Spring and Summer Rituals Galore in ‘Fire. Water. Night’ Musical

“Fire. Water. Night” by Yara Arts Group adapts spring and summer rituals into a World Music Theater piece that moves throughout the lobby, risers and playing areas of La MaMa’s Ellen Stewart Theatre, reveling in the imagery of the spring thaw, of awakening forests and of midsummer fire rituals. The work, conceived and directed by Virlana Tkacz, interweaves performances in English and Ukrainian, including fragments of Lesya Ukrainka’s verse drama, “Forest Song,” poetry from Native American, Canadian and American authors, dance and song. It features a score by electronic music composer Alla Zagaykevych, traditional ritual songs from Ukraine and raucous dance music by Toronto’s Lemon Bucket Orkestra. La MaMa E.T.C. will present the work June 7 to 16. The experience is highly visual and musical and is completely accessible to all audiences.

This modernist interdisciplinary work draws upon pre-Christian rituals to juxtapose our primal link to nature with our increasingly high tech existence. The main characters are trees who react to humans as they first enter the forest and start changing the landscape, tearing at the fabric of life. The piece follows Sylph, a forest nymph, who falls in love with Luke, a human. The evening begins in the Ellen Stewart Theater’s lobby with songs of winter ice and the coming of Spring floods. It moves into the space under the theater’s risers, where the audience “walks through the river.”

The audience is introduced to our cast of trees and the forbidden love of Sylph and Luke begins. Action spreads from the top of the risers to the far end of the playing area as summer peaks with solstice songs. As humans rejoice in this fiery time of love, trees react with horror. The audience is led back to the lobby, where Lemon Bucket Orchestra bursts forth with joyous, carnivalesque, gypsy-rag-tag-punk super band music in a joyous “swamp party” that ends the first act. In the second act, the mood shifts as wild nature is “cultured.” A field replaces the forest as imagery from a silent 1930s movie by Alexander Dovzhenko is projected and Nature is mechanized, then digitized.

The field begs Sister, don’t destroy my beauty. LR: Shigeko Suga, Romana Soutus, Stanislav Golopatyuk and Jenny Leona. Photo by Tuda Sarian.

Audience members can earn discount tickets ($15) by coming early to learn a traditional group song and revel in the festivities. To sign up, email [email protected].

Movement is created by Shigeko Suga. Projections are by Mikhail Shraga and Volodymyr Klyuzko, who were nominated for a New York Innovative Theatre Award for their work on Yara’s “Raven” (2011) with help from Vivian Strosberg. The set is by Yevhen Kopyov and Stephan Moravski. The lights are by Jeff Nash and costumes are by Keiko Obremski and Alexandra Baczynskyj. Featured Yara artists in the production include: Jenny Leona, Romana Soutus and Jeremy Tardy with Alexandra Baczynskyj, Yarko Dobriansky, Stanislav Golopatyuk, Tamar Ilana, Kewpie, J Moliere, Matt Nasser, Masha Pruss, TJ Sclafani and Shigeko Suga. Musicians and singers include: Mark Marczyk, Tangi Ropars, Jaash Singh, Marin? Celander, Julia Dobner-Pereira, Brian Dolphin, Allison Hiroto, Chris Ignacio, Samantha Posey and Shelly Thomas.

The core text of “Fire. Water. Night” is the verse drama “Forest Song,” which was written in 1911 by Lesya Ukrainka (1871-1913). The play was translated into English by Virlana Tkacz and African-American poet Wanda Phipps, who received the National Theatre Translation Fund for their work. “Fire. Water. Night” uses segments of their English translation along with contemporary poetry and ancient songs incorporated into an original musical score. The production coincides with the centennial commemoration of Lesya Ukrainka, who is regarded as one of the greatest writers of Ukraine.

Sylph you’ll steal my soul: Jenny Leona plays Sylph, Jeremy Tardy plays Luke, Romana Soutus and Stanislav Golopatyuk look on. Photo by Tuda Sarian.

Virlana Tkacz (concept, director) is the founding director of Yara Arts Group and has created twenty four original theater pieces with the company, all of which had their American premieres at La MaMa in New York. The Village Voice described her production of Yara Arts Group’s “Circle” as a “stunningly beautiful work that rushes at your senses, makes your heart pound, and shakes your feelings loose.” Off-Off Online (Michael Bettencourt) labeled Yara’s “Scythian Stones,” with the world-renowned Ukrainian singer Nina Matvienko and Kyrgyz artists, “Pick of the Week” and wrote, “the performance builds what good theatre should always build: an alternate world that allows us to re-learn and reflect upon the great questions at the core of our being human.”

Composer Alla Zagaykevych combines traditional ritual music from Polissia with contemporary multidisciplinary projects such as installations and performances. A member of the Drevo Folk Ensemble since 1986, she studied at the National Music Conservatory in Kyiv and at Institute IRCAM in Paris. Since the mid-1990s she has been a leading proponent of electronic music in Ukraine and a curator on many international projects. She often appears at international festivals. In 2004 she was awarded the Dovzhenko National Award for music for the film “Mamay,” an acclaimed Ukrainian movie. She created the music for Yara Arts Group’s “Raven” (2011) and “Dream Bridge” (2012). One reviewer labeled her “a sound artist, a transformer and creator of sounds extraordinary.”

Lemon Bucket Orkestra (www.lemonbucket.com) is a self-described “Balkan-Klezmer-Gypsy-Punk-Super-Party-Band” formed in 2010 in Toronto. The band, led by Mark Marczyk, plays a wide array of Eastern European folk tunes and has recently made the transition from local offbeat busking attraction to an international folk sensation. They first collaborated with Yara on “Midwinter Night” with the Koliadnyky last December and created a sensation with their New Year performance at Mehanata.

Yara Arts Group (http://www.brama.com/yara) is a resident company of the world renowned La MaMa Experimental Theatre, where it has created 27 original theater pieces based on material rooted in the cultures of East Europe, Central Asia, Siberia, Mongolia, China and Japan. It is a collective of artists of Asian, African, Latino, Eastern and Western European ancestry who come together to create original work. Yara strives to create new theatrical pieces that are infused with traditional material. The group has collaborated with international artists (premiere actors, musicians, dancers and storytellers) who have contributed specific expertise and have facilitated the group’s understanding of the complexities of local cultures. Together they have created original theatre pieces in Yara’s signature style of multilingual dialogue and songs supported by evocative visuals and documentation.

Yara’s “Fire. Water. Night” is made possible with public funds from New York State Council on the Arts, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, the Coca-Cola Company, Self-Reliance (NY) FCU and Yara Arts Group’s numerous friends and donors. For updates see www.brama.com/yara

“Fire. Water. Night” will be presented by La MaMa E.T.C. and Yara Arts Group at the La MaMa Ellen Stewart Theater, 66 East Fourth Street from June 7 to 16, 2013, Thursday to Saturday at 7:30PM and Sundays at 2:30PM, plus Sunday, June 9 at 7:00PM. Tickets are $25 general admission, $20 for students and seniors and $10 for children. For tickets, go to the La MaMa box office at 74A East Fourth Street, visit www.lamama.org or call (212) 475-7710.$15 discount tickets are available for participants who come early to learn a traditional group song. To sign up email [email protected].

Jonathan Slaff
Jonathan Slaff writes on cultural events from the brainy, the edgy and the good. He helps us keep ahead of the curve in the world of the arts and culture.