the actors, made this show with a very new and unique."
Hennadyi Makarchuk, Kultura i zhyttia (Kiev) May 22, 1993
"Theatre in Ukraine is indeed alive. Good theatre draws audiences. In order to see shows created by Stupka, or Virlana Tkacz's Yara Arts Group from New York, or Dodin's group you literally had to risk your life -- since there were so many people who were willing to use their elbows to force their way into the theatre."
Iuri Shevelov, Svoboda, June 10, 1993
"Poetry always plays an important role in Yara's productions which are directed by Virlana Tkacz. In this show the individual poetic works were organically woven into the structure of the piece.... Especially inspired was a scene in which the hero related his story about a paper lantern to a Japanese woman journalist... Andrew Colteaux was wonderful as Yeroshenko..."
Maria Rewakowicz, Svito-vyd (Kiev-NY), No 3. 1993
"Our group included artists from Kiev -- two actors (Olya Radchuk and Mykola Shkaraban), Ruslan and me and the Yara Arts Group from New York. We were brought up in such different societies and cultures, including members of every race on earth. In addition to directing, Virlana Tkacz, who heads Yara, had to employ diplomatic and even educational skills in order to get us acquainted and to inspire us to creativity.... We learned about American theatre by taking part in it. The energetic, playful, liberated style of work was a breath of fresh air for our artists, so distracted by our economic crisis and inflation. Virlana's ability to inspire by listening or with a joke or a smile; the acting energy of Andrew Colteaux from California and our desire to understand each other transformed these sessions into blessed events... Whenever I think of Yara I immediately think of the good times. This theatre group, as young as America, brought with it to Kharkiv smiles, light, and energy which our artistic world often lacks. People who for two nights in a row crammed into the theatre where Blind Sight performed witnessed a bilingual show and a theatre full of surprises, American in its brilliance and joy and Slavic in its symbolism and exaltation."
Attila Mohylny, Literaturna Ukraina, September 9, 1993
"The young American actors, led by director Virlana Tkacz, were in Kiev for the Berezillia Arts Festival. The show is about Vasyl Yeroshenko, a blind poet who was Ukrainian. The actors speak English, Japanese, Esperanto and Ukrainian. The piece is a collage of documentary material, biographical scenes and fragments from Yeroshenko's literary works written in Japanese and Esperanto... The actor's movements are precise, their words expressive, their feeling for the time period -- impressive. The production's music is contemporary, and gives rise to specific sound associations. Lights are used in a very original way: they underline the authenticity of the scenes that are staged to remind one old photographs. Penetrating portrayals of the characters of Vasyl and Anna are created by Andrew Colteaux and Richarda Abrams. The entire ensemble is wonderful. The Ukrainian-speaking actors, Olya Radchuk and Mykola Shkaraban supplement the troupe well."
Olena Denysiv, Khreshchatyk (Kiev), April 27, 1993
NEW YORK workshop
"Yeroshenko's early life and travels (up to 1921) provide the basic, but complex, structure for Blind Sight. The blind writer's growing love for an ambitious Japanese journalist and feminist Kamichika Ichiko (Jennifer Kato) grows into a graceful and soulful adaptation of Yeroshenko's story, "The Paper Lantern." Yeroshenko meets a down-on-his luck theatre director, Akita Ujaku (Ian Wen), and they decide to attend a hilarious staging of a play by Russian Symbolist Fedir Sologub, done in the Kabuki style. Yeroshenko, perhaps a bit homesick and hoping to witness something Western, is quite disappointed to find it entirely Nipponized. For his part, Ujaku, is mystified that Yeroshenko could have found anything so glaringly foreign to be Japanese. As Yeroshenko rebuffs Agnes, an emotionally brittle Bahai English teacher (played by Candace Dian Leverett) and then prepares to leave Japan, the scene grows into a beautiful women's quartet (Richarda Abrams, Ms. Kato, Ms Leverett and Shigeko) in which they archly comment on the ways and manners of egotistical men.... The action begins with Yeroshenko's incantative musing, taken from his diaries, about his exclusion from the light of day and what he has learned from the night. Elsewhere, this might have been a prelude to an exploration of the dark side. In this play, it is the point of departure for his journey in search of the land of dreams... Before the journey is undertaken, however, the audience is confronted with a tour-de-force: a staging of the 4 year-old's first paradoxical revelation of blindness. Young Vasyl approaches a shuttered window, heedless of the furtive voices seeking to shield him from knowledge about his condition. [He had gone blind because of an illness]. When he opens the shutters, the crushing realization that he feels the sun's warmth without seeing its light seems to physically push him to the floor and squeeze him into a ball. As he lies curled up, a whirlwind of cautions about sharp objects, stoops, stove, falling crockery drive him across the room, onto a bench and to a scream of anguish.Then, in a moment that encapsulates the man's suborn resolve throughout his life, Yeroshenko proceeds with the painstaking mathematics of navigation among markers unseen. "Nine steps to the door, 15 steps to the windows, four steps to the chair..." Andrew Colteaux, who plays Yeroshenko, has a convincing grasp of the mannerism of the blind. He cuts a striking figure in the lead role. He is tall, bony and with a bristling head of hair, which gives him the air of a cornered fledgling eagle with a damaged wing. He presents a compelling mixture of the curious, playful, indomitable, defiant but crippled.At other times, he softens marvelously, as in the magical scene in which Toshiko, the young daughter of Yeroshenko's hosts in Tokyo guides his through the tactile world of the Japanese...The dignity of character that lifts Yeroshenko above pity infects the entire cast, who spin about Colteaux in a constellation of roles."
Andrij Wynnycky"Yara's Beautiful Multicultural Brushstroke, Blind Sight" Ukrainian Weekly, April 18, 1993