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The spirits appear for a traditional dinner

photo by Alexnader Khantaev

The spirits remember fish

photo by Watoku Ueno

Allison Hiroto and Siho Ellsmore learn a lesson from the cabbage

photo by Alexnader Khantaev

Allison Hiroto shares an apple witih Andrew Colteaux and Siho Ellmore

photo by Watoku Ueno

The Koliadnyky enter the house

photo by Watoku Ueno

Dmytro Tafiiychuk plays the fiddle as Ivan Zelenchuk sings

photo by Watoku Ueno


forces of nature, animal spirits and the dead come to dinner

created by Yara Arts Group based on
ancient winter rituals from the Carpathians
directed by Virlana Tkacz
designed by Watoku Ueno
musical arrangements by Mariana Sadovska
translation by Virlana Tkacz & Wanda Phipps
video by Andrea Odezynska
with Yara artists: Andrew Colteaux, Olenka Denysenko, George Drance, Siho Ellsmore, Allison Hiroto, Olga Shuhan, Vira Slywotzky, Meredith Wright
and Hutsul koliadnyky: Ivan Zelenchuk & Dmytro Tafiychuk

March 4-20, 2005 La MaMa ETC New York


“Koliada: Twelve Dishes performed by the Yara Arts Group at the La Mama Theater in New York City March 4-20 is a collage of past, present, pagan, and Christian traditions. Ukrainian and English are also interwoven in tradition folk song and spoken word, which includes the poetry of contemporary Ukrainian writer Serhiy Zhadan.

Koliada was created in a theater workshop that took place in Kyiv during the Orange Revolution, but the idea was conceived during director Virlana Tkacz’s research travels in the Carpathian Mountains where many of the rituals invoked in the play are still practiced.

The play is framed by the Christmas Eve dinner. A lonely Ukrainian woman played by Olga Shuhan prepares dinner, goes outside with an ax, which she taps against a bowl, calling the spirits and bears to the table. “If you don’t come when I invite you, then don’t come at all,” she says. When she falls asleep, the spirits enter her house and prepare to feast.

The spirits are played by Andrew Colteaux, Olenka Denysenko, George Drance, Siho Ellsmore, Allison Hiroto, and Vira Slywotzky. Even in her silence, Siho Ellsmore conveyed emotion in her vivid expressions. The confidence of Andrew Colteaux’s movements stood out as the spirits danced rhythmically on stage. Allison Hiroto also stunned with the poignancy of her voice during the cast’s performance of musical arrangements by Mariana Sadovska.

Music is important throughout the play. Hutzul koliadnyky Ivan Zelenchuk and Dmytro Tafiychuk sing and at one point, play a trembita from a ramp above the stage. This adds an especially Ukrainian touch since they sing in a traditional style, while most of the play seems to transcend specific culture. This is one of the play’s strongest points. It brings Ukrainian culture to a universal level.

In the play, visual images become poems in themselves. Upon first glance, the set designed by Watoku Ueno seems simple, but when the play begins audience members discover its intricacies. Shadows add to the ethereal atmosphere. In one scene, colorful fruits and vegetables are placed on a tablecloth reminiscent of a canvas. Their scents drift toward the audience members, causing them to reinterpret their perception of everyday objects just as Zhadan’s poems do. His poems cause us to contemplate the associations with objects such as “Honey,” “Mushrooms,” “Fish,” and “Potatoes.” In another visually stimulating image, cabbage falls from up above, neon green leaves landing with a thud against the black floor.

At the end of the play, the table is pushed toward the audience. The members in the front row are actually sitting at the table. They are given a spoonful of kutia, joining the spirits, emphasizing the communal nature of the Christmas Eve dinner and of the artistic experience of viewing the play.” by Olena Jennings, The Ukrainian Weekly, April 3, 2005

“Ivan Zelenchuk and Dmytro Tafiychuk are truly unique and they came to America to appear as actors at La MaMa Experimental Theatre in a show, which although it has a Ukrainian title Koliada: Twelve Dishes is performed in English. In addition to the Ukrainians, actors of Chinese, French, Afro-American and Japanese heritage appear in the show. Most have never been to Ukraine or seen “live” Hutsuls. At the end of the show as the actors hand out “authentic” Christmas kutia (porridge) to the audience, repeating “God bless!” somewhere from way up high suddenly we hear a trembita (Carpathian mountain horn). Dmytro Tafiychuk’s traditional fiddle picks up the tune and the winter song singers enter into the household. The audience holds its breath as at a sacred moment…

Only Virlana Tkacz can spin such modern and archaic lace, so sensitively and unexpectedly join the authentic with the cosmopolitan. Only she, the artistic director of Yara Arts Group and the director of Koliada: Twelve Dishes could find such unique individuals as Ivan Zelenchuk and Dmytro Tafiychuk.”
by Kateryna Labunska, Meest Newspaper (Linden, NJ and Toronto), May 18, 2005

For press release and photos see Koliada at La MaMa

For reviews and photos of Yara's art installtion see Still the River Flows: A Glimpse at the Winter Solstice Rituals in A Carpathian Village at the Ukrainian Museum
For press release and more photos see Still the River Flows at the Ukrainian Museum

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