THE WIZARD OF DANCE. V. VERKHOVYNETS
"Remember that following songs, that hold the leading position in our folk tradition, dance comes at a close second. If we love and cherish our sister – song, we will also love her brother - dance"
Even if Verkhovynets’ only contribution to the development of Ukrainian dance was his "Theory of Ukrainian folk dance", that would have been enough to forever engrave his nme at the top of the list of prominent figures in the world of Ukrainian Dance of the early 20th century. After all, this work was the first attempt to systematize and generalize Ukrainians’ creative achievements in the field of folk dance. In the above mentioned work Verhokvynets not only collected extremely valuable folk materials but also did a deep scientific study of these data, thus creating a basis for Ukrainian folk dances.
Vasyl’s real name was Kostiv. He was born January 5, 1880 in the village of Staryi Mizun’, near the town of Dolyna, in Boykivshchyna (btw next year within the framework of the annual Ukrainian Dance Workshop Tour Ukrainian Dance World will be visiting Dolyna providing workshops in Boyko dance).
In 1899, after graduating from the Sambir Pedagogic College, Vasyl begins a career in education, teaching singing in public schools. He proves himself a great choirmaster and actor, performing on stage of the "Rus Folk Theater".
1906 marks a significant, even life changing event in Verkhovynets’ life, who would soon become well known in the entire choreographic world of Ukraine. This was the year he met Mykola Sadovsky - a Ukrainian theater luminary, who saw great potential in Verkhvynets and offered him a position in his troupe. Mykola Sadovsky was one of the founders of the Ukrainian community theater. The ancestral estates of the Sadovsky-Tobilevych families, called ‘Хутір Надія’ (Hamlet Hope), are also presently the home of the world's only museum of Ukrainian dance. It was also Mykola Sadovsky who gave Vasyl Kostiv the nickname "Verkhovynets".
In the theater Verkhovynets worked on creating stage images from favorite plays, including "Natalka Poltavka" («Наталка Полтавка») by M. Lysenko, "Zaporizhian Kozak beyond the Danube" («Запорожець за Дунаєм») by Hulak-Artemovsky, "May Night" («Майська ніч») by M. Lysenko, "The sold bride" («Продана наречена») by B. Smetana, "Kateryna" («Катерина») by Arkas. Later on Verkhovynets moves on to the position of the choir conductor. Work in Sadovsky’s theatre also uncovered Verkhovynets’ great passion for ethnographic and folklorique research. During numerous tours across Ukraine the young choirmaster had a chance to profoundly explore the life and creative legacy of the Ukrainian people.
Verkhovynets’ major achievements in the field of choreography.
November 23, 1910 was the premier night of Lysenko’s comic opera ‘Aeneid’ at the Sadovsky theatre. In this work, particularly interesting were the ‘веснянки’ (spring songs) of the Carthage women and Hopak performed at the Olympus – productions of Verkhovynets. Rather particular was also his production of the young people’s dance by the korchma (tavern), created for Franko’s play "Stolen Happiness" (Украдене щастя), that premiered March 7, 1912. Exceptional success was brought to Verkhovynets thanks to the imaginatively arranged and delivered ritual "spring dance choirs" (хори веснянок), created for the play “Marusia Bohuslavka”.
Verkhovynets dedicated a fair share of his life to studying Ukrainian folk dances, conducting ethnographic research, collecting and recording traditional dances and dance moves in Ukrainian villages. Among the dances recorded by him are: "Roman", "Hopak", "Vasylykha", "Shevchyk", "Rybka". Verkhvoynets also recorded a traditional Ukrainian wedding and the later published book "Ukrainian Wedding" (1912) was his first scientific work. The next one - "Ukrainian Dances" (1913) was the result of persistent research in the field of folk dance.
Later on, in 1919, aiming at the development of national choreography, Verkhovynets publishes the "Theory of Ukrainian Folk Dance". It was the first in Ukraine thorough research of the nature and principles of Ukrainian folk dance, the study, which was intended to create professional national ballet on a folk basis.
"I want to make the first attempt. Further development of this work will depend solely on those who are in close contact with the people ... Collecting dance material is our common obligation, because only by joining forces we can show the beauty, richness, variety and fullness of content that this field of ethnography presents".
In his work Verkhovynets was the first Ukrainian folklorist to give names to almost every dance move, according to their nature and internal content. Looking at dance in close connection with songs the author singles out two basic groups of dance: those "accompanied by song and music" and such, that begin accompanied by a song, and then ‘decorated’ by a musician’s improvisation. He said that real folk dance wasn’t a soulless, ostentatious set of tricks performed by "stuntmen in Ukrainian clothes" but a peculiar manifestation of the people’s emotions and feelings through the “language” of choreography.
"Once we study true folk dance ourselves and then encourage others to follow, we will thereby immortalize its beauty and revive its glory tarnished by parodists of Ukrainian Dance" - Verkhovynets.
Next, Verkhovynets expressed his opinion about the necessity of creating classical national ballet on the basis of folk dance material, synthesizing folk dance with classical European choreographic techniques. The "Theory of Ukrainian Folk Dance" was reissued 5 times.
In 1923 Verkhovynets published another work - a collection of children's games with songs called "Vesnyanochka" (Весняночка) , which describes the methodology of working with children.
In 1930 in Poltava Verkhovynets creates an ensemble called "ZhinKhorAns" (Жіночий Хоровий Ансамбль - Women's Choral Ensemble) – a female group of theatrical singing. The ensemble performed songs accompanying them with rhythmic movements that reflected a certain image, prompted by the content of a particular piece. It was a new unique genre of theatrical song, which was based on the traditions of Ukrainian songs, dialogues, game chants, dances.
Later Pavlo Virsky wrote:
"The achievements of the vocal and choreographic ensemble "ZhinKhorAns " established by him /Verkhovynets/ are our classics, a bright page in the history of Ukrainian dance. The best traditions established by "ZhinKhorAns" are honored, almost professed by all dance companies in Ukraine."
Another interesting fact is that in 1935, at the first international festival of folk dance held in London, the first prize was awarded to the so-called "3-knee hopak" (триколінний гопак) created by Verkhovynets. This was his glorious introduction to foreign counterparts and the door to world recognition. It was his hard work, creative discoveries, his vision and professional approach that helped Vasyl Verkhovynets bring international acclaim to Ukrainian folk dance.
December 23, 1937 Verkhovynets was arrested. He was charged for being an active member of the counter-revolutionary nationalist organization. April 11, 1938 he was executed.
With his passing his music, songs, and dance also stopped. But real talent cannot be killed. Piece by piece researchers collected memoirs from Verkhovynets’ friends, wife, son; His song was given a second life and his creative legacy is now being used, gaining global recognition. Today we can enjoy the invaluable artistic treasure of our compatriot - a treasure in which Verkhovynets invested the beauty of folk songs, the elegance of movement, the sophisticated world of the Ukrainian soul.
Ludmila Sorochuk. Ukrainian Studies - 2005: Calendar-Yearbook "LIFE - LIKE DANCE, DANCE - LIKE LIFE"