Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Winter Light


Winter Light: Songs, Music and rituals from the Carpathians
a Baroque Folk Nativity Play
and Serhiy Zhada looks at Ukraine Today
created by Yara Arts Group
directd by Virlana Tkacz

Winter Light: Songs, Music and Rituals  the Carpathians is a delightful hour-and-a-half from Yara Arts Group (at La MaMa) consisting primarily of Ukrainian folk music. The cast of 21 sing in a range of flavors, sometimes clapping, sometimes stamping their feet. The styles range from the ethereal to the staccato, from the placid to the hearty.

The singing is almost exclusively in Ukrainian, with only a few moments of translation indicating the lyrics. “Nothing lasts forever,” we hear, and “How long I waited for you.”

The night I attended, the audience broke into spontaneous clapping as the singers ran through a song. Such is the contagious energy of this troupe.

Many songs are sung a capella, but there’s an instrumental accompaniment to others, and the instruments are choice. There’s a fiddle with a special tuning, sometimes doubling with the four male singers. We hear an accordion, a cello, recorders, flutes, drums and horns six feet long that are held vertical by the singers when they’re not being blown, like staffs.

The musicians play several unique instruments. The tsymbaly is an extraordinary instrument, a hammered dulcimer with 175 strings on flat wood held on the lap. When the musician turns it over, it doubles as a wooden drum. The bandura is another unique piece, like a lute, but with 66 strings. The trembita is a horn made of pine that’s been struck by lightning!

The performers speak sparingly. The show begins with a woman carrying a suitcase, performing a monologue about being a refugee. Later there’s a sort of narrative about King Herod (he appears on a throne with wheels), partly mimed and partly spoken in a very interesting conversation in which woman speaks English while Herod himself speaks Ukrainian.

Some songs are sung by Koliadnyky, a group of “winter song singers” from the Carpathians. They preserve the koliada, an ancient ritual held around the Christmas season and the year’s most important ritual in those mountains.

Most of the singing is technically fine, and if falters from time to time we don’t care. Indeed, we enjoy its down-to-earth quality.

Winter Light is a terrific nod to the beginning of winter, and the Yara Arts Group has (again) fascinated us with its traditional performing art.
Steve Capra
December 2014