SHEVCHENKO. A POET. AN ARTIST. A PROPHET. A DANCER?
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.