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This site in Ukrainian The Cossacks of Oz Concerts
Starring the Veselka & Zahrava Dance Ensembles

Marichka Halaburda-Czyhryn
Sydney, 17th & 24th September 2007

This article relates to both concerts with some new additions regarding the concert on 22 September at the Parramatta Riverside Theatre.

On Sunday 16th September, the Ukrainian Youth Centre in Lidcombe was once again packed to capacity. The audience not only included the clergy of the Ukrainian Catholic and Autocephalic-Orthodox churches, the Sisters of the order of St Basil the Great, but also parents and families, associates, acquaintances and friends of many of the individual members of each of the dance ensembles.

The audience had come especially to view this “historic concert”, the announcer for which was Oleh Ostrowsky, a previous announcer on the Ukrainian programme at SBS 2EA, and with whom I had the pleasure of working in that capacity over many years.

The historical event is a result of the members of these Sydney based Ukrainian dance ensembles initiating the union of the groups to perform not just as two groups joining their own particular concert programmes, but hopefully, this will now result in “one ensemble” performances before broader mainstream audiences as well as at the more important larger concerts in the Ukrainian community. I can easily confirm that the main events in the Ukrainian community this year have been the 16th anniversary of the independence of Ukraine and this “combined” concert of the Veselka and Zahrava ensembles. It would be easy to transpose the importance of one with the other in this case.

There is no point in hiding the facts. The numbers of dancers in both groups is reducing. This is not because the “boys” and “girls” no longer wish to dance, but purely because life and opportunities simply move on. Things change. Some marry, others move to Melbourne (whilst there are those who move to Sydney also), others travel to USA or Europe to study (and one of the existing better dancers is about to move to Kyiv). Others believe that they are just too old to keep dancing, or injuries merely prevent some from continuing.

Therefore, the facts of the matter are that in Sydney, we see the need to HAVE ONE REPRESENTATIVE DANCE ENSEMBLE. This does not mean that the “cultural” activities of the Ukrainian Youth Association (CYM) need to cease. The youngest grow very quickly. And too often we need to restart the process from the beginning. But the role of CYM is to promote culture and there are also quite a number of the “Veselchaty”, - I counted at this concert some 32.

So, let’s continue this great work – as they sing in a well known song: ME, YOU, HIM, HER, US – TOGETHER! This introduction is food for thought and are not just my ideas, but are the ideas of some 99% of the Ukrainian community in Sydney.

And finally, on stage, we see the dancers of “Veselka” and “Zahrava” performing the “Welcome Dance”. The dancers in costumes representing four regions of Ukraine: - Bukovyna, the Hutsul region, Poltava, and the trans-Carpathian region. There are so many of them, they barely fit on the one large stage. And the music – it’s fast, it’s slow, it’s lively… They bring three loaves on beautifully embroided Ukrainian towels… The dancers greet the audience with the traditional bread and salt.

The performance on stage was sensational – we sat there open mouthed… we even forgot to take photos. Sadly, we missed the photo opportunity of the first magnificent dance. Admittedly, the show was being filmed. This “Welcome Dance” created a positive medical sensation with the audience – it filled everyone watching with much positive energy. All the bad things that had happened to anyone the previous week simply went away…

And so they danced, 10 dances in the first half, performed by the youngest (from aged 4) in the Veselchata group (I believe that the youngest was my “fwiend” – as she says it – little Solomyka Sywak, who during the International Ukrainian Football Tournament in January 2007, ran up to me wanting to only carry the Ukrainian flag) and, of course, our great older dancers, who also performed as part of each individual group - “Zahrava” and “Veselka” individually.

“Cherries and Berries” – Natalka Rybak and Maryana Sywak – have been singing for a number of years and, to date, I’m still not sure which one is the cherry and which one is the berry. In the first part of the programme they sang a number of songs including an American ballad “Lonesome Town”. Maryana also played the violin and the guitar accompaniment was occasionally shared with Mark Shumsky, the editor of the Ukrainian Weekly “The Free Thought” – (see how multitalented we are – not only do we write and print or publish, but we are musicians as well)”.

With tremendous enthusiasm, the audience welcomed the performance of the dance “The letter to the Sultan of Turkey” – danced by the senior male members of both ensembles. I’d like to immediately note that this was the highlight performance (the choreography was a little different – the adaptation undertaken by Alex Dechnicz, Bogdan Myroniuk and the dancers themselves). Impressive was not only the high standard of the technical aspects of dance by our boys, but equally impressed was the audience by the theatrics of the performers. The stage abounded with tremendous acrobatics. This was a fitting close to the first half of the concert programme. I can only imagine how great the stage will be set next Saturday (22 September) with the kaleidoscope of better lighting and effects available at the Riverside Theatre in Parramatta.

The second half of the programme, with 9 dances, began with the “Povzunets” – a Cossack dance by the “Zahrava” male troupe. Followed by the young Veselchata boys performing “Arkan”, albeit without the ‘mountain peak’ (perhaps they were a little young and lacking in the physical strength required to do the necessary lifting of the girls). However, acrobatically we saw some excellent techniques by Danylo Buriak and brothers Andy and Robbie Manchester, and several of the young girls.

An excellent rendition of “Gypsy Melodies” followed – a violin solo by the young Elizabeth Hill, herself a Veselka dancer (and who would believe that she is studying Vet Science and not at the conservatorium). We again saw songs performed by Natalka Rybak and Maryana Sywak. The public enjoyed their interpretation of “Only You”, popularised in Ukrainian by Vika Vradij. The same Vika, who at the first Chervona Ruta festival, used her song “Shame” to lambast performers who refused to speak in Ukrainian. After spending several years in the USA, Vika has now returned to Ukraine.

The combined female dancers gave an excellent performance of “Vesnianka” (the Dance of Springtime) – this dance always provides for a positive audience reaction, as each of the female performers is beautifully costumed. You would think that this was a stormy fantasy – that the stage was being swept by fields of wheat, barley and, poppies – and on these wondrous spring fields (it’s currently spring time in Australia) the sunflowers also bloom. And if only the girls had sung the tunes of the dance, the audience would have been even more spectacularly mesmerised.

Perhaps we should now look at the best part of the concert.

The concert climaxed with a powerful and professional expose of the national Ukrainian dance – the “Hopak”, always greeted positively and enthusiastically by audiences, because each of the male dancers of these combined ensembles is equally a soloist, an acrobat, and not just an ordinary one at that. As they say in the homeland, ‘there is nothing as breathtaking as the traditional Poltavksyj national costume. This again was brought home on Sunday. The costumes were absolutely magnificent. And especially noteworthy were the female costumes adorned by the “Zahrava” female dancers, each sporting a brand new Poltavskyj style outfit.

The atmosphere was electric, - one of great expectations and some positive feelings, - the welcoming smiles, especially of the female dancers enchanted the audience and, the applause, that thunderous applause of bravo and appreciation to the performers throughout the whole concert was deafening… - it felt as if Lidcombe was coming alive…

Without exaggeration – the concert was breathtaking. Some 89 dancers, over 20 stage hands and assistants and members of the organising committee…

The final item saw all the performers on the stage, the choreographers and directors of each ensemble – Marika Szuszniak and Jaroslaw Sywak. As is popularly recognised in the (Ukrainian) community, they represent the new broom – the younger set… They will not embarrass the community. Both Marika and Jaroslaw are great dancers in their own right and have the artistic talent and training courtesy of our homeland – from Kyiv and Lviv.

Greetings, words of thanks and congratulatory remarks were made by: Mrs Krystyna Bailey, President of the Ukrainian Women’s Association of Australia; Wasyl Senko, President of the National Executive of the Ukrainian Youth Association in Australia and representing the local Sydney CYM branch; and Mr Jurij Suchowerskyj, the President of Plast Ukrainian Youth Association of NSW. The performers were presented with flowers and sweets…

In conclusion I would like to add, that with the language of song and dance, with music… such a concert is called upon to highlight the gifted talents and the cultural and artistic qualities of Ukrainian youth in Sydney.

At the end of the concert many milled around in the foyer or just remained in the concert hall. Many commented that at such concerts we often witness new dances and performances, - we see a tendency to move away from the traditional national costumes – especially with those of female performers. It can easily also be said, that the best is the “vinok” (head piece) adorned by the girls with colourful ribbons, and that no variation of this as a traditional item, will improve the beauty of the “vinok” – head piece. (Comparatively, those awful head scarves only give the impression of peasantry).

Enhancement of national artistry (and culture) is necessary, but there must remain an element of tradition and originality. We in the diaspora, where for many years we maintained the traditional costumes (having been sheltered from the bastardisaton by the Soviet regimes), began to travel to Ukraine following its independence, and returned to introduce those soviet styles, where one could hardly differentiate the nationality of the costumes – it could belong to any of the (soviet occupied) nations. And this is further confirmed by the old coryphaeus of dance culture and artistry in Ukraine. Therefore, we in the diaspora also need to take a little more care with costume selection. This also applies to us in Sydney.

We wish all the dancers, singers, musicians, and the choreographers of Veselka and Zahrava many more successes in the future.

Photos of the concert are on:

Marika Halaburda-Czyhryn's Photo Album - Part I

Marika Halaburda-Czyhryn's Photo Album - Part II
  This site in Ukrainian

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