Shumka’s colorful cultural whirlwind embarks on a Western Canadian tour


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There is an incredible spiritual kick that propels the Ukrainian Shumka dance.

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No one in the Edmonton business could have imagined the challenges they would face trying to mark their 60th anniversary, which happened in 2020 just as the pandemic was beginning. A tour was postponed but rehearsals continued, sometimes via Zoom.

Now, as their postponed anniversary tour across Western Canada kicks off, Shumka faces the reality of war in the siege of Ukrainian culture.

Shumka Ukrainian Dance kicks off its Western Canadian tour at Jubilee Auditorium in Edmonton on April 7-8.
Shumka Ukrainian Dance kicks off its Western Canadian tour at Jubilee Auditorium in Edmonton on April 7-8. Provided

“After the war started, we talked a lot about getting on stage,” says Les Sereda, Shumka’s senior creative director for three years now. “For the most part, we tend to portray happy Ukrainian life on our shows and there was some concern about the message being sent. Then I was reminded that in Soviet times our community felt it was their duty to promote and preserve Ukrainian culture and we do this through dance.

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If they’ve ever needed a reason to dance, it’s not lost on anyone celebrating that radiant side of Ukrainian culture – even on the other side of the world – that speaks directly to Ukraine’s basic right to exist.

As Sereda notes, “Ultimately the conversation came back to the idea that it’s even more important than it was yesterday to keep going, to be on stage and to share the art of this culture. Right now Putin is trying to perpetuate the lie that Ukrainians are Russian, to destroy Ukrainian culture. If we can do our little good in the world to promote Ukrainian culture, that’s a good thing.

Tales and tributes

Varied perspectives emerge from the four-section program Shumka put together on tour, built around two major ensemble works. The Mosquito’s Wedding features a set of insects as the main characters in a charming fairy-tale ballet that lasts almost an hour. The costumes play a key role in the lives of the brightly colored bugs, but it’s also a fun story.

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“It’s a Ukrainian folk tale that has been passed down forever,” Sereda says. “The whole premise of the story is about love and acceptance, but to give it a modern twist we reversed the gender roles of the original story which involves a fly marrying a mosquito. Also, we didn’t want the husband to die in Grimm’s original fairy tale kind of ending, so after coming to terms with their differences, they live happily ever after.

Shumka Ukrainian Dance is on tour, with performances in Edmonton on April 7 and 8 at the Jubilee Auditorium.
Shumka Ukrainian Dance is on tour, with performances in Edmonton on April 7 and 8 at the Jubilee Auditorium. Provided

The 25-minute piece Echoes Of Hopak speaks for itself. Often considered the national dance of Ukraine, hopak (root to jump) involves uplifting, near-acrobatic movements that date back to the 16th century. It also functions as a showcase for individual dancers.

My-Yeh (translation, “we are”) is a special addition to the program inspired by recent events. The four-minute work conceived by three dancers is accompanied by a magnificent piece for strings by the eminent Ukrainian composer Yuri Shevchenko, who borrowed the melody from the Ukrainian national anthem.

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Kyiv-based Shevchenko died in mid-March of pneumonia, bringing further sadness to Ukraine and the community here. He was a collaborator who composed works for Shumka for nearly 30 years, including music for Echoes Of Hopak.

This speaks to the close ties between Ukrainian Canadians and Ukraine. Various Shumka productions have brought guest dancers from Ukraine, including some stars of the Kyiv Ballet.

A nine-minute film Promised Land completes the show with a look at Ukrainian emigration to Canada over the past 130 years. It is co-run by Sereda as a subsidiary of its media company.

Evolution over six decades

Sereda’s connection to Shumka dates back to 1992 when he joined and spent nearly a decade as a dancer, inspired by Ukrainian ancestry on his father’s side of the family. Over the decades, this same thread of folk culture inspired Shumka founder Chester Kuc in 1959, at a time when the only outlets for Ukrainian dance were in church basements. The company’s first performance was at the Jubilee Auditorium in 1960.

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Kuc probably never imagined how Shumka would evolve from the only professional Ukrainian dance ensemble in Canada to something that extends beyond folk dance, incorporating ballet and other modern styles, and its own designers. costumes and sets. Along the way, the company has toured Canada, China, Japan, North Africa and Ukraine, performing at Expos and the Olympics.

In addition to the current 50 dancers, Shumka hosts some 200 students in its own school preparing footwork for the future. Add a young company that offers performance opportunities for college students, and even dance-focused fitness programs for seniors.

The current age range for Shumka dancers ranges from 16 to 35, and Sereda estimates the gender breakdown to be around 60% female and 40% male. The other subtle wrinkle is its Ukrainian-Canadian identity. If you check the biographies of the artists on Shumka.com, you will find that some dancers are not of Ukrainian origin.

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“You don’t have to be Ukrainian to join this organization,” Sereda notes. “We share Ukrainian stories and if you want to be part of it, that’s fantastic. We have long-time members who are not part of the Ukrainian community and I hope this shows how much our story resonates with the public. It’s nice to live in a multicultural country.

Between the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the recent death of composer Shevchenko, Sereda admits that the last two years “have been long” for Shumka, but he praises the resilience of the dancers and other artists of the Context.

“Almost everyone stayed. We rehearsed on Zoom, and the company worked hard through tough times because they wanted to be there when we could set foot on stage again. I am eternally proud of the work everyone has done.

After all, Shumka means “swirl”.

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PREVIEW

Shumka on tour

Or: Jubilee Auditorium, 11455 87 Ave.

When: April 7 and 8 at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets: From $30 on ticketmaster.ca or 1-855-985-5000

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