VIRTUAL SOULS (1995)
world music theatre piece – the journeys of
two women become epic descents into the Great Below,
where songs, skills and languages vanish
conceived and directed by Virlana Tkacz
created by Yara Arts Group and artists from the Buryat National Theatre music
composed by Genji Ito includes songs by Vladlen Pantaev and traditional Buryat Mongolian music
designed by Watoku Ueno, movement shaped by Cheng-Chieh Yu
text consultants: Wanda Phipps, Jennifer Wollerman and Erzhena Zhambalov
English translations by Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps
Buryat translations by Sayan Zhambalov
with: Cecilia Arana, Zabryna Guevara, Tom Lee, Eleanor Lipat, Andrew Pang, Katie Takahashi, Erdeny Zhaltsanov, Erzhena Zhambalov and Sayan Zhambalov costumes by Luba Kierkosz, production stage manager: Alison Mitchell stage manager Eleanor Lipat, production assistants: Burcu Cavus, Tsewang and Sara Zatz
NEW YORK at La MaMa Experimental Theatre -- Annex January 16-26, 1997
with: Cecilia Arana, Zabryna Guevara, Tom Lee, Eleanor Lipat, Andrew Pang, Erdeny Zhaltsanov, Erzhena Zhambalov and Sayan Zhambalov, stage manager Eleanor Lipat, production manager: Lena Gambaeva, projections: Arkadi Bulgatov
ULAN UDE, SIBERIA at the Buryat National Theatre -- September 7, 1996
PRESS in NEW YORK
*** JANUARY PICK for Simon Says - a supplement to the Village Voice
VILLAGE VOICE -- THEATRE CHOICE for January 21, 1997
First of all, see Virtual Souls... Virtual Souls is perhaps the most complete and satisfying show I have seen at La MaMa (and anywhere else?) at least since Alice Farley's immensely imaginative production about the transformation of Daphne into a tree in the same space [two years ago]. It was conceived and directed by Virlana Tkacz and the Yara Arts Group and artists from the Buryat National Theatre....The legend of the founding of the Buryat people concerns a maiden who was a swan (yes, Swan Lake). We eventually get around to that in this rich, rich evening. What we begin with is a group of modern young 'uns surfing the Web. This section might be a bit extended as it is a while before we reach Siberia, but it never bores and it is well worth the wait. We eventually get to the Northern past and now we have a superb integration of two languages of music: Buryat, soft rock (by Genji Ito, who excelled even himself here) and a song by Vladlen Pantaev. We have dramatic tension, withdrawal, rest: just like real plays are supposed to have. We have both transitions and surprises, no transitions but shock. We have a free relaxed use of stage space that suggests a world. We have fine acting, people who can read lines, people who can move. Tom Lee, as the Hunter, amazes. He can impart meaning to lines, even stylized repeated lines, he can move like a dream, he sings... He is not the only one on this stage. I can't identify each performer by name but even in moments of movement, swan invocations and the like, we can all learn from this cast. The Buryat actors especially had something important to teach us. What more to add? The movement shaped by Cheng-Chieh Yu, the simple quasi-ballet of the Swans was again a surprise in the fullness of the evening -- the physical look of the whole narrative, the sound, the graphics, the slides, the stage management... just about everything. Theatrical truth exists... As I write this, I recall little memorable moments as when Katie Takahashi as the swan flies away, a Buryat actor's movement in a narration about the Swan, the scene that builds in two languages but one common intention between the Hunter and a Buryat actor. The music here was especially effective. "The Swan is our mother and the birch -- our family tree" Yes, indeed. Perhaps of us all. See Virtual Souls. Forget Broadway. See Virtual Souls. Do I make myself clear?
Bert Wechsler, First Nite Reviews, www.nytheatre-wire.com
Yara Arts Group at La MaMa has produced Virtual Souls , an experimental opera with "virtual reality" and the Internet as its leit motifs. The opera begins with the frame of two men and three women isolated from each other in "downtown" New York. Two young women talk about meeting men in "chat rooms" on the Internet; one of whom works at home and has only met the people for whom she works in virtual space; the other walks by fire stations and corners of drug dealers on her way to work through soulless culture. A young man at a computer sings an aria about the grandeur of the "binary system" which structures our computers, ritualistically chanting the numbers 1-0-1 to a crescendo. The actors are on a narrow platform with scrim screens behind them on which are projected flashing images. Suddenly, one young man sings "open-window-mouse-click!" and they are transported to a cyberspace mythical time (like the Aborigines' "dream time") of the Buryat Mongols of Siberia.... A strikingly beautiful woman in ornamental, oriental dress turns towards the audience and sings an alluring song in the tongue of these nomads and hunters, who are both Bhuddists and Shamanists. It is as if director Virlana Tkacz used a laser beam to remove thin layers of culture film from our eyes and transported us to a primeval state. The music, composed by Genji Ito, includes the unusual sound of the morin khoor, a cello-like instrument, with the sung sounds of throat singing which combines a vibrating drone with melodic notes. The actors from the two cultures perform together with aria, dance and changing exotic costume to the wild shamanic drum beats, the "origin myth": for the Buryat-Mongolians their mother is the swan and their family tree the birch tree. It is an ironic, intricate myth, sung in Buryat and English and with themes somewhat like the more familiar "Swan Lake." This Pirandellian, richly woven multi-cultural, multi-media, chamber opera, of high originality, and intense performance, sped through its hour-and-a-half like a lucid dream!
Melinda Jo Guttman, This Month on Stage, February, 1997
Less than two years ago Virlana Tkacz staged a very successful production at La MaMa which was based on Ukrainian folk traditions and featured the unsurpassable Nina Matvienko. Now she has staged at La MaMa (from January 16-26, 1997) a piece based on Buryat mythology and traditions. Buryatia, a republic in Siberia, is a part of the Russian Federation and is located on the shores of Lake Baikal. Three actors from the Buryat National Theatre are featured in this production. The plot is very clear: a group of American websurfers accidentally make contact with Buryats... and land in a mythical Buryatia.... The production does not rely on the plot -- it is a dance theatre piece. Virlana Tkacz has very successfully combined singing, music, dynamic movement and choreography into a unified style which visually transmits not only the narrative, but also the spiritual content of the piece and gives us a sense of the Buryat world.The acting is harmonious and on an very high level. One must, however, single out Tom Lee, who transformed from an American actor into a Buryat hunter and set the tone for the entire production. with his movements and mise-en-scenes. The excellent acting of the three Buryat actors: Erdeny Zhaltsanov, (Bard) Erzhena Zhambalov (Woman with the Wind) and Sayan Zhambalov (Wind) also deserves special mention. They brought to the show aspects of Buryat culture and traditions which are unique and totally unknown here.
Bohdan Boychuk, Svoboda, January 31, 1997
PRESS IN ULAN-UDE, BURYAT REPUBLIC, SIBERIA
Our actors, Sayan and Erzhena Zhambalov and Erdeny Zhaltsanov, were very successfully included in the show -- they became an organic part of the ensemble, and one assumes that they have all worked together for a long time. In terms of movement, words, and songs -- everything was organic and artistic, so alive. This can be attested by the lucky few who managed to see the show on Saturday September 7 at the Buryat National Theatre... Erzhena Zhambalov, who spoke to the audience before the show: "This piece includes movement, words, song, dance -- it is a poetic movement and music piece." We heard English, Russian, Buryat texts, songs and the morin khoor in the hands of Erdeny Zhaltsanov lent its mournful sounds, slides appeared on stretched sails of the set, and the shaman drum resounded. The image of the swan mother and the beautiful swans who have no place in this cruel, hostile world... But peace will come and people will learn to understand one another and the swans will return to the Baikal. You can believe this as long as there is art. This is primarily what I understood from this show. Finally, we should list the American actors who appeared in the show: Cecilia Arana, Zabryna Guevara, Tom Lee, Andrew Pang and Eleanor Lipat. They are multicultural -- from all races and nations. And this is interesting. Their general impression: "We fell in love with Buryatia, with its peaceful and friendly people." It was a real pleasure to hear that.
Chinggis Gomboin, Pravda Buriatii (Ulan Ude, Siberia) September 13, 1996