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Winter Solstice and Christmas Rituals in a Carpathian Village

by Virlana Tkacz

with translations by Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps 

photographs by Alexander Khantaev

published by Yara Arts Group, 2014

53 pages ISBN: 978-1-63443-233-7. $25.

 To order send $25 plus $5 shipping to Yara Arts Group, 306 E. 11th St. #3B, New York NY 10003.





by Maria Sonnevytsky
“Still the River Flows,” the new bilingual (English-Ukrainian) publication lovingly documents the winter “Koliada” ritual as practiced by Hutsuls in the Carpathian Mountains.

It ends with a poem and its translation. On the last page of the book, the bilingual reader can track how a Ukrainian text composed by Odosia Plytka-Sorokhan, a legendary poet and life-long inhabitant of the village of Kryvorivnia, became transformed through its translation into English by Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps to “Still the River Flows” - also used as the title of a Yara Arts Group piece staged at the venerated La MaMa Experimental Theater in 2008.

The imprint of Plytka-Sorokhan’s original text, a poem that celebrates and glorifies these winter rituals, is felt in the translation, though Tkacz and Phipps omit some detail of the original poem and extract its essence. Ultimately, “Still the River Flows” becomes an incantation on the enduring properties of time, nature, and winter ritual songs. For those readers acquainted with Virlana Tkacz’s visionary transformations and re-contextualizations of indigenous ritual practices to the experimental theater stage (in New York and around the world), this poem in translation is a familiar kind of metamorphosis; it is a respectful reinvention, a creative re-imagination.

The pages preceding this last poem, however, offer an educative - less poetic, though still very artful - portrayal of the winter solstice and Christmas singing practices known as Koliada. In this annual ritual, male musicians spend twelve days in the deep snows of January delivering messages of joy, encouragement, and gratitude to the villagers in their community. The Koliada is connected to ancestry, and is thought to harness powers from the supernatural realm. Tkacz presents the ritual as it is conducted in the picturesque and storied village of Kryvorivnia, with field recordings from 2003, and in collaboration with Ukrainian ethnomusicologists who had worked in the region since 1965.

Songs are presented in English translations alongside the Hutsul originals, and the book is powerfully enhanced by the presence of 33 color photographs by Yara Arts Group long-time collaborator Alexander Khantaev.

As a book of art featuring Khantaev’s sumptuous visuals and the crystalline verse of these songs, this is an object to covet. As ethnography, it provides an invaluable glimpse for the English-speaking world into a unique ritual practice from a mythologized and under-represented part of the world.

The new book is part of Yara Arts Group’s ongoing "Koliada Project," which also includes the CD “Koliada: Winter Songs and Music from the Carpathians, “ recorded by the Koliadnyky, and more than a decade of collaboration with traditional artists of Kryvorivnia to bring the Hutsul Koliada winter songs and music to the world stage.

Maria Sonnevytsky is assistant professor of music and ethnomusicology at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, NY.

Koliada is a winter ritual that is now part of Christmas, but it is much older in its origin, traditions, and symbolism. The koliadnyky, or winter song singers, represent the ancestors who descend to earth during the winter solstice and sing magical incantations to help bring prosperity to the community. People believed that spring and the harvest would not come to the village unless the Koliada songs are sung in every household.

This book is inspired by the celebration of the Koliada in the village of Kryvorivnia, in the Carpathian Mountains of southwestern Ukraine. The book includes bilingual descriptions of the ritual and the texts of 17 winter songs, presented both in the original and in English translation. The 53 color pages include 33 color photographs by Alexander Khantaev. Many of the photographs are full page 8.5x11 album.
$25, plus $5 for shipping.

"Before the World Began"
On the Eve: Twelve Dishes
Koliada: Twelve Days of Song
The Gathering
"Is the Master Home?"
Winter Songs for the Family
To the Master of the House
To the Lady of the House
To the Young Man
To the Young Lady
To a Girl
Winter Song to the Ancestors
Winter Song Dance
Taking Leave
Undoing the Koliada
Still the River Flows

Virlana Tkacz is the artistic director of the Yara Arts Group in New York and has been awarded the NEA Poetry Translation Fellowship for her work with Wanda on Ukrainian poetry.

Wanda Phipps is an African American poet and has worked with Virlana on translations from Ukrainian since 1989.

Alexander Khantaevis a Buryat phootogrpaher whose photographs were featured in the award-winning book Shanar: Dedication of a Buryat Shaman in Siberia.

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