SCYTHIAN SLAP

 David Burliuk is slapped by a Scythian Ice Princess.
The obvious result: Futurism in Siberia, Japan and New York. 

created by Yara Arts Group

with Bob Holman, Susan Hwang and Julian Kytasty

director: Virlana Tkacz

set: Watoku Ueno

projection design: Darien Fiorino

costume design: Keiko Obremski

graphics: Waldemart Klyuzko

stage manager: Jacob Ettkin

Scythian Slap

October 8, 2021 The Ukrainian Museum, New York

program 

Slap! (workshop)  June 17-21, 2019, La MaMa Great Jones, New York

June 22, 2019 The Ukrainian Museum in New York

June 23, 2019 Bowery Poetry Club, New York

Yara Arts Group, from La MaMa Experimental Theatre in New York, presents Scythian Slap created and performed by Bob Holman, Susan Hwang and Julian Kytasty, and directed by Virlana Tkacz. Scythian Slap is an hour-long theatre musical-cabaret, interrogating the totally true but outrageous life and journey of David Burliuk, the father Futurism. In Scythian Slap David Burliuk is performed by Bob Holman, founder of the Bowery Poetry Club and the poet most often connected with the oral tradition, spoken word, hip hop and poetry slams. Singer-songwriter Susan Hwang portrays the accordion-playing Scythian Ice Princess, while Julian Kytasty, traditional epic singer and bandura player, sings their story. The three, together with director Virlana Tkacz, created Capt. John Smith Goes to Ukraine, which NY Theatre Wire called “an extremely delightful musical-experimental work of theater [that] gives its history lessons a much-needed makeover with fun, liveliness, and an accordion…” Scythian Slap was developed and presented at La MaMa and the Bowery Poetry Club and presented at the Ukrainian Museum in New York.

 

PRESS IN NEW YORK 

The Ukrainian Museum hosted a live event for the first time since the pandemic lockdowns. The performance which opened the new season on October 8, 2021 was called “Scythian Slap.” Yara Arts Group from La MaMa Experimental Theatre had previously staged live outdoor performances. This August they performed “A Thousand Suns,” inspired by Lesia Ukrianka’s “Forest Song,” in a garden in East Village.

 

“Scythian Slap” is a comedy based on the life of painter and poet David Burliuk, the founder of Futurism. It is also a very profound show. Burliuk was born 1882 in the Kharkiv region and educated in in Odesa, Kazan, Munich and Paris. He was fascinated with Scythian art; as a young man he took part in excavations of burial mounds near Kherson. He admired the steppe culture of kozaks, especially Mamai, who embodied for him the idea of self-sufficiency. Burliuk participated in most of the important avant-garde exhibitions in Kyiv, Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Munich. He exhibited his work in 17 towns across Siberia, as well as in Japan and the United States.

 

Now, let’s turn to the performances. Bob Holman, a famous and charismatic American poet steps forth proudly as both Burliuk and himself, existing, not simply on stage, but truly being both. Susan Hwang, the extravagant Snake Goddess with an accordion, is both a shaman and a coquette. She gives Burliuk a generous Scythian slap, which brings up for him deeper questions of being, pushing him to see the invisible, realize his own potential and experience himself constantly at the crossroads. The voice of this Scythian goddess often sounds as a duet with Mamai, portrayed by Julian Kytasty – one of the best Ukrainian bandura players. Like Burliuk, he experiments with music.

 

The play is composed of poems and historical facts. The unusual structure draws on various times, generations, styles and genres. Hwang and Holman play with classical vaudeville techniques we know from American movie comedies and television, successfully weaving these into a Futurist canvas. The audience see a comedy and a futurist cabaret, an American vaudeville with Scythians, Ukrainian epic songs (dumy), original poems by Bob Holman and songs by Susan Hwang.

 

The show ends on an upbeat with the “Radio Manifesto” Burliuk proclaimed in New York in 1926. What was the most important in David Burliuk’s life, was his constant desire to give a slap in face of public taste, to see the ancient past in the future and to sharpen reception in order to break through linear thinking.

 

The performers, director Virlana Tkacz, set designer Watoku Ueno, costume designer Keiko Obremski and projection designer Darien Fiorino arranged a banquet for the audience that celebrated the 99th anniversary of David Burliuk’s arrival in New York.

by Oksana Lebedivna Svoboda newspaper (Parsippany, NJ) October 21, 2022

Scythian Slap is an original theatre piece created by Yara Arts Group, a resident company at La MaMa Experimental Theatre in New York. It 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.

Photos by Pavlo Terekhov