Virlana Tkacz

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Virlana Tkacz
Virlana Tkacz.jpg
Born (1952-06-23) June 23, 1952 (age 66)
EducationBennington College and Columbia University
OccupationTheatre director

Virlana Tkacz (born June 23, 1952 in Newark, New Jersey) is the founding director of the Yara Arts Group, a resident company at the world-renowned La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club in New York.[1] She was educated at Bennington College and Columbia University, where she earned a Master of Fine Arts in theatre directing. With Yara she created twenty-nine original theatre pieces based on fragments of contemporary poetry and traditional songs, chants, myth, history and legends. Although grounded in traditional material, Yara's pieces are experimental in essence, employing projections and complex musical scores to explore our relationship to time and consciousness.

Theatre Productions[edit]

Ms. Tkacz has created twenty-one original theatre pieces that were collaborations with experimental theatre companies from Eastern Europe. These pieces were performed at La MaMa in New York, in major theatres in Kiev, Kharkiv and Lviv and at international theatre festivals, as well as in village cultural centers. They included A Light from the East, Explosions, Blind Sight, Yara’s Forest Song, Waterfall/Reflections, with legendary folk-singer Nina Matvienko,Kupala, Koliada: Twelve Dishes, ''Still the River Flows, Winter Sun, Midwinter Night, Winter Light, and Song Tree which Bob Holman called “a luscious experience, flowing from folk to avant-garde, from the bizarre to the holy -- jampacked and juicy.”[citation needed] Reviewing her production of Scythian Stones, Michael Bettencourt wrote: “The performance builds what good theatre should always build: an alternate world that allows us to re-learn and reflect upon the great questions at the core of our being human.”[citation needed]

She created three original theatre pieces based on the poetry of Oleh Lysheha, including Swan, Raven, and Dream Bridge.Reviewing Yara’s Raven, Kinoteatr wrote: “The most amazing thing about Raven is the magical and masterful way the poetry has been transformed into stage reality. If I had to provide examples of the most organic translations from one art form into another, Virlana Tkacz’s theatrical “re-readings” of modern poetry would certainly be on that list.”[citation needed]

In 1996 she began working with indigenous Buryat artists from Siberia. Together they have created six original Yara theatre pieces beginning with Virtual Souls. Based on traditional material, rituals and shaman chants these pieces were performed at La MaMa, in Ulan Ude at the Buryat National Theatre, and in the villages of Aga-Buryat Region, as well as at the Experimental Theatre Festival in Kiev. In 1997 she led a group of Yara and Buryat artists on a research trip to the Aga-Buryat Region. The folk songs, legends and stories they collected inspired Yara's theatre piece Flight of the White Bird. In 1999 she led the research expedition to the Ust-Orda Buryat Region to collect material for her new piece, Circle. In addition to premiering at La MaMa, Circle also performed at the International Festival of Mongolian Language Theatres in Ulaanbaatar and entered the repertoire of the Buryat National Theatre. The Village Voice wrote: “A stunningly beautiful work, Circle, rushes at your senses, makes your heart pound, and shakes your feeling loose.”[citation needed]

In 2001 Ms. Tkacz created Obo: Our Shamanism based on a shaman ritual she witnessed the previous summer in Siberia. In 2001 Ms. Tkacz traveled to Mongolia to record the songs and legends of the Buryats of the eastern provinces and created the show Howling. Her show, The Warrior’s Sister, was based on an ancient Buryat epic song that she first translated into English with Sayan Zhambalov and Wanda Phipps. Describing this show, American Theatre Web wrote: “The performance reminds us of what theater should be and rarely is—the opportunity to step to a world that is virtually unknown to us.”[citation needed]

In 2005 Ms. Tkacz worked on a translation of Janyl Myrza, a 17th-century Kyrgyz epic about a woman warrior. After traveling to the Celestial Mountains, she created Janyl, with artists from Yara and the Sakhna Nomadic Theatre of Kyrgyzstan. The show performed at La MaMa in 2007, the capital of Bishkek, the regional center of Naryn and the Celestial Mountains, returning to Janyl’s homeland where the story took place. Fifteen photographs from Janyl are featured in Kyrgyz Epic Theatre in New York: Photographs by Margaret Morton published by the University of Central Asia in 2008. In 2008 she created Er Toshtuk based on one of the oldest Kyrgyz epics about a magical and darkly humorous journey into the underworld. In 2009 the show performed at La MaMa and continues to perform in Kyrgyzstan.

In addition to her work with Yara, Ms. Tkacz directed Return of the Native for BAM's Next Wave Festival with composer Peter Gordon and video artist Kit Fitzgerald. The piece performed at the Tucano Arts Festival in Rio de Janeiro and at Het Muziektheatre in Amsterdam. She also worked with them on Blue Lights in the Basement, the memorial to Marvin Gaye at the BAM Opera House. At the Aaron Davis Hall she staged Sekou Sundiata's Mystery of Love, ETC. She worked with David Rousseve on Mana Goes to the Moon, and also directed plays for the Native American Ensemble, The Women's Project and in Coney Island.

Ms. Tkacz was a Fulbright Senior Scholar at the Theatre Institute in Kiev in 2002 and in Bishkek in 2008. She has conducted theatre workshops for Harvard Summer Institute for eleven years and has lectured at Yale School of Drama and Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. She has assisted such directors as Andrei Serban, Ping Chong, George Ferencz and Wilford Leach at La MaMa, as well as Sir Peter Hall on Broadway and Michael Bogdanov at the National Theatre in London.

Books and Translations[edit]

Since 1989 she has worked with African-American poet Wanda Phipps on translations of Ukrainian poetry. Their work has formed the core of many Yara theatre pieces and appeared in print in numerous American literary journals, anthologies and on CD inserts. Their translations used in Yara productions were published in 2008 as a bilingual anthology In a Different Light. Together they have received the Agni Translation Prize, seven NYSCA translation grants and The National Theatre Translation Fund Award for their work on the verse drama Forest Song. Tkacz and Phipps have also devoted themselves to translating traditional material including: folk tales, songs, incantations and epics. In 2005 Tkacz was awarded the NEA Poetry Translation Fellowship for work on the contemporary poetry of Serhiy Zhadan.

Yara’s work with Buryat artists led Tkacz and Phipps to collaborate with Sayan Zhambalov on Buryat Mongolian translations. Their work on shaman chants was recognized by the Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry Translation Award and led to the publication of their book Shanar: Dedication Ritual of a Buryat Shaman by Parabola Books in 2002. The book is being republished as Siberian Shamanism by Inner Traditions in 2015.

Tkacz has published articles on theatre history in Theatre History Studies, Journal of Ukrainian Studies, Canadian Slavonic Papers, and Canadian-American Slavic Studies and has written about her own work in American Theatre. In 2010 She co-edited with Irena Makaryk Modernism in Kyiv: Jubilant Experimentation, a monumental book on the arts of Kyiv in the 1920s published by University of Toronto Press in 2010.

Also she published several articles in "Agni Magazine" <>.

In 2007 President Yushchenko named her “Honored Artist of Ukraine.”

Productions Virlana Tkacz created with Yara Arts Group[edit]

2017 1917/2017: Tychyna, Zhandan, and the Dogs
2015 Hitting Bedrock
2014 Winter Light
2014 Dark Night, Bright Stars
2014 Underground Dreams
2014 Capt. John Smith Goes to Ukraine
2013 Fire, Water, Night
2013 Midwinter Night
2012 Dream Bridge
2011 Raven
2010 Winter Sun
2010 Scythian Stones
2009 Er Toshtuk
2008 Still the River Flows
2007 Janyl
2005 Koliada: Twelve Dishes
2004 The Warrior’s Sister
2003 Swan
2002 Howling
2002 Kupala
2001 Obo: Our Shamanism
2000 Song Tree
2000 Circle
1998-99 Flight of the White Bird
1996-1997 Virtual Souls
1995 Waterfall/Reflections
1994 Yara's Forest Song
1993 Blind Sight
1992 Explosions
1990-91 A Light from the East/In the Light
For more information on Yara Arts Group and photographs see


Modernism in Kyiv: Jubilant Experimentation, edited by Irena R. Makaryk and Virlana Tkacz, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010.

In a Different Light: A Bilingual Anthology of Ukrainian Literature Translated into English by Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps as Performed by Yara Arts Group, edited by Olha Luchuk, Lviv: Sribne Slovo Press, 2008

Kyrgyz Epic Theatre in New York: Photographs by Margaret Morton edited by Virlana Tkacz, Bishkek: University of Central Asia, 2008.

Shanar: Dedication Ritual of a Buryat Shaman by Virlana Tkacz, with Sayan Zhambalov and Wanda Phipps, photographs by Alexander Khantaev, New York: Parabola Books, 2002.

Ten Years of Poetry from the Yara Theatre Workshops at Harvard twenty of the best Ukrainian poems from the Yara Workshops in award-winning translations by Virlana Tkacz & Wanda Phipps. The hand-made book was designed by Carmen Pujols in 1998. Each book is numbered and signed by the person who assembled it.


  1. ^ Jennings, Olena (April 2010). "Yara Arts Group: Poetry into Theatre (Interview with Virlana Tkacz)". nthWORD Magazine. Retrieved 2010-05-05.

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