top of page

Yara's 25


museum exhibit celebrating Yara Arts Group

Feb 25 - April 15, 2016 
Museum of Theatre, Music and Cinema in Kyiv

Oksana Zabuzhko, Oksana Batiuk & Larysa Rusnak
on working with Yara on poetry
March 19, 2016 photos

Nina Matvienko on singing with Yara
March 5, 2016 photos

Hutsul Koliada in Theatre with Yara
February 28, 2016 photos

Yara Arts Group was born on February 25, 1990 when a group of New York artists were creating an original theatre piece about Les Kurbas -- an experimental theatre director in 1920s Kyiv. They were celebrating his birthday and decided to form their own company. Their show, "A Light from the East" incorporated the diaries of Kurbas with poetry and the dreams of the young Yara artists. It was developed at La MaMa Experimental Theatre and premiered in November 1990. The piece was created anew in Ukraine as "In the Light," the first Ukrainian-American theatre co-production, which opened in 1991 at the Franko National Theatre in Kyiv the very week that the Soviet Union collapsed. Ellen Stewart, legendary founder of La MaMa, joined the group in Kyiv. SoonYara became a resident company of La MaMa.


Over the years, Yara has developed a pool of actors, singers, musicians, poets and other artists in Ukraine who have worked with Yara. Such artists as: Nina Matvienko, Tonia Matvienko, Mariana Sadovska, Oleksiy Bohdanovych, Larysa Rusnak, Mykola Shkaraban, Oleh Drach, Natalka Polovynka, Ostap Kostyuk, Eugene Hutz and his Gogol Bordello, Dakh Daughters and Crimean Tatar artists have appeared in various Yara shows. Yara has also worked with Ukrainian poets Oleh Lysheha, Oksana Zabuzhko, Victor Neborak and Serhiy Zhadan.

In addition to its theatre pieces, Yara has presented a wide range of musical and literary events, workshops, art and photography exhibits, and has published books, most recently "Still the River Flows: Winter Solstice and Christmas Rituals in a Carpathian Village," featuring the Hutsul Koliadnyky, who Yara first brought to the US in 2005.

For 25 years Yara has been led by Virlana Tkacz. Under her direction Yara has staged over thirty original theatre productions at La MaMa Experimental Theatre, Harvard Summer School and throughout Ukraine, Siberia, and Asia. It also holds festivals and events at various venues in New York. This retrospective exhibition and the related programs are a celebration of Yara’s continued interest in providing a forum for cross-cultural and cross-generational genre-bending arts.

New York

YARA AT 25 (2015)

January 24- March 8, 2015

Ukrainian Museum, New York



Yara’s mission is to work with little known cultures of the East and create collaborations between local and American artists. The genesis of Yara was the creation of a piece called "Light From the East," a docu-dream that fused excerpts from Les Kurbas’s diary and the aspirations of the actors...   

The poems used in [Yara's] shows are always translated by Tkacz and Wanda Phipps... Another Yara tradition [is] creating pieces through travel abroad. Yara has traveled and performed in Ukraine, the Buryat Republic, Kyrgyzstan, and China. Yara’s most recent travels were to Ukraine to present "Dark Night Bright Stars," a show about the relationship between well-known Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko and African-American actor Ira Aldridge. Yara’s actors traveled to Ukraine [in 2014] and performed this piece during the tumultuous events created by the Russian incursion into Ukraine. 

Yara’s pieces are all created in workshops... The making of the piece is always a collaborative process. Yara has created 29 original theatrical pieces over its 25 years... 

The exhibit at the Ukrainian Museum in the East Village, chronicled the history of the Yara Arts Group through exhibits of artifacts from some of Yara’s productions over the past years.  The exhibit was designed by Waldemart Klyuzko and includes video from five shows ("Swan," "Er Toshtuk," "Circle," "Fire Water Night," and "Capt. John Smith Goes to Ukraine.")  The scope of Yara’s work is also documented in posters, newsletters, and slides.

           Pink dress and a wreath around head, costumes by Keiko Obremski and                     Alexandra Baczynshkyj.
           This was the costuming used for the forest nymph in Yara’s "Fire, Water, Night" (2013), a performance based on the work of Ukrainian poet Lesia Ukrainka.  It is the love story between a human, Luke and a forest nymph. The forest comes alive as trees are played by actors. Tkacz made use of every inch of space in La MaMa’s Ellen Stewart Theater, encouraging the audience to move with the actors through the theater and lobby.            Black dress with flower at shoulder, costume by Keiko Obremiski.
          This dress was used in three shows including "Winter Light" (2014) as a costume for Death. "Winter Light" includes the koliadnyky, winter song singers from the village of Kryvorivnia in Ukraine, scenes from the current crisis in Ukraine, and 18th century baroque nativity folk opera. The voices of the koliadnyky are haunting as they sing songs after the low bellow of the trembita or mountain horn...     
           Fabric wrap-around dress, costume by Rachel Comey.
           In Circle (2000) a husband and wife, decide to steal fire from the spirits so that they can make a wish come true. They wish their son gets married and immediately he shows up with a bride. Ghosts come to their wedding because they want the fire back.  The ghost costumes unwind to envelop the bride and take her off to their world, but a shaman comes to the rescue in beautiful red and gold.  
           Circle encompasses Buryat myths, songs, and ritual dances that take place in the Buryat Republic. The Buryats are the largest indigenous population of the former Soviet Union.  Along with the ritual songs, Eugene Hutz of the band Gogol Bordello provided gypsy punk music.  
           Hat with tassels and costume by Ainura Asanbekova.
           Er Toshtuk (2009) is based on a Kyrgyz epic about a journey into the underworld.  A young warrior Toshtuk, in love with a ghost girl, loses his soul and falls into the underworld. To create this piece, Yara made multiple trips to Kyrgyzstan and acquired beautiful traditional tassels and embroidery used in these costumes.      
           Suitcase without sides filled with grass, design by Watoku Ueno.
The suitcase was brought in by the newborn Sun, “where the goat will dance, that's where wheat will grow” in "Song Tree" (2000), which is based on ancient winter songs and dances from the Carpathians and Poltava. Spirits of Malanka and the Goat Dance descend on a woman who has buried herself in work and science.  For this piece Tkacz traveled to the villages of Kryachkivka and Utoropy in Ukraine. She traveled along with two Ukrainian artists Maryana Sadovska and Yaryna Turianska, who had been traveling through villages in Ukraine collecting and recording folk songs. They helped to create "Song Tree" based on Ukrainian folk songs and wedding rituals.  
The crowning event of the exhibition was a performance in which Yara artists looked back at their history and then into the future as the band Korinya led audience members to a reception area filled with appetizers, some of which were favorites previously made for Yara’s winter celebrations, by food artist Olesia Lew.  

No matter where Yara travels and performs, they have called New York home for 25 years! 

"Yara at 25: The Experimental Theater Group Marches On" Boog City, #98 March, 2015

bottom of page