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Winter Songs on Mars

A world music theater event celebrating Koliada, a winter ritual

from the Carpathian Mountains, with an 18th century Ukrainian Nativity play,

and a frame inspired by the 1924 sci-fi movie "Aelita Queen of Mars."

created & directed by Virlana Tkacz

Julian Kytasty: music director

Anthony Coleman: Martian music

translations by Virlana Tkacz & Wanda Phipps

Shigeko Sara Suga: movement

Watoku Ueno: set

Keiko Obremski: costumes

Jeff Nash: lights

Nadia Tatchin: stage manager


Yara Arts Group: Marina Celander, Darien Fiorino, Chris Ignacio, Akiko Hiroshima, Tatyana Kot, Max Lozynskyj &  Joanna Mieleszko
with Ulana Pryjmak, Iryna Voloshyna & Ezra Halleck

Koliadnyky: Ivan Zelenchuk, Mykola Zelenchuk, Mykola Ilyuk, Vasyl Tymchuk & Ostap Kostyuk


Nova Opera: Roman Grygoriv, Ruslan Kirsh, Yevhen Rakhmanin, Zhanna Marchynska & Andriy Nadolsky

December 21, 2019 program | pictures and poster 

La MaMa Experimental Theatre, New York


“Koliada is a solstice ritual from Eastern Europe that predates Christianity in some parts. Koliadnyky is a Ukrainian vocal group that sings Koliada songs. The group has teamed up with the Yara Arts Group to present the show “Koliada: Winter Songs on Mars” at La MaMa. The text is adapted from a 1780 puppet show, a nativity play called Vertep, and fused with traditional Koliada songs. It's all put into a clever context of Martians discovering their ancestors were Ukrainian - it’s silly but it gives the play a nice frame.

Of course, those ancestors show up - with drums, vibes, piano, a bass, a cello, more drums, and specially tuned fiddles. The traditional instruments are a trembita (a “mountain horn”), the duda (bagpipes made from a goat), drymby (jaw harps) and a tylynka (an “overtone flute”). And there’s a large hammer dulcimer - at one point the musician turns it over and raps on the wooden back. The grand, full-bodied singing is largely from men and almost always in unison. At one point there’s an interesting call-and-response passage.

The play is the story of The Holy Innocents, and it is inventively presented. In

one scene, Herod speaks Ukrainian but his soothsayer speaks English. We

don’t need to understand Herod because we know what he’s saying, and the technique gives an interesting distancing effect.

This wonderful show is created and directed by Virlana Tkacz, Yara’s Artistic Director. The costumes are designed by Keiko Obremski - she’s created a gorgeous gown for Aelita, the rightful queen of Mars. The whole event is joyous, life-affirming. When the chorus sings “Ring the bells” the assembly does so. And the announcement “Awake and fear not for great joy is upon us!” - well,

Winter Songs on Mars is great! Thank you, Yara and Koliadnyky!

Steve Capra, New York Critic, December, 2019

Winter Songs on Mars is another example of Virlana Tkacz’s ability to bring together disparate pieces to create a unique theatrical experience… Ostap Kostyuk, did an outstanding job playing King Herod, speaking in Russian (as in the original 18th century script) in contrast to the Ukrainian spoken by his soldier Mykola Zelenchuk. The use of different languages added another layer to the performance… As musical director of the piece, Julian Kytasty brought his contemporary sensibility to traditional pieces. The performance overall was about weaving together time and music sensibilities. It was about creating a community together in spite of differences. A panoply of performances added to the joyous beauty of the show. The celebration after the Vertep included Zhanna Marchinska on the cello, the Koliadnyky, the Ukrainian Village Voices, and Nova Opera singing the finale, which was the song “Shchedryk,” composed by Mykola Leontovych in 1914. The weaving together of Ukrainian and English was as important as the weaving in of the music, yet another language. The piece was about communication between languages and between the past and future. It was also more simply about holiday celebration and having fun. 

Olena Jennings, Ukrainian Weekly, Feb 23, 2020.

This program was supported, in part, by public funds from:

the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs
in partnership with the City Council,

with special thanks to Council Member Carlina Rivera

and friends of Yara Arts Group.

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