Edmonton Journal: An explosion of Ukrainian folk-dance energy

Salena Kitteringham. Western Canada is home to several large Ukrainian dance companies and the ties that bind these well-established organizations are like the long, intertwining branches of a family tree, criss-crossing the Prairies.

In fact, in 2007, the three artistic directors for the Cheremosh Ukrainian Dance Company in Edmonton, the Tryzub Ukrainian Dance Ensemble in Calgary and the Rusalka Ukrainian Dance Ensemble in Winnipeg were related, either by blood or marriage.

Jason Golinowski, a former Cheremosh dancer, explains: “Cheremosh’s artistic director Mykola Kanevets is from Kyiv in Ukraine. His sister-in-law was artistic director of Rusalka in Winnipeg at the time, and his brother, Vasyl, was and still is the artistic director of a group in Calgary.”

The story goes that this trio of Ukrainian dancemakers gathered over the holiday season, and the idea of bringing all three of their dance groups together to present a major touring production came up in conversation.

The result of these family discussions is Razom(meaning “together” in Ukrainian)A Fusion of Ukrainian Dance, debuting in Edmonton’s Jubilee Auditorium on Saturday before making its way south to Calgary the next night, then east to Winnipeg in early November.

Golinowski, who has a master’s degree in Ukrainian folklore, is drawing on his experiences performing with Cheremosh and his professional event management skills from his career as a communications co-ordinator for the National Resources Department, to act as a senior producer for this large-scale, collaborative Ukrainian dance event. “It started with about a phone call a month, then a phone call a week, and now I’m chairing the committee putting this thing together,” he says.

Golinowski believes this is the first time three major Ukrainian Canadian dance companies from three cities have partnered to present a full-length touring production.

“In terms of a collaborative effort of this magnitude–it’s never happened before in my memory of Ukrainian dance. We’ve had groups from the same city collaborate or a choir and a dance group, but never really of this magnitude….We are looking at 90 performers. How do you put that many people in a theatre and make it work properly? How do you align three organizations from a management perspective, so that we can all pull in the same direction to get this project off the ground? Even with e-mail and teleconferences, at the end of the day, you still have to get feet on the floor in the same place and make sure it’s of the standard and calibre that we want to present. That’s really the ultimate challenge.”

There are 20 numbers planned, divided among the three groups, except for one collaborative finale hopak at the end for 48 dancers, or 24 couples. (A hopak is a big ensemble, celebratory Ukrainian circle dance.)

Golinowski says the concert will highlight the different Ukrainian stage dance styles that are evolving across the Canadian Prairies and showcase how western Canadian Ukrainian dance is undergoing a return to the roots of dance from Ukraine.

“In the past 15 years, the artistic direction of several western Canadian Ukrainian dance companies has shifted out of the hands of people who were brought up in the western Canadian Ukrainian dance style, largely because you couldn’t access any information from the former Soviet Union, to people who were trained in the Soviet Union and Ukraine, who have now immigrated to Canada and are dance professionals.”

While each dance company presents a similar repertoire, Golinowski says there are stylistic differences, with Cheremosh primarily focusing on works influenced from the western regions of Ukraine, Rusalka more balletic, demonstrating its strong connections to their local Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and the Calgary group, Tryzub, highlighting some of its more philharmonic musical influences.