Koliada Project – Yara Arts Group  

by Victor Mishalow


This December Toronto saw a world music theatre piece entitled “Midwinter Night: Sacred and Profane Rituals” performed in the beautiful Enwave Theatre at Harbourfront Center. This bilingual theatre piece included ancient winter-songs from the Carpathians, a Ukrainian Baroque folk nativity play and Carnivalesque Goat Songs” and was created by Yara Arts Group under the direction of Virlana Tkacz

Five traditional folk musicians were brought from the Carpathian village of Kryvorivnia. They were joined by twelve members of “Lemon Bucket Orkestra” from Toronto and seven Yara artists from New York. The sets were designed by Watoku Ueno with Olenka Kleban and the projections were by Mikhail Shraga, Volodymyr Klyuzko and Alexander Khantaev. All these artists were brought together by Virlana Tkacz to perform a unique theatre piece that celebrated Ukrainian winter rituals.

In the first part we heard the oldest Ukrainian koliadas, or winter songs, about the creation of the sun, moon and stars, first recorded in 1693. We were also treated to instrumentals played on such ancient folk instruments as the dentsivka, tylynka, sopilka and trembita.

The second section was a staging of a 18th century Nativity play, or vertep, with the artists portraying angels, shepherds, three wise men, Herod, the soothsayer, Rachel, Death and the Devil. Music for this section included rarely performed Baroque carols arranged by composer Julian Kytasty. They were sung by a chorus of artists from all the groups accompanied by violin, cello, flute, sopilka and bandura in a baroque style from 17th century Ukraine. Kytasty aptly connected the elements into one musical whole.

The third part included ancient ritual goat songs by the Lemon Bucket Orkestra with a hilarious performance by Stephania Wolodshyn as the goat. Afterwards, the Lemon Bucket Orkestra and the Hutsuls performed a series of koliadas and instrumentals with a rousing finale with the audience dancing in the aisles and on stage.

In addition to the various banduras played by Julian Kytasty, other rare Ukrainian folk instruments included the hammer dulcimer (tsymbaly), the mountain horn (trembita), bagpipes, drymby (jaw harps) and a variety of flutes, including a masterful performance on the telynka, or overtone flute. These instruments are rarely played, and it was a treat to hear such accomplished performers. In today’s digital age how fresh it is to hear an acoustic performance played with such passion.

After the final performance there was a party at the Bezpala-Brown Gallery (17 Church St @ Front) where there was an exhibit of photographic art by Alexander Khantaev and Volodymyr Klyuzko inspired by traditional life in the Carpathians.

The sponsors of this project should be thanked. The participants and the audience obviously experienced spiritual elevation. Director Virlana Tkacz and her artistic team have set a new standard in presenting our traditions in elegant and energetic interpretations by contemporary artists on the world stage. We want more, and we want it now.