Yara Arts Group in ‘Janyl’

“Janyl” the newest work by Yara Arts Group, is based on an ancient epic song from Kyrgyzstan, “Janyl Myrza” (pronounced Ja-nil Mir-zha), about a woman archer with a skill so refined that she never misses. This World Music-Theater piece includes fragments of the epic performed live by Kyrgyz artists from Central Asia in the traditional singing style, while Yara artists perform in English. Virlana Tkacz directs.

Kenzhegul Satybaldieva and Ji Young Kim as two aspects of the woman warrior in Janyl.
Kenzhegul Satybaldieva and JiYoung Kim (left to right) as two aspects of the woman warrior in ”Janyl”. Photo by Margaret Morton.

The production follows the Yara Arts Group style of dramatizing ancient myths with movement, world music, and songs sung in many languages. This time the show is based entirely on a single poetic text. “Janyl Myrza” can be loosely translated as “Sir Jane.” Passed down orally through the centuries, it was recorded from the great epic singer Ibraim Abdyrakhmanov and portrays actual events that took place in the 17th century. It has been translated for the first time into English by Kyrgyz poet Roza Mukasheva, Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps especially for this show. The cast includes six performers from Kyrgyzstan, and New York members of Yara Arts Group.

“Janyl” is being created in rehearsals by director Virlana Tkacz and Kyrgyz artists from Sakhna Theatre of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, a company that specializes in staging Kyrgyz epics. The music is traditional and composed by Asylbek Nasirdinov, who was part of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project at Carnegie Hall, and features the bard Omurzak Kaiypov. Set, lights and costumes are by Watoku Ueno, Yara’s resident designer and founding member, who is an NEA/TCG award-winning designer. Movement is by Shigeko Sara Suga. Projections are by photographer Margaret Morton who traveled with Yara last summer into the high pasturelands of the Celestial Mountains on the Kyrgyz-Chinese border where the epic originally took place. Video is by Andrea Odezynska. The woman warrior will played by Kenzhegul Satybaldieva as well as Yara artist Ji-young Kim, revealing dual aspects of this powerful character. Cast also includes Yara members Christian T. Chan, Susan Hyon, Doua Moua, as well as Kyrgyz actors Munarbek Alibaev, Baktytkul Dzhanibekov and Ilgis Zhunusov.

Director Virlana Tkacz heads the Yara Arts Group and has created sixteen original theater pieces with the company, all of which had their American premieres at La MaMa. The Village Voice (Eva Yaa Asantewaa) called her production of “Circle,” “a stunningly beautiful work (that) rushes at your senses, makes your heart pound, and shakes your feelings loose.” Describing her last piece, “The Warrior’s Sister,” American Theatre Web (Laura Shea) wrote, “Multilingual, though easily accessible to English-speaking audiences, the performance reminds us of what theater should be and rarely is-the opportunity to step to a world that is virtually unknown to us.”

Founded in 1990, Yara Arts Group, a resident company of La MaMa, creates original pieces that explore timely issues rooted in the East through the diverse cultural perspectives of the group’s members. Yara artists are of Asian, African, Eastern and Western European ethnic origin. They bring together poetry, song, historical materials and scientific texts, primarily from the East, to form what one critic described as “extended meditation on an idea.” The company has created seven pieces based on materials from Eastern Europe including “Waterfall/Reflections,” developed with folk singer Nina Matvienko, which The New York Times (D.J.R. Bruckner) called “a theatrical enchantment given cohesion by choreographed movement and by music on a prodigal scale.” Since 1996 Yara has also created seven theater pieces with Buryat artists from Siberia. “Janyl” is the first collaborative Kyrgyz American project.

Sakhna Theatre was founded under the direction of Nurlan Asanbekov in 2002. The artists work and experiment with traditional material, creating contemporary experimental versions of the great Kyrgyz epics. They study the oral folk traditions of their nomadic culture in order to help them revive these epics through ritual theatre. The universal theme of man’s relationship with nature is at the heart of their productions. The epic stories are accompanied by traditional songs and instruments, further preserving this 1,000 year old culture. To date they have created three productions: “Kerez” (The Testament) which won the main prize in Bishkek’s “Art-Ordo” International Theatre Festival, “Kurmanbek” and “Maktym-Dastan,” which were created with support from the Swiss Agency for Development.

Performances are March 9 to March 25 2007, at La MaMa, 74A East 4th Street, Manhattan (between 2nd Avenue & The Bowery). Performances are Fridays through Saturdays at 8:00 pm, Sundays at 3:00 pm (March 9-11), Thursdays through Saturdays at 9:00 PM + Sundays 3:00 pm and 8:00 pm (March 15 to 18 & 22 to 25). Ticket prices are $15. The box office number is (212) 475-7710 and online ticketing is available at www.lamama.org

Related Event

The Kyrgyz artists of Sakhna will also perform “Kerez” (The Testament) their own production of a Kyrgyz epic, March 29 to April 1 at 8:00 pm in La MaMa’s First Floor Theater, 74A East Fourth Street, Manhattan (between 2nd Avenue & The Bowery).

The production, created by artistic director of Sakhna Nurlan Asanbekov and performed by a company of eight, is about a hunter who slaughters all the peacefully grazing goats, despite the entreaties of Sur Echi, the mythical Mother Goat, who then takes her revenge. The Kyrgyz performers ritually portray both the tribe and the wild herds around them. Tickets are $15. The box office number is (212) 475-7710 and online ticketing is available at www.lamama.org.

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.