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Kurbasy Brings Ukrainian Magical Realism to the U.S.

November 1, 2018

Kurbasy makes its first-ever U.S. tour in 2018 as part of Center Stage, a exchange program of the U.S. State Department that invites performing artists from abroad to the United States to perform, meet and share their experiences with communities around the country. Center Stage is a public diplomacy initiative of the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs

Kurbasy sprang from a highly respected Lviv theater named for renowned avant-garde theater director Les Kurbas. “We were all working on a play together, based on the poetry of [groundbreaking early 20th-century Ukrainian poet] Bohdan-Ihor Antonych,” recalls singer Nataliya Rybka-Parkhomenko. “Someone suggested we improvise a bit. We’d play around with some of the songs we were singing in various productions.”

Mariana Sadovska, a vocalist-turned- composer who got her start as an actress in the this theater troupe, taught Kurbasy a large number of traditional Carpathian wedding songs, songs that are now woven into the first part of their performances.

“We started to dig around and try to figure out what exactly was going on. Why this song order? Why this particular verse? A million unknown whys,” muses Rybka-Parkhomenko. “We started to hear all the joy, sorrow, the humor and the erotica. It was a microcosmos.”

Says Kyshchun-Rachinska, “We found songs from the calendar cycle, Kolyada [Advent/Christmas] and Kupala [St. John’s Day/Midsummers] for example, but many of them express the relationship between men and women on both the intimate and universal, spiritual levels.”

“A vibrating energy, a living organism…”

As they developed their own interpretations of these songs, “We tried to distill the essence of how they saw the stages of life, when you have to say goodbye to your child as she becomes a bride and moves to a new home,” singer Myroslava Kyshchun-Rachynska notes. “It’s a tool to deal with your emotions. It’s very subtle.”

The leave-taking and grief, as well as the joy and revelry, suggested something beyond village traditions, hinting at questions, ideas, forces, and struggles of people everywhere. “When we started to think about this, we started to feel there’s something of a magic charm, something that’s not logical, to these songs,” reflects Rybka-Parkhomenko. “It’s something that comes from deep inside, a vibrating energy, a living organism. From that, we got the theme and concept for our performance.”

Musically, Kurbasy has a keen sense of inherent dramatic tensions and grounds them in taut rhythms; they articulate unexpected modes, and highlight harmonies and dissonances. “We are conscious of the linkages, of one song to another, from one emotion to the next, one vocal expression to the next. Within each individual song we are building the story of the concert, and Vsevolod, Artem, and Markiyan are looking for the same thing in the instrumentation,” Rybka-Parkhomenko explains.

(Story courtesy of Center Stage)