Monday, September 20, 2010

Ukrainian Dance in South America – Part I

So I was in Buenos Aires, Argentina last month for a show with the Viter Ukrainian Dancers.  The show was to be at 4 o’clock on a Sunday afternoon, and was organized by Dnipro Gold Travel Company, with help from the Prosvita Ukrainian Dancers, but not everything starts on time here!

Did you know there are 12 Ukrainian dance clubs in Buenos Aires alone?  I was shocked.  The main dance group called Prosvita, celebrated its 85th Anniversary last year.  Some of the smaller groups in the suburbs of Buenos Airies are under the Prosvita umbrella, while others like Zirka, are independent.  In fact, there are Ukrainian dance groups all over Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil.  One couple drove 1600 kms to come and see our show.  What?  Yea, apparently they rarely have foreign dance groups perform here because most only go to Brazil.

Ukrainians came to Argentina and other places in South America in the late 19th century at the same time they emigrated from the far corners of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, during the first exodus.  I guess you either got on the boat to Canada or South America.

So anyway, the show was sold out long before we arrived and the community gave us a wonderful reception.  After the show, Prosvita hosted a big Ukrainian feast with some of the best food we had since we arrived.  We did have a fantastic steak dinner the other night but we’re from Alberta so… you know…. it was ok.  But the local Ukrainian community hosted such a nice night of Ukrainian music, food and drink.  We launched into some singing with our musicians and theirs, which eventually morphed into a Kolomyika that lasted for quite some time.

One crazy moment in the evening was when one Canadian family realized they were related to one of the Brazilian-Ukrainian families.  They just haven’t seen each other in a 100 years!

It was so strange and beautiful to be in a foreign country, where I do not understand the language (Portugese), speaking Ukrainian!  Interestingly, they speak very well.  I would say generally that Ukrainian has been preserved amongst 3rd and 4th generation Ukrainians better than in Canada.

As for Argentenian dance – it’s all tango, all the time!  But you have to go there to experience it!

Then we travelled into Brazil.  We saw Iguassu Falls, which is so beautiful that it makes Niagura look like a baby pool.  

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Dauphin 2010

So… I must admit I wasn’t that excited about going to Dauphin as I used to be.  You know… been there done that.  I’ve been lucky enough to perform on the stage at Canada’s National Ukrainian Festival several times, with many fond memories. (And a few foggy ones too!)

Anyway, things were usual, long bus ride, Husky truck stop food, movies and sore muscles even before we performed.  But excitement did build as we drove up to the site and could see the enormous Grand Stand stage at the bottom of the hill.

This show was a little different for me I guess.  Shumka has taken some artistic directions that are challenging for me.  I’m not as comfortable with some of the more contemporary “stuff” as I am with “standard” Ukrainian dance.  But hey, I’m willing to try anything twice.  Not to mention that I’m not as limber as I used to be and didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of my peers.  Anyway the show went off really good actually… until Hopak. 

You know this is Shumka’s Classic Hopak, choreographed by John Pichlyk.  It’s kind of legendary I think that even my friends in other groups could admit.  Let me just add in here that there are many, many great Hopak’s but this one has found a special place in the heart of the Ukrainian dance world.  It seems to tap something in your soul.  Maybe it’s the combination of Gene Zwozdesky’s musical score and Pichlyk’s choreography that just hit the right mark.  I dunno what it is, but it’s the kind of dance, no matter who you are, from what culture – you cannot help but be moved by it!

So when Shumka finished Hopak, you could literally feel the roar of the crowd as if a big lion was roaring in your face or some kind of explosion had just gone off in front of you.  It sent shivers down my spine.  It was cool.  Then we did our Encore!

When we finished the roar of the crown seemed even bigger, my show was done and I finally relaxed.  I just soaked it up - time seemed to stand still and I realized that I never thought I would have had the chance to feel this again.  What a rush!
I hurt my back really bad once upon a time and a twist of fate brought me back into the dance studio just over a year ago.  How lucky am I?  Some of my friends who have shared this moment with me before were in the audience, but I got to be on the stage again. How lucky am I?

I don’t know how the Universe conspired to make this happen – but thank you!

The rest of the festival was a perogy eating, beer drinking, sun burning, Kolomyika dancing, mosquito biting, body painting rock concert event.  The Kubasonics used an old bra as a slingshot to launch rings of Kubasa into the audience and Haydamaky – Kozak Rock, made the accordion look some kind of epic guitar from an 80’s glory rock band.  Someone should really make a documentary about this place.  You cannot invent the people or the things that go down here! 

Until next time Dauphin – I’ll be back!

Wedding Hopak

Our friends Oles’ and Pam got married on July 24th.   A collective aww!!!!!
This was a special sort of wedding in Shumka land because both of them are Shumka dancers.  This happens from time to time and usually provides the ingredients for a party the likes of which happens only in movies.

Normally, when you enter the church, the usher asks if you are friends of the bride or groom.  This particular wedding the ushers asked, “Friends of the bride, groom or Shumka”?  (It’s not that we are diseased or something)

Anyway, Shumka’s gift, when one of its members gets married is a wedding Hopak.  The gift of dance!  What else can you give to someone who has shared so much with you?  So many intangible moments on stages, buses, in the studio or around the world.  So far I’ve been able to avoid receiving this gift, but those who have received it swear that it’s something special.

So when a Shumka dancer gets married, his or her friends come out and give “the gift of dance”.  Oh yea, and a mini goat too! 

Depending on if the person is currently dancing, how many years they danced, or if they danced 10 years ago or last year, will effect how many people turn up for “Wedding Hopak”.  But when two Shumka’s, who have only recently stopped dancing, marry each other…. Look out baby – it’s party time!  Seriously it’s like a Zabava with an open bar. 

We had 70 people sign up to perform for Oles’ and Pam.  We actually had to ask people to step out because there were just too many people to fit on the stage!
Anyway, it was great once we finally performed.  I actually think someone needs to invent the job of Ukrainian-Canadian wedding planner because we sat in the parking lot for hours waiting to dance.  When we did dance, the couple was brought to tears.  No - not from the vodka shots, but seeing all their friends, who they know through their Ukrainian dance world, come and celebrate their union.  A union that actually would not have been possible if it weren’t for Ukrainian dance.

Anyway, we have this acrobatic-throw-move-thing that we do.  We usually throw a little guy but this time we threw one of Oles’ buddies who’s like 6’3”.  I honestly thought, “poor Pam”, ‘cause Oles practically lost control (prematurely) right there on the spot.  Fantastic!

The rest of the night was awesome - a gathering of epic proportions.  The Kolomyika was the perfect balance of ridiculous and inspiring.  Even after the band finished playing we kept dancing late into the night and into the parking lot!  So congratulations Pam and Oles’.  I hope we celebrated large!

The best part is now they are free to go and produce little genetically modified Shumka babies!  And there are 7 Shumka wedding already planned for next summer.  Yikes!  Can anyone say baby factory?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Viter goes to Peace River

A couple of weeks ago, I traveled with the Viter dancers and choir of Edmonton on a bus to Peace River.  It was the opening ceremonies for the Alberta Summer Games.  As you might expect with such and event, the journey was long, the stage was too small, the sun was way too hot and there was barely an audience to speak of.  I mean there was about 50 people there give or take.
So with everybody having such a busy schedule, you know… places to go – people to see, who has time to waste on such a rinky-dink show of no major importance?  Call me crazy but some may wonder!

Well after the show we were transported to the local IGA grocery store that had a little cafĂ©.  The owner’s daughters do Ukrainian dance and wanted to treat us to dinner.  We were treated to a fantastic turkey dinner with all the trimmings as thanks for our performance.  In response, after a couple of speeches were traded, we sang Mno haya lita (many happy years) and the owners mother was moved to tears.  This of course moved others to tears and we all shared a little moment.

It occurred to me that these little moments occur from time to time between the Ukrainian dance community and others who, are perhaps less connected with their cultural heritage than they’d like to be.  Or they are awed by how passionate some can be with their culture.  It also created a bond amongst ourselves.  A choir and a dance group from Edmonton, a collection of generations, from different walks of life, brought together for one reason, to express our heritage, culture, Ukrainian-ness, Canadian-ness etc…   It was during that moment when that woman started crying and I knew the day wasn’t a waste!

I think the Viter dancers learned something too and it made me reflect on the things I learned growing up and participating in events like this.  The things we do – cannot be measured in money or time.  Certain gifts have no value.  A spontaneous sharing can be more precious than anything else in the world.

Vegreville 2010

I thought Vegreville Pysanka festival 2010 would be a great launch point for kicking this off.  Veg this year was pretty good actually.  A wide variety of performers were on the grandstand including Canada’s National Riding and Dancing Kozaks from Dauphin, Manitoba who told a curious little story about Kozaks on the prairies.  Ahhh… I agree.  The horses were cool though - and the canon.

Viter Ukrainian dancers rocked but judge for yourself.  I’m biased here!

There was a group from Wishart Saskatchewan.  Where? I know, I know but they were full of piss and vinegar and what they lacked in technique they made of for in spirit.  It was a bit of old school.  Lots of fun and it reminded me of Ukrainian dance in Alberta 20 years ago.  This was a time when small towns still had big groups and kids weren’t too cool to dance.  I heard some people making fun of Wishart but maybe we could learn a thing or two from them.  Stop being elitist and enjoy Ukrainian dance for the pure pleasure of pouring your heart out on stage.  Encourage people who want to dance and show their love of Ukrainian culture this way.  Don’t judge their interpretation of Ukrainian culture or the abilities.  That will come in time.  That can be taught.  Passion comes from the heart and soul – this is harder to teach.

The competition was weak this year.  Vegreville used to be the pride of Ukrainian dance culture.  I have lots of thoughts on why this has changed but that’s for another day.  They have re-jigged their competition structure for the better I think, with new categories etc…  now they just need to get groups out!

One highlight was the Trick Competition.  This is a great idea and although it was only 20 minutes, it drew a bigger crown than the regular dance competition.  I hope to see this grow!