Yara Arts Group and the Ukrainian Educational and Cultural Center in Jenkintown continue their series of virtual poetry and folk arts events with: “Yara’s Traditional Arts: Folk Dancer Vasile Avramenko.” The event, live streamed in August 2020, can now be seen:  Watch video. Vasile Avramenko was an immigrant from Stebliv who brought Ukrainian dance to New York in 1929. Virlana Tkacz tells his story, while archivist Mike Andrec shares recording of music used in his dance classes and film historian Yuri Shevchuk discusses Avramenko’s hand in the making of the first Ukrainian talking pictures. This event is free and bilingual.

Yara’s First event in the virtual series with UECC Jenkintown focused on folk fiddler Pawlo Humeniuk who was born in 1883 in the town of Pidvolochysk and emigrated in 1908. Humeniuk worked in New York as a violin maker and played fiddle at weddings and similar occasions for the Ukrainian diaspora. In 1925, he signed with OKey Records and started recording folk-dance tunes. His “Ukrainske Wesilia” (Ukrainian Wedding) is said to have sold over 100,000 copies. Yara’s virtual event, “Folk Fiddler: Pawlo Humeniuk,” includes samples of Humeniuk’s original recordings, a discussion of his work with folklorist Iryna Voloshyna and featured an appearance by members of the US Orchestra from Kyiv who are inspired by the Humeniuk recordings. Watch video

Yara’s second virtual event highlighted poet Oleh Lysheha who was born in Tysmenytsia near the Carpathian Mountains in 1949. He was expelled from Lviv University during a purge in the 1970s for his interest in American poetry and sent to do military duty in the Buryat Republic of Siberia. When he returned to Ukraine, Lysheha was banned from official Soviet literary activities. His first collection of poetry, “The Great Bridge” (1989), was like nothing else printed then. Yara started translating his work in 1990. In 1995, Virlana Tkacz first staged his poem “Swan” in Ukrainian in a workshop at Harvard and then included the English translation in Yara’s theatre pieces. Yara’s virtual event, “Poetry as Theatre: Oleh Lysheha’s 'Swan,'” included a recording of the poet reading the poem in Ukrainian, video clips from Yara’s theatre shows, “Virtual Souls” (1997) and “Flight of the White Bird” (1999), which used sections of the poem and a discussion with the artists who participated in Yara’s “Swan” (2003). Watch video

The third event was “Bandurist: Zinoviy Shtokalko,” who was an immigrant from Berezhany, and a virtuoso bandura player that brought the Ukrainian epic song tradition to New York in the 1950s and developed it in the 1960s. Yara’s Virlana Tkacz tells his story, while Julian Kytasty, a master bandura player, shares recordings and plays work influenced by Shtokalko. Watch video

“Yara’s Virtual Poetry and Folk Arts Events” are made possible by the Ukrainian Community Foundation of Philadelphia and Selfreliance Ukrainian FCU, as well as public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts. Yara has presented events at the Ukrainian Educational and Cultural Center since 2014.

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 VTkacz & Wanda Phipps
with Andrew Colteaux and Soomi Kim

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

Friday July 11, 2003  
Lowell Hall, Harvard University


"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 Brama.com, June 15, 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


Yara Arts Group

306 E 11th St #3B

New York, NY 10003 USA

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