«Dear dancers and Ukrainian dance fans – love the dance that unites the whole planet»
Yours faithfully, Myroslav Vantukh
Lviv, 1956. A 17 year old is admiring the Virsky Ensemble poster in the theatre showcase. Even back then the ensemble was already famous far beyond Ukraine. A ticket to their show cost 2.5 rubles, while the young man’s monthly bursary was 18 rubles. He stands there, hesitating if he should buy the ticket or save the money for food. There’s still a week before getting his bursary and he only has 3 rubles left. Finally he makes a decision. He walks out of the theatre minutes later with the greatly desired ticket in hand. Who knows if the famous ‘Yunist’ ensemble would have been founded in Lviv and what path Ukrainian folk choreography would have gone down if the young man had saved the money for food, as that man was Myroslav Vantukh.
Myroslav Vantukh was born January 18, 1939 in the village of Zhelykhiv (presently known as Velykosilky), located 35 kilometers from Lviv. His childhood wasn’t the greatest of times – first Western Ukraine joined the USSR, then war. After the war, in 1946, Myroslav started school, where there were many extracurricular activities including a choir, a dance and drama club. These were Myroslav’s very first steps in his artistic career. His debut performance took place right there – on a village school stage, dancing a Belorussian dance ‘Liavonykha’. This very performance marked the beginning of a great love story – the love of art, the love of dance.
After graduating in 1956, Vantukh enters the Lviv College of Cultural Education, then serves in the army, and afterwards in 1961 starts working in the Lviv Palace of Culture. It was right there and then that he had the idea of creating a high class dance ensemble. In 1964 Myroslav Vantukh made this dream come true and founded the ‘Yunist’ ensemble.
The dancers and artistic team worked very hard – rehearsals, productions, concerts. Following Pavlo Virsky’s advice Myroslav Vantukh launched a series special technique classes, added classical ballet to the dancers’ routine. Soon after ‘Yunist’ starts touring all over Ukraine and abroad, wins their first grand prix in Italy, receives countless rave reviews in the media. At that time the ensemble was considered one of the best ones in the then USSR.
In 1975 the Ukrainian folk dance community suffers a great loss – the passing of a true visionary of dance, maestro Pavlo Virsky. The ensemble was facing a real problem – finding someone to fill the shoes of Virsky as the ensemble’s artistic director. First they invited Kim Vasylenko, then Oleksandr Sehal. But after 5 years the group was still searching for ‘Mr. Right’. And so, in 1980 the position of the Virsky Ensemble’s Artistic Director is offered to Myroslav Vantukh.
At the beginning things didn’t go too smooth – the ensemble’s professional level, every dancer requiring individual approach, but little by little, Vantukh worked through the difficulties and differences and in 1984 produced one of his very first successful productions with the new group – ‘Karpaty’ (Carpathians).
The 90s was a disastrous time for the country as a whole, and for the arts in particular. Dancers weren’t being paid and, offered much more abroad, many left the ensemble in search of a better life. A devastating situation called for immediate measures. Myroslav Vantukh created a school, that would train and educate the ensemble’s future ‘generations’. Presently the school is a three-stage complex – school, studio, ensemble.
The Virsky Ensemble is the ‘face’ of Ukrainian choreographic art, the high standard that choreographers and dancers strive to live up to. Every year, during our Ukrainian Dance Workshop Tour participants have a unique opportunity to work at the Virsky studio, see the dancers in action and learn some secrets to their craftsmanship and artistry.
On behalf of the whole Ukrainian Dance World community we’d like to wish Mr. Vantukh a happy belated birthday (celebrated Jan.18) and many happy returns of the day!