Tychyna, Zhadan & The Dogs

Tychyna, Zhadan & The Dogs is a production conceived and directed by Virlana Tkacz and presented by La MaMa and Yara Arts Group. It combines Ukrainian poetry with Ukrainian rock music. The poetry was written by Pavlo Tychyna just after World War One, and by contemporary poet Serhiy Zhadan (with additional verse by Bob Holman of the Yara Arts Group). Mr. Zhadan is the lead singer for the rock group, Zhadan and the Dogs.
The opening of the show takes place in the lobby of the theater, creating a nice transition from life to art. An actor (he neglects to introduce himself) announces that he’s Czar Nicholas II. He then abdicates by removing his epaulettes, sash, medals, and he stops being the character. The actor has with him 12 hats. He explains that Kiev saw 12 regime changes in 3 years, one of them lasting only a day, and he dons a hat for each regime. “History is written, of course, above, but it’s lived below,” he tells us. A couple of actors (one of them Serhiy Zhadan) recite poetry in Ukrainian, and then we’re ushered into the theater.
The remainder of the performance consists of spoken poetry alternating with rock music. It’s not clear which of the poets wrote the verse we’re hearing, but at any rate much of it is marvelous:
I wash myself – water, chimes, curtain.
Anything can be justified by lofty ideals except a hollow soul.
Take the vegetables from the garden and leave.
We will never see our city again.
We are refugees.
The recitation of the verse is terrific, animated without being heavy-handed. The speakers, of course, recite in English, but they intersperse the verse with Ukrainian words, and the technique creates a lovely, ghostly suggestion of translation.
Zhadan and the Dogs is comprised of eight male musicians: drums; two guitars; trumpet; trombone; keys; two singers. They play about six songs during the show, singing in Ukrainian, sometimes in a pounding monotone. In the show’s best moment, the actors lie on the floor, looking limp, while the band plays behind them.
There’s also a man on stage playing the bandura, a stringed instrument, between the rock songs, offering us more delicate music. We met him earlier in the lobby, where he played a piano block. He wears a strange black hood. Contrasting him to the rock band is a great way to transition us between our own period and a hundred years ago.
Yara Arts Group is a resident company at La MaMa. They present work referencing Eastern Europe and Asia, and we’re always glad to see it.
Steve Capra
June 2017

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