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SWAN (2003)

discovering the mythical in the everyday 

created by Yara Arts Group
based on the poetry of Oleh Lysheha 
directed by Virlana Tkacz
designed by Watoku Ueno
music by Paul Brantley 
with vocals by Meredith Wright
video by Andrea Odezynska
translated by Virlana Tkacz & Wanda Phipps

with Andrew Colteaux, Soomi Kim

Paul Brantley on cello

and Ukrainian voice by Olga Shuhan

June 12 - 29 2003 
La MaMa ETC 74A East 4th St New York 

Friday July 11, 2003  
Lowell Hall, Harvard University          READ poem in English


"Swan, a new creation from the collaborative Yara Arts Group (La MaMa E.T.C., June), theatricalized a work by contemporary Ukrainian poet and dissident Oleh Lysheha. Andrew Colteaux's vibrant performance as the poem's voice integrated speaking and movement, charting a landscape of loneliness, yearning, and ultimate surrender between Lysheha's opening and closing lines, "God, I'm slipping" and "God, I'm falling." Although mixing text, music, song, dance, and video, this modest production, clocking in under one hour, did not compete with or overwhelm its source. Cooler in look and tone than some of Yara's previous works of cultural celebration and folklore- Circle and Howling, for instance- Swan does not aim to bowl you over. Small seductions-Soomi Kim and Colteaux's efficient yet expressive acting and imaginative movement, a simple set by Watoku Ueno, and spare, warm notes bowed and plucked from composer Paul Brantley's cello, the sole instrument played live-allowed true feeling to permeate the action."

Eva Yaa Asantewaa Village Voice, August 6, 2003


"Director Virlana Tkacz, known for her seminal work in translations and interpretation of poetry written in Ukrainian and Buryat, synthesizes multiple cultures into singular streams of motion and emotion. Actor Andrew Colteaux superbly engages the viewer in an energetically physical interpretation of Ukrainian poet Oleh Lysheha's Swan. "

Hanya Krill, June 15, 2003

"Yara Arts Group, directed by Virlana Tkacz who always comes up with original projects, is now showing Swan ,a theatre piece based on Oleh Lysheha's poem, which V. Tkacz translated with Wanda Phipps. Extraordinary performances by Andrew Colteaux and Soomi Kim and the musical accompaniment by cellist Paul Brantley captivate the audience. Once again, our belief in V. Tkacz's exceptional talent is confirmed and this time she displays it in her direction, translation and approach to the topic."

Reviewed by Olha Kuzmovych Ukrainian BRAMA page, June 19, 2003

June 12 to 29 the Yara Arts Group led by artistic director Virlana Tkacz very successfully premiered a new musical theatre piece, Swan, at the La MaMa Experimental Theatre in New York. The piece was created on the basis of a poem by Oleh Lysheha, a Ukrainian poet who lives and works in Tysemytsia, in the Ivano-Frankivsk Region, but who is better known in America and Canada. Harvard University Press, which published Lysheha's book of English translations of his poetry that won the PEN Translation Prize, wrote: "Oleh Lysheha is considered the 'poet's poet'' of contemporary Ukraine." The American critic and author James Carroll has written that Lysheha's poetry "offers American readers not just a new voice, but even in translation, a new language, a new way of seeing."

So what prompted Yara Arts Group, which is always so selective about its repertoire to turn to this author from a provincial town, who is totally indifferent to worldly matters (much less globalism), and to present his work to the American audience? "We take pride in the fact that over many years we have managed to present to our audience the best in art, music and literature," said Virlana Tkacz in her interview with this paper. I think that Oleh Lysheha's work is unique, unlike anything else written in Ukrainian. This poetry is not built on the melody of language, but on the power of its images, giving it an eastern feel and that is influenced by ancient Chinese poetry. Oleh Lysheha, himself, is an unusual, almost legendary person. He studied American Literature in Lviv University, from which he was expelled in 1972 for publishing translations in the dissident journal, "Chest." He was taken into the Army and served in Siberia, where he became interested in Eastern philosophy and art."

The New York production of Swan by the Tysmenytsia poet is performed in a translation by Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps by actors Andrew Colteaux and Soomi Kim who are accompanied by cellist Paul Brantley. The success of this show, as that of every other theatre piece by Yara Arts Group - is undeniable.

Kateryna Kindras Meest Newspaper (Linden, NJ and Toronto) July 3, 2003

The success of this show is Virlana Tkacz's achievement. She understood the originality and depth of Oleh Lysheha's poetry and now, together with her actors, designers and musicians, created a very successful theatre piece. Thanks to the wonderful performance of the leading role by actor Andrew Colteaux, we as an audience can experience this poem and be amazed and awed by its creative power. Composer and cellist Paul Brantley contributed a great deal to the success of the piece with his melodic accompaniment to the action, as did the vocalist Meredith Wright. Everything in this unusual poem by a Ukrainian poet who learned English and gathered admirers in the US, was brought forth with great sensitivity and understanding. Here director Virlana Tkacz undoubtedly played a leading role. Once again she was able to deliver a Ukrainian artistic work in her original style, which allows an international audience to understand the work and gain a better understanding of the Ukrainian worldview. 

 Olha Kuzmovych Svoboda Newspaper (Jersey City, NJ) July 11, 2003

La MaMa Theatre and Virlana Tkacz have once again astounded their American audiences. Swan based on a poem by Oleh Lysheha of the same title, was certainly an Event at Harvard, where it was much bigger and weightier, than just another cultural event at the Summer School… Judging from the reaction of the audience, we can confidently state that Oleh Lysheha’s poetry easily overcame national and cultural boundaries or more precisely, did not need to overcome them because they simple did not exist… The production of Swan is a virtuoso translation of Lysheha’s text – it is not simply a literary translation into English, but rather a translation of poetry into the languages of music, light, image, movement of the human body, human voice (that can sound sharp, hoarse, strained, tired, lonely), and of course, stage space. The result is polyphonic; various voices are united so that each has its place and is heard… Cellist (Paul Brantley), listens to the modulation of a soprano as pure as silver (Meredith Wright), he listens to the human voice (of Andrew Colteaux). The poetry interweaves with music, Ukrainian becomes an echo of the English, dance becomes an extension of the voice, and bodies continue to speak as the voice grows silent. What the voice cannot say, the man and woman say with their dance. This is what art should be like – in the glare of the stage lights you suddenly see the essence. But you can only catch a glimpse , just as you can only glimpse the swan in this show. 

Dzvinka Matiash Harvard Summer School Yearbook, 2003

& Komentar (Kyiv) November 2003

Virtual Event in 2020 about Yara's production of the "Swan" video

Other Yara shows using text by Oleh Lysheha:

Dream Bridge 2012

Raven 2011

Flight of the White Bird 1999

Virtual Souls 1997

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