Ethnic pride fuels new Shumka dance
By: Anna Borowiecki
| Posted: Wednesday, Jan 09, 2013 06:00 am
Ukrainian Shumka Dancers, Virsky State Folk Dance and Kyiv Ballet
Jan. 11 and 12
Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium
11455 – 87 Ave.
Tickets: Start at $25 online at www.ticketmaster.ca
Long before hip hop crews battled for supremacy and bragging rights, there was Ukrainian folk dance, a propulsive acrobatic form with gravity-defying butterfly jumps, kicking spins and backward flips that can outdo any breaker circle.
During its 53-year existence, the Ukrainian Shumka Dancers’ explosion of vivid embroidered shirts morphed into an art form. A national Canadian treasure, the Edmonton-based company has spent the last decade forging an alliance with the Ukrainian State Folk Dance Company and Kyiv Ballet.
Clara’s Dream, the world premiere of a Ukrainian folk ballet based on Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker score, is the culmination of this remarkable triptych’s creative ingenuity.
To everyone in Shumka, the pooling of three troupes is a groundbreaking feat as the production gears up to debut at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium on Jan. 11 and 12.
“Our lexicon in portraying emotion is unique to our interpretation, and what can be said when you have more colours on the palette,” said John Pichlyk, artistic consultant and choreographer.
The Sturgeon County resident was artistic director of Shumka from 1982 to 1996. During his tenure, Pichlyk pushed the troupe’s boundaries by creating a unique hybrid of folk dance, ballet, character and modern dance.
While Tchaikovsky is one of the most popular Russian composers of the Romantic period, few outside music circles are aware of his deep Ukrainian roots. His sister owned a summer house in the Ukraine, and Tchaikovsky often summered there himself.
“His great-grandfather was a colonel in the Zaporozhian Cossacks,” Pichlyk explains. “At that time the Ukraine was the breadbasket of Europe and everyone wanted a piece of it. The Zaporozhians were a military force that rose to protect the homeland in times of trouble. Tchaikovsky, I believe, was influenced by his bloodline and his visits. You can hear the Ukrainian roots in the score, and it seemed natural to take Ukrainian dance and interpret it from that perspective.”
The creation of Clara’s Dream from the Ukrainian perspective was, from the beginning, a vision of producer Michael Sulyma, a former Shumka dancer. After founding Sulyma Productions, he became a catalyst for a variety of national and international projects in the performing arts, television and film.
Sulyma was also instrumental in planning trips to Japan and China. In one of the company’s trips to Japan with Pichlyk at the helm, the troupe coincidentally was booked at the same hotel as Kyiv Ballet.
In meeting Viktor Lytvynov, Kyiv Ballet’s resident choreographer, Pichlyk unknowingly formed the beginning of a fruitful union that transcended several decades.
Lytvynov choreographed a series of inspirational dances including the stellar 2003 Shumka Cinderella that drew thunderous ovations from the audience.
“Michael asked Viktor to take the lead. Clara’s Dream’s specific intent was to bring the best into the piece. Ultimately, it’s an evolution of all past efforts.”
The basic Christmas storyline remains the same, with a mystical journey to the past, an athletic Cossack-mouse battle and a mushrooming Christmas tree. Unique to this production is a puppet show and a fresh bag of tricks Pichlyk hesitated to reveal.
“We have a whole bunch of little nuggets that we have polished and brought to the stage.”
Because of the project’s complexity, only 18 Shumka dancers are involved in the character roles. Virsky is bringing in 12 dancers and Kyiv ballet dancers will carry the lead roles. Former Shumka dancer Jeff Mortensen, a finalist on So, You Think You Can Dance, also returns as guest artist.
“Clara’s Dream represents the best of all of us. We (Shumka) have lived on Earth for 53 years and we continue to bring the time-honoured classics that communicate who we are to Canada,” Pichlyk said. “We feel grateful to dance with Virsky and Kyiv Ballet and bring new life to dance. This is something you have to see and we invite you to share the passion.”