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1917-2017: Tychyna, Zhadan & the Dogs

In 1917 there's great hope in Kyiv as the Russian Empire falls apart. But constant invasions of Ukraine lead to twelve changes in government in three years, and society crumbles. In 2017 there’s great hope…

created by Yara Arts Group
with Bob Holman, Marina Celander, Sean Eden, Rob Feldman, Darien Fiorino, Christopher Ignacio, Alexandra Koval, Maria Pleshkevich and Julian Kytasty
plus Serhiy Zhadan & the Dogs: Ievhen Turchynov, Andrii Pyvovarov, Oleksander Merenchuk, Vitaliy Bronishevskiy, Artem Dmytrychenkov, Serhiy Kuliaenko

conceived and directed by Virlana Tkacz
texts by Pavlo Tychyna and Serhiy Zhadan
with additional texts by Bob Holman
translated into English by Virlana Tkacz & Wanda Phipps and Bob Holman
music by Julian Kytasty, song by the Dogs
set by Watoku Ueno, lights by Jeff Nash
costumes by Keiko Obremski, sound: Stanislav Bronishevsky
projections & installation by Waldemart Klyuzko

June 9-25, 2017, New York -- La MaMa’s Ellen Stewart Theatre
1917-2017: Tychyna, Zhadan & the Dogs in UKRAINE:
Mala Opera - Kyiv March 2017
Kurbas Center in Kyiv | Lviv Publishing Forum | Gogolfest -- Sept 2016
Kurbas Theatre Center in Kyiv -- March 2016

Sept 2018 - Yara Arts Group received TWO New York Innovative Theatre Awards for "1917-2017: Tychyna, Zhadan & the Dogs"
"1917-2017: Tychyna, Zhadan & the Dogs" - Outstanding Production of a Musical
plus Julian Kytasty & Zhadan & the Dogs -- Outstanding Original Music

Additional Photos:


"Back to the Past…History is starting Now..." These are phrases from the lyrics of contemporary Ukrainian poet and rock musician Serhiy Zhadan for one of the musical interludes in the piece that encapsulates one hundred years of Ukrainian revolutionary experience, Stalinist tyranny, Soviet occupation, Russian invasion, and present civil war. The entire performance piece encompasses texts by Ukrainian poets Pavlo Tychyna (1891-1967) and Hryhoriy Skovoroda (1722-1794), as well as music and lyrics by Serhiy Zhadan & the Dogs, his Kharkiv based group of six rock musicians; Bob Holman, the American poet collaborator and translator participates as a performer and provides additional lyrics, inspired by eminent historian Timothy D. Snyder’s 2017 book On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. The ensemble of five actors (Marina Celander, Sean Eden, Darien Fiorino, Rob Feldman and Maria Pleshkevich) from the Yara Arts Group, a resident company of La MaMa E.T.C. plus Alexandra Koval, an actress from Kyiv are accompanied by Julian Kytasty, one of the world’s premier players of the bandura, a Ukrainian lute-harp. Director Virlana Tkacz translated the texts by Tychyna and Skovoroda together with Wanda Phipps and Bob Holman. She arranged, choreographed, and crafted the poetic texts into astounding scenes of powerful images that juxtaposed the tragic trajectory of the Ukrainian people from its agrarian roots through the series of rebellions against political perfidies committed by Russian and Soviet hegemony.
In the lobby, before the house is opened, Bob Holman gives the audience a rather amusing simple history lesson by way of a millinery exhibit representing the nine different governments in the Ukraine from 1917-1919. The rapid change of ruling cliques is shown by a change of hat, until Soviet rule is firmly entrenched. Then Alexandra Koval recites a Tychyna poem in the original Ukrainian to musical accompaniment, after which Serhiy Zhadan presents a poem of his own with an energy that conveys a strong spirit of resistance—he comes from the embattled Luhansk region and has been imprisoned for his protest actions. Thus primed we are invited into the theater.
The light picks out a grey-haired man in a black hooded cardigan embracing a beautiful large bandura, and he begins to strum and sing softly. Another light picks out a young woman kneeling on the ground with a book—she begins to read. Five figures, all dressed in simple black clothes (costumes by Keiko Obremski), stand with their faces against a wall, as though awaiting execution. And then the action breaks loose. Text, movement, projected images bring the space to life while the musician remains a constant quiet presence on the side. The poems become the source of experiences that the actors, two women and three men, bring to life through movement and in dialogue, sometimes questioning, sometimes marveling; there is depiction of love and of violence, of loss and of recovery.
The simple set of two movable wall units, designed by Watoku Ueno, with interesting side lighting designed by Jeff Nash, and video projections by Waldemart Klyuzko allows for atmospheric variety that underscores the human drama of each poetic scene. The wall opens for the musical interludes by Zhadan & the Dogs (with fantastic trumpeter Artem Dmytrychenkov and trombonist Oleksander Merenchuk) which break into the scenes, sometimes with shocking effect. Zhadan sings his rock lyrics in hiphop style with a fierce energy that befits rebellion... We would do well to think of the lessons on tyranny that our past century provided us. This magnificent performance encourages us to confront the ugliness with vigor and celebrate the beauty that human beings are capable of in the midst of tragedy and error. In our present climate of wall building and retrograde isolationism such artistic collaborations as Yara Arts Group has undertaken and La MaMa E.T.C. has supported for more than fifty years are to be valued as a boon.
by Beate Hein Bennett, New York Theater Wire, June 10, 2017

The images “were particularly impressive in Yara Arts Group’s stroll through the century, where tyranny gave way to anguish and destruction. Often in stark black and white, this ensemble-based work relied on a fidelity to the words and the work of Tychyna. Appealing to scholars and music fans, the music of Julian Kytasty, playing the bandura, a Ukrainian lute-harp, set the stage for dance, poetry, and song. Harmonic singing warmed the heart, while dance and video provided extraordinary contrast. The poetry, spoken perfectly, conveys a bleak world. Standouts in the ensemble include Marina Celander and Sean Eden. Poems we know were juxtaposed with the newest sounds from Ukraine, provided by Post Independence writer Serhiy Zhadan. The band, who often performs in Eastern Europe, delivered loud blasts. Complete with drums, synthesizer, guitar, and brass (including trumpet and trombone), the sounds of a new century were sometimes jubilant. Bright colored red, yellow, and blue projections by Waldemart Klyuzko filled the space. Bob Holman joined the band to recite more poetry. Addition of video was welcome at La MaMa, where the raw intensity of performance isn’t often this ethereal. In fact, there’s something cool and breezy about the poetic style of 1917-2017: Tychyna, Zhadan & the Dogs. The performance, as a whole, is a generous offering and easy to digest. Conceived and directed by Virlana Tkacz, the evening invariably convinced you to “Know Your Rights.”
Marcina Zaccaria, Theater Pizzazz, June 20, 2017.

What can two poets who live a century apart have in common? Yara Arts Group has created a show based on Pavlo Tychyna’s collection “Instead of Sonnets or Octaves” which was published in 1920 after the revolution in Ukraine. The themes of love and struggle in this book resonate with contemporary poems by Serhiy Zhadan. (Lviv) Sept 17, 2016

[Tychyna’s poetry is] his real, but disturbing testimony about “his time” – the bloody events in Ukraine 1918-1920 during the Red Terror. The author used a device found in classical tragedy of pairing strophes with antistrophes.
On stage the poems of Pavlo Tychyna’s “Instead of Sonnets or Octaves” are performed by Yara Arts Group actors using this principle of pairing. The director also pairs the music of Julian Kytasty’s bandura that accompanies the Tychyna poems with the poetry of Serhiy Zhadan, which he performs himself with his rock group Zhadan & the Dogs, as a kind of antistrophe... This theme of pairing is also presented in the lobby where Yara created an introduction for American audiences to the realities of early 20th century Ukraine, when from 1917-1920 there were 12(!) changes of government. … Serhiy Zhadan, who was born in the Luhansk Region, and works in Kharkiv, has developed 10 rules to help a person know their rights and survive.
“How universal are Serhiy Zhadan’s antiterrorist rules?” I asked the well-known historian and Yale professor Timothy Snyder, who is the author of On Tyranny; Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, now No. 1 on the New York Times Bestseller List. He attended the premier of the show with his wife and had recently hosted Serhiy Zhadan and Virlana Tkacz at Yale. He said he basically agreed with the poet.
The creators of the theatre piece have transformed the poetry and music into a performance that projects the events of the early 20th century onto today’s news in Ukraine and also throughout the world. There are many parallels and associations and there is much to think about: what do Pavlo Tychyna and Serhiy Zhadan have in common, what do Serhiy Zhadan and Timothy Snyder have in common, what does the rock group the Dogs have in common with bandurist Julian Kytasty, or Donetsk with New York, or 1917 with 2017? Virlana Tkacz knows, and so does everyone who saw, heard and experienced this amazing theatre production created by Yara Arts Group in New York.
Kateryna Kindras, Nova Hazeta, June 15, 2017.

I was enthralled by the magic of real Art and I remained in a state of heightened emotional and aesthetic inspiration long after this show. My great thanks to all the participants, especially Virlana Tkacz, who conceived the show…
Action in the lobby is one of Yara Arts Group’s favorite devices. At show time, Tsar Nicholas II (role performed by poet Bob Holman) appeared in the lobby decked out in an imposing costume. He announced his abdication, tore off his epaulettes and medals, and told the story of how one regime replaced another in Kyiv. The method was simple -- hats representing the various governments were changed. A Red Army hat was replaced by a German helmet, then a White Guard hat, then others. By the end the storyteller was in a red fedora, the Reds won and stayed. A maximum of information is delivered in a simple, expressive way. The lobby performance also included Alexandra Koval performing Tychyna’s poem “War” and Serhiy Zhadan reading his own poem on the topic...
Yara artists deftly related their story through images and symbols, linking word, music, projections, lights, sound and design. There is so much material in this show... The translations into English by Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps alone are priceless. Tychyna’s poems are not easy to read even in the original… The 15- minute introduction in the lobby is another exquisite creative work, condensing so much information so successfully…
Julian Kytasty “conjured” on his bandura his best compositions for theatre so far…. You feel that each of the actors is in love with this magical theatre piece and gives it their all… The participation of Serhiy Zhadan & the Dogs make this show current and provide it with great meaning and drive… Constant participants in Yara’s shows are the company's irreplaceable designers: Watoku Ueno (set), Jeff Nash (lights), Keiko Obremski (costumes) and Waldemart Klyuzko (projections).
Lydia Korsun Chas I Prostir, June 21, 2017.

The performance began in the theatre lobby with a history lesson by Bob Holman. The audience learned about all the changes in government that happened in Tychyna’s time through “The Haberdashery of History,” an entertaining lesson in which Holman worked with Waldemart Klyuzko, who created the props for the opening. Holman changed the hats on Klyuzko’s head as twelve regimes replaced one another in Kyiv from 1917 to 1920. Next we moved to hear Alexandra Koval perform Tychyna’s poem “War,” behind the sounding board of a piano played by Julian Kytasty. Ms Koval emerged from behind the instrument as if she was a ghost, her body transformed by the sadness of the war. In a different part of the room, poet Serhiy Zhadan’s read “Three Years We’ve Been Talking about the War,” a work about a man who returns from war afraid of everything. Zhadan stressed each carefully chosen word, anticipating tragedy. By now the audience was prepared and anticipated the way that entertainment, tragedy, and action would be woven together in the performance.
Then we were let into the theatre itself. Poems from "Instead of Sonnets and Octaves" were performed by the actors Marina Celander, Sean Eden, Robert Feldman, Darien Fiorino, Alexandra Koval and Maria Pleshkevich. The actors’ movements were graceful and dance-inspired. At one point actor Darien Fiorino moved across the stage as though he was floating. The script was created by Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps. The actors worked with the set design by Watoku Ueno and the lighting effects by Jeff Nash to create a space for the words. Images from Tychyna’s manuscripts and diaries were included in projections by Waldemart Klyuzko. Those aspects of the performance that included the Tychyna poems and Yara actors were largely monochromatic, black and white projections with dark costuming.
The Tychyna poems were interspersed with contemporary Zhadan poems performed as songs by Zhadan & the Dogs. Zhadan’s energy was matched by a colorful background with red and yellow lighting. The dynamic music was a way to bring the poems to heart, to feel them throughout our bodies with the band accentuating the words. The two pieces of the performance converge in a poignant moment when Zhadan picks up a book bound in red cloth, a relic from Tychyna’s time that he brings into the present. Bob Holman also participates in the Zhadan songs, singing English-language interpretations of each song. Some of the most powerful lines describe “Stepping over corpses/ Walking with these refugees/ This train’s got apocalypse for destination.” And the description of the smell in the train, like “death and cinnamon,” is simultaneously beautiful and terrible. A poem by Zhadan, “Take Only What Is Most Important” formed the coda of the piece performed by Yara actors. It ends memorably with the following lines: “unedited lists of the dead,/so long there won’t be time/ to check them for your own name.”
The performance ends with a powerful song, “Know Your Rights,” which wove out of the lessons from Timothy Snyder’s book On Tyranny and set to music composed by the Clash. The book’s first line echoes the show’s theme, “History does not repeat, but it does instruct.” And what we have learned from the events in 1917 is that history can indeed be carried forward to 2017. Zhadan both inspired the audience to dance and incited them to political action. The show’s message is “do not sit still.” The combination of two time periods, an expansive set and the use of the band makes this Yara’s most ambitious show yet.
Olena Jennings,Our Life, October 2017

Yara Arts Group has a long history of working with Zhadan. In 2017, they staged "1917/2017: Tychyna, Zhadan, and the Dogs" at La MaMa in New York. In the performance, Zhadan’s poetry was compared to Pavlo Tychyna’s poetry written during the war in Ukraine after the communist revolution and Zhadan and his band the Dogs performed poetry about the current war. The poetry was meant to incite audience members into action. “Know your rights!” Zhadan raised his fist. Zhadan’s work can be read as literature that stands separate from the political situation because of its masterful writing, but it can also be read with the society that inspired it in mind. His characters struggle in a hostile and violent landscape to search for, understand, and define their Ukrainian identities.
Olena Jennings, Aspen Review, No 1 2018

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