Meaghan Goebel. Ukrainian Cheremosh Society. November 2007
A very successful tour was the consensus as the Cheremosh Ukrainian Dance Company and Blackfoot Medicine Speaks made their way home from China. The two companies left for a 20-day tour at the beginning of August. The engagement came to Cheremosh after a performance for Chinese New Year a couple of years ago. When the tour coordinators asked for an Aboriginal group to join them in a bid to create a more rounded, multicultural, Canadian show, Blackfoot Medicine Speaks was more than happy to answer the call. As one of the dancers on the trip encountering baggage loss, culture shock, cooked tofu for breakfast, and constant staring from people in smaller cities, I would have to say that the trip was an experience, to say the least.
We started out in Xi’an (home of the Terracotta Warriors) and moved through Yulin, Inner Mongolia, along with some smaller cities like Bao De, hitting Datong (the mining capital of China) on the way to a final show in Beijing’s Tian Qiao Theatre where we were well received by a large and appreciative audience.
Overall the reception we received in China was incredible. Art Zhang, the Chinese liaison between the dance companies and the Chinese producers, said he believed that audiences were “inspired” by the quality performances the dancers consistently gave all across China. Audiences after the show would crowd around to watch us load up our costumes and props, asking for photos, excited, Art said, “by the young dancers’ joy and happiness in their dancing.” The audiences’ enthusiasm was sometimes a bit overwhelming for us as the attention was so constant. It was an unusual experience; in most of the out-of-the- way cities we visited we encountered unabashed curiosity as to what this large group of foreigners was doing there. Art commented on the professional way Cheremosh handled this very unusual attention: “None of Cheremosh’s dancers made any resistance to Chinese people; instead they were friendly and willingly accepted those requests. Many of them even made Chinese friends during the tour.”
Things quieted down on that front once we reached Beijing, though there may be a few hundred photographs somewhere on the internet of certain Ukrainian and Aboriginal dancers wandering up and down the Great Wall in their costumes (part of a photo shoot).
All of this attention was in the middle of what was not always the most ideal performing situations. Mykola, admitted that it was very difficult for us as dancers and performers to adjust to conditions so different from what we were used to. Some theatres needed to rent lights from larger cities that were miles away just to have basic lighting equipment necessary for creating a show. This usually meant the rest of the theatre was not quite up to expectations. Art Zhang said proudly that “Cheremosh held themselves together as a strong performance group; they danced with true heart for the Chinese people and showed themselves as professionals in dealing with difficult dancing situations, dancing well in whatever kind of conditions, good theatres or bad ones.”
The theatres did get progressively better as the tour progressed (with one fantastic facility in Inner Mongolia). We encountered a variety of audiences; along with a theatre-style show in Inner Mongolia we danced in the main square of Erdosi to an audience estimated by organizers of nearly 15,000 people. The performance in Beijing was another high point, with a very welcome standing ovation at the end of Edmonton Hopak, one of Mykola’s and Cheremosh’s signature dances. All in all when the numbers have been crunched, it’s estimated that our total audience attendance rang in between 26 and 27,000 people. Not bad in only three weeks!
So what comes next for Cheremosh after a professional tour of China, Mykola says that it is time for new creative projects. An important show to promote Cheremosh in Banff in October is the next on the list, but otherwise he says he’s working on “new music, new choreography, and eventually a new program” to bring to the world.