Following the Milky Way

the epic journey in search of a home of the last speakers of Old Swedish
who today live in a village in southern Ukraine

created by Yara Arts Group

conceived & performed by Marina Celander
with music by Julian Kytasty

directed by Virlana Tkacz
set, lights & video by Ihor Shuhan
projections by Waldemart Klyuzko with assitance from Darien Fiorino

May 2018 Theatre for the New City

June 21-23, 2018, New York at La MaMa Great Jones

"Following the Milky Way" is an original theatre piece created by Yara Arts Group, a resident company at La MaMa Experimental Theatre in New York. It follows the epic journey of the last speakers of Gammalsvenska (Old Swedish) who continue to live today in a village in southern Ukraine. 

In the summer of 2015 Yara artists Marina Celander, Virlana Tkacz and Waldemart Klyuzko traveled to an isolated village on the banks of the Dnipro River called Gammalsvenskby (Old Swedish village). They went to meet to meet the last speakers of Gammamsvenska and were enchanted by the lush vegetation and the bounty of the land. They could communicate with the people of the village, because Marina is a native Swedish speaker, while Virlana and Waldemart both speak Ukrainian. They hoped to hear some songs and stories, but instead learned about an amazing epic journey of displacement, migration and quest for a new home.

The ancestors of the villagers had come from Hiiumaa Island in the Baltic Sea, once a part of Sweden, but today part of Estonia. In 1781 they walked over 2000 kilometers to southern Ukraine and many died on the way. They grew to love their new home but dreamed of their Swedish homeland which many managed to visit in 1929. Many also returned to Ukraine in 1930s. The wars and revolutions of the twentieth century devastated the community, resulting in multiple displacements and harrowing stories. 

Maria Malmas, an exuberant 70 year old, sang many songs, complained about her legs and told chilling stories of being sent to labor camps in the Arctic Circle at the age of 6 and her long journey home. Despite world events that disrupted their sanctuary on the Dnipro, forced them into labor camps and to flee as refugees, the people of Gammelsvensk, like the swallows who tell their tale, followed the Milky Way and created their own “home” in southern Ukraine.

YARA ARTS GROUP was established in 1990 and is a resident company at La MaMa, the acclaimed experimental theater in New York. Yara has created thirty-five theatre pieces based on extensive research in Eastern Europe, Siberia and Asia, in Yara’s signature style of multilingual dialogue and songs supported by evocative visuals and documentation.

"Following the Milky Way" was made possible by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, as well as the Self-Reliance Foundation and the numerous friends of Yara Arts Group.

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