From the first moments of the lively, jewel-toned party and streaking athletics of the Cossack dance, it is clear that the Ukrainian Shumka Dancers are a powerhouse troupe quite capable of making Clara’s Dream, an adaptation of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, proud.
Reflecting the capital region’s artistic and ethnic vitality, the production features ballet, folk dance and character dance in this beloved Christmas classic.
Partnering with Shumka are guest artists from Edmonton’s Citie Ballet and Viter Ukrainian Folk Choir as well as dancers from Ukraine’s Virsky Folk Ensemble and Kyiv Ballet.
Traditionally Virsky and Kyiv dancers have carried all the principal parts with Shumka dancers filling ensemble roles.
This year Shumka has cut back on imported dancers, bringing in only three ballet dancers from Kyiv and two from Virsky. But they have increased exposure of local artistic organizations.
“We wanted to see if we could make it our own. Also when you have dancers come in from the Ukraine, it’s more expensive,” explains Trinity Chopyk, a Sturgeon County resident who has danced with Shumka for 15 years.
At the season’s end she is retiring from the stage, but will probably continue as costume director – a hectic position with nearly 500 costume pieces to organize.
“My career with Shumka has been wonderful. I’m getting much too old to dance. I’m dancing with some of my students and it’s hard to keep up with 16-year-olds when you are 35,” laughs Chopyk, a dental technician at Gibbons Dental.
But dancing for the first time in Clara’s Dream is quite literally a dream come true for the whirlwind dancer. With fewer roles going to Ukraine’s dancers, it opened up more possibilities for Shumka dancers.
“I’m super excited. It was on my bucket list.”
Since former artistic director Dave Ganert retired two years ago, creative director John Pichlyk tweaked the original production keeping the traditional tale fresh and constantly evolving.
This year he invited Citie Ballet artistic director Jorden Morris to choreograph large portions of Act 2 as Clara travels to different fantasy worlds of the Sugar Plum Fairy as well as Spanish and French domains.
But it’s the Mazeppa Hopak that adds a powerful Ukrainian flair to Clara’s Dream. In this fairytale hopak, female dancers fly off their feet in partner work while male dancers perform solo back flips, air splits, pikes in the air, spins and ground splits.
St. Albert’s own Brenden Kuzma, now in his fifth season with Shumka, is one of the Mazeppa Hopak dancers.
“It’s a great way to stay in shape and it’s a great way to showcase our culture on stage,” said Kuzma.
Kuzma is also in the Trepak, a three-man Russian dance that employs a great many down kicks, squats and boot slapping.
“But it’s not just Ukrainian dance. It includes a local ballet company and a folk choir. It taps many faces of Edmonton talent and wraps it in a nice, neat present. And it’s visually pleasing.”
A visual feast for the senses, Ukrainian Christmas traditions and symbols are woven into the lavish set and lush costumes of this full-length production. In addition, this is the first version to incorporate a Ukrainian Christmas carol, a grand orchestral and choral version of Shchedryk (Carol of the Bells).
Clara’s Dream runs Dec. 29 and 30 at Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium. For more information visit clarasdream.ca
Ukrainian Shumka Dancers
Dec. 29 at 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 30 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium
11455 – 87 Ave.
Tickets: Start at $20 Call 1-855-985-5000 or ticketmaster.ca