Created & Performed by Yara Arts Group
Directed by Virlana Tkacz
Produced by Yara Arts Gorup in association with La MaMa ETC
Nominations: Outstanding Original Music, Julian Kytasty; Outstanding Actor in a Lead Role, Jeremy Tardy
About the Company: Yara Arts Group is a resident company at La MaMa, the acclaimed experimental theater in New York. Yara has created thirty four theatre pieces based on extensive research in Eastern Europe, Siberia and Asia featuring Yara’s signature style of multilingual dialogue and songs supported by evocative visuals and documentation.
About the Production: Dark Night Bright Stars recreates the meeting between Taras Shevchenko, the great Ukrainian poet and painter, and Ira Aldridge, the African-American actor who was much honored in Europe. The two great artists, who rose up from serfdom and slavery, could not speak to each other directly but in one historical moment, found a common language in art and song. Their meetings were documented in the diary of Count Tolstoy’s 15 year old daughter, Katya.
Actor Jeremy Tardy and Director Virlana Tkacz share their experience in creating this paradoxical work that explores communication without translation and the importance of words and their multiplicity of meanings.
What first attracted you to this project?
Jeremy: The encounter of Ira Aldridge and Taras Shevchenko was very intriguing.
Virlana: When I first heard that Taras Shevchenko, a great Ukrainian poet who had been born a serf, had met and befriended the great African American actor Ira Aldridge in 1858 - I was fascinated. When I started researching the topic and learned the third person who had been at those meetings was the 14 year old daughter of count Tolstoy and that she had kept a diary - I knew this was a piece for our company.
What was your favorite part of working on this production?
Jeremy: Working with two different languages.
Virlana: Creating the piece with the other artists in our company: Jeremy Tardy, Sean Eden, Shona Tucker and Julian Kytasty. We also took the piece to Ukraine in 2014 and learned so much more about the people and our piece by performing it in Odessa, Lviv and Kyiv.
What was the most challenging part of working on this production?
Virlana: We were creating the piece in rehearsals - that is always hard, but when it works it is fabulous.
What did you want the audience to walk away with after seeing Dark Night Bright Stars?
Virlana: That art can transcends language, that passion speaks and can help us overcome our pasts and differences.
What was the most noteworthy part of this production for you?
Virlana: We were in Ukraine shortly after the events at the Maydan - the Revolution in 2014. We performed in Odesa just before the horrible fire and heard about as we got off the train in the next city. Kyiv was on a terror alert the day we performed but the theatre was full. In New York our audiences were very moved - even highschool kids from the the local school cried.
What did you learn from your work on this production?
Jeremy: The power and depth of the spoken word can transform lives.
What was it like working with Jeremy and Julian?
Virlana: Jeremy Tardy is a wonderful actor, very creative as a collaborator. An original musical score, created by Julian Kytasty, employs traditional Ukrainian songs which Shevchenko knew, as well as songs from AME Zion Church hymnal, a church which Ira Aldridge’s father attended. Julian performed the music on the bandura, a Ukrainian stringed instrument of the lute family. A third generation bandurist born in the US, his music combines a mastery of traditional styles with a distinctly contemporary sensibility. His collaborators have included artists as diverse as Chinese pipa virtuoso Wu Man, pioneering klezmer revivalist Michael Alpert and composer/saxophonist John Zorn. He has worked with Yara since 1998. Taras Shevchenko’s most famous book is "The Kobzar," referring to the bards who played the bandura.
Photos by Pavlo Terekhov & Lee Wexler