WOMEN'S VOICES SUMMON UKRAINIAN SPECTRES
artssf.com, the independent observer of San Francisco Bay Area music
of Jan. 6-13, 2008
10, No. 47
Kitka is a rousing, dramatic all-women
vocal ensemble presenting a deft Eastern European folk-theater piece
Rusalka Cycle,” playing before some virtually full houses in their Jan.
performances. The heterogeneous fans seemed eminently satisfied, even
was an intimate mini-program, barely an hour in length.
fans will see some thematic resemblance
between this and “Les noces.” Both deal with village life of women. But
the latter was Russian, this one is Ukrainian, dedicated partly to
those folk traditions in danger of dying out in the face of modern
distractions, video and commercial film (to say nothing of facing the
aftermath of the USSR officialdom’s
highly antagonistic attitude toward the Ukrainian minorities for the
part of a century).
one intersects the worlds of fantasy, witches and specters,
providing well-modulated singing as if from another planet, giving its
anything from goosebumps to chills down the spine.
sometimes evil, inevitably scary
Rusalki are the spirits of women who have gone on to their reward,
tragic circumstances. You don’t want to cross them; in fact, an extra
laid out for one at the dinner table, just so any visiting Rusalka take
first bite and emerge satiated and distracted.
Rusalka Cycle” presents the
eventful life of village women, from their homebody duties to wedding,
motherhood and death. The nine women singers play out this drama in
under Stage Director Ellen Sebastian Chang, all while singing (mostly)
traditional Slavic folk songs strung together in arrangements for a
result, as seen Jan. 4 at the
Jewish Community Center, was arresting, capped by the bold a
cappella voices in various permutations giving what sounded like
convincing linguistic renditions (the Kitka band had actually traveled
Ukraine to study Rusalki rituals). The repertory is not easy for
singers, often invoking major-second chords (like the first notes in
not commonly used in the west.
theater piece, with musical direction
and intermittent composition by Mariana Sadovska of Cologne, Germany,
bright, disciplined voices in folk material drawn from Ukrainian,
Bosnian, Albanian and Croatian cultures. The piercing exultations in
atrium provided a pulse-quickening prologue, a brilliant fillip
stage action that followed.
In the absence
of a printed scenario or extensive English narration,
the audience could catch the broad strokes---braiding of hair-ribbons,
preparing brides, anointing the dead, singing lullabies---but not the
of this thoroughly researched set of scenes, culminating in a cemetery
dozens of spoons scattered everywhere in a group exorcism.
the central action
were professional production attributes in lighting (Jack Carpenter),
and the bass-line ostinatos provided by a pair of cellos, with
Kitka did a valuable
service in researching and staging a dying folk tradition, with the
fillip of having assisted revival of the Rusalki rituals in several
Rusalka Cycle” was first mounted
by the troupe in 2005 and substantially altered and strengthened for
revival, which is also due to go on tour to the University of New
is jointly directed by the troika of Shira Cion, Juliana Graffagna and
the fall the Oakland-based company will
begin its 30th season.
Kitka, women’s vocal ensemble. “The
Rusalka Cycle” at the Jewish Community Center, S.F., Jan. 3-6. For
444-0323, or go online.
©Paul Hertelendy 2007
Paul Hertelendy has been
the dance and modern-music scene in the San Francisco Bay Area with
-- and a certain amount of salsa -- for years.
These critiques appearing weekly (or sometimes semi-weekly, but never
will focus on dance and new musical creativity in performance, with
into books (by authors of the region), theater and recordings by local
artists as well.
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