The Yara arts Group is a resident company at the fabled off-off-Broadway production company La MaMa. Their mission is to work with traditional-form artists from Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Siberia.
Their latest piece (June 2013) is Fire. Water. Night., directed by Virlana Tkacz, is based on movement, dance and song. The loose narrative concerns a forest nymph who falls in love with a man. There are 22 physical performers, ten of them musicians. Without set or props, the bodies represent trees and crops they also represent people, two types of nymphs, et al.
The work moves from lobby to stage to lobby to stage as the seasons change. The “stage” is sometimes the usual open space and sometimes the raised platforms usually reserved for the audience. Creative use of space here.
The primary source for the text is a 1911 Ukrainian verse drama called Forest Song, but there are many others. The company’s mission notwithstanding, the script uses North American material (Native and otherwise) as well. There’s some pagan ritual material according to the press release, but the program would have benefited from director’s notes.
At the climax, the actors lead the audience in a line dance accompanied by violin and accordion. The actors were a tad too pushy in getting the spectators involved, but everyone had a great time.
The performance was given primarily in English with occasional flights into Ukrainian. It’s really cool; the Ukrainian is spoken so eloquently that we think we speak the language.
Above all, there’s marvelous singing, unison singing or simple melodies with a droning undercurrent of harmony. Sometimes the actors speak and clap in unison. This is a tradition of strong, bold vocal work.
The show gets on shaky ground when the actors are doing nothing but being trees, and there’s an ill-advised digital portraiture projection. But Fire. Water. Night. is terrific.