Poet, writer, artist, prophet – this is all about Taras Shevchenko. What about Shevchenko and dance? How does Taras Shevchenko relate to Ukrainian folk dance? Has Ukrainian dance influenced the poet’s creativity and vice versa?
Ukrainian art is famous for its treasury of folk songs and dances. The first Ukrainian dance theorist Vasyl Verkhovynets wrote that "song and dance are like brother and sister". The same way folk symbols, jokes, hardships and happiness live through songs, dance also is an embodiment of people's feelings. In villages, for example, you can trace a whole year through songs. People sing spring songs, Christmas carols, schedrivky, petrivchanky and many other historic and holiday songs, they sing at weddings, during the Kupalo festivities etc. Dance also has all the seasons in it: the warm spring breeze, the soft warm summer, the rich and generous autumn and the cold winter reverie. Ukrainian people who are infinitely connected with the nature surrounding them, have always glorified it though song and dance.
Taras’ first encounters with dance probably go back to his childhood years. In the early nineteenth century all over Ukraine people in villages celebrated every holiday in the calendar throughout the whole year. And these celebrations always involved dancing! The spent alsot 15 years in the Svenyhorod region, where first he watched others dance, then followed in their steps and together with his peers took part in all the local festivities and celebrations.
There is no direct evidence that this is exactly how Taras Shevchenko was introduced to dance but what’s certain is that Shevchenko was actually a pretty good dancer! Many times, his contemporaries described his abilities in their memoirs.
The folk song & dance element are clearly reflected in the dramatic legacy of Taras Shevchenko. In his play "Nazar Stodolya" you can find over a dozen mentions of dance; music and song accompaniment, etc. The second act revolves around poetry about customs and traditions and ends with vechornytsi (traditional Ukrainian party). Taras Shevchenko was extremely in seamlessly weaving conversations about dance actual dancing into his play.
In the past, traditional Ukrainian folk danced were performed not only paired with music, but sometimes accompanied by the singing of the performers artists themselves. Many dances got names from the first words of the song they were performed to. There were many refrains to dances: Kozak, kozachok, horlytsia (turtledove), metelytsia (snowstorm), shumka and others. Dance songs were mostly of cheerful, playful nature.
Kobzars and lirnyks (names derivatives from musical instruments ‘kobza’ and ‘lyra’) were experts of this kind of song and dance repertoire, performed in the streets, taverns, at weddings and other gatherings of young people, and that’s partly the reason kobzars (minstrel) were greatly respected. The image of a folk singer-kobzar or a bandura player can be traced throughout all of Shevchenko’s works.
Shevchenko’s works are full of scenes of kids, girls, boys, men, kozak and other folk’s dances. He had a truly unique style of describing dance, where he didn’t simply describe individual movements, didn’t name them, didn’t describe the composition structure of dance. His aim was for the reader to feel the mood of the dances depicted in the novel, be it the lyrically calm girls’ dance, or acute and emotional boys’ dance, or the deranged and heroic dance of the Kozaks.
Shevchenko’s impact on contemporary Ukrainian folk dance art is simply enormous. There probably is hardly any choreographer or dance group out there who hasn’t at least once been inspired by the Kobzar’s art in their work.
For example, the choreographic piece "Why the willow weeps " directed by Pavlo Virsky was a significant achievement in Ukrainian dance. Pavlo Virsky used national folklore materials and discovered a noble and poetic pattern in dance movements. The piece is based on not only the motives of Shevchenko's poem "Poplar" (Тополя), but also a number of verses that clearly reveal the tragic fate of Ukrainian women.
A milestone in the development of Ukrainian ballet theater was Constantine Dankevich’s ballet "Lily" (Лілея), based on the homonymous ballad and other works of Shevchenko. The main character of the ballet "embodies the basic features and the deepest national outlook.
There are countless Shevchenko-inspired choreographic pieces! For many centuries the words of G.Lessing have remained topical. He said that the emergence of a particaulr kind of art is only possible when this new work enriches humanity with some sort of a new spiritual trait. Taras Shevchenko's poetry encompasses all art, confirming the vastness of his brilliant mind.