It’s not very often that groups in the Ukrainian dance scene create brand new full-scale productions, largely because of the massive costs associated with such an endeavor. Shumka, however, has done just that with Kobzar – a moving tribute to Ukraine’s own Taras Shevchenko.
Edmonton’s Shumka dancers are no strangers to audiences throughout North America. Tackling emotive stories, fairytales, and fables through the art of Ukrainian dance, their Travelling Chumaky, Katrusia, and Cinderella continue to engage and enthrall audiences. But it’s the more abstract themes and contemporary aspects of dance the group of nearly 50 seem to really enjoy. The response is often complicated and diverse. However, it’s brought this 57-year old performing troupe a level of distinction few dance groups in Canada possess. The stage production of their newest endeavor, Kobzar, is no different.
A MESSAGE FOR THE NAROD
Mixing history and fiction in an effort to take the audience on a journey for the soul, an aging Kobzar, Mother Earth – the symbol of Ukraine herself, and an orphaned boy, come together in a quasi-abstract performance that follows the journey of Ukrainians as a people in their search for meaning. Under the guiding forces of this mystical Kobzar, Shevchenko’s underlying message of destiny, soul, courage and hope is brought to the stage.
It opens with a brooding version of Shevchenko’s Dumy Moyi (My Thoughts) in which the imposing darkness of Chorna Khmara (Black Cloud), representing the enemies of Ukraine, envelop her Narod (people). A young boy evokes the arrival of the mystical Kobzar, who, through his strength of will and unwavering faith, begins to teach the child how a strong sense of unity can sustain the Narod in times of conflict, doubt, fear, and oppression.
It is a timely project due to the recent anniversary of the birth of Ukraine’s most famous poet Taras Shevchenko, who immortalised the image of the Kobzar in his book of poetry of the same title from 1840. With numerous literary tributes being presented across Ukraine last year in honour one of the country’s modern literary founders, Shumka has created their own tribute.
MORE THAN JUST POKHID SKLADNIY
Kobzar is indeed a magnificent production, brought to life under the creative direction of Shumka’s John Pichlyk. With Viktor Lytvynov as the choreographic lead, there seems to be two types of choreography within this work. The one we are familiar with is traditional stage folk dance. The other is a more contemporary movement style blended in where necessary. Nobody could or should expect Shumka (or any other group) to tackle such a massive project with just pokhid skladniy or prysiadky, and so, as someone sitting in the audience, the use of contemporary movement make great sense and works nicely.
Going back to tradition for just a moment, the Ukrainian steps are very tight and clean. The dancers’ legs are high and their spins fast. Hands down, Shumka has some of the strongest Ukrainian dancers outside of Ukraine. If a criticism could be offered, however, it would be that the boys’ tricks could always be improved upon and the girls could learn to be more delicate. That said, the Shumka girls are very athletic, and they tackle tricks not always seen in Ukrainian dance.
Despite being a former Shumka member, I can speak objectively and say that the production aspect of what Shumka does has always been top notch. In this piece, the set designs are enchanting and the big orchestral recordings with choral back-up set an epic tone unusually found in an amateur group. The costumes are amazingly colourful; albeit not as traditional as some would expect, but creative nonetheless.
The strongest piece is the scene on the Kozak chaika (boat), where Kozaks battle the elements in an epic storm. It is a powerful and emotional scene, reminiscent of Jean Val Jean on the barricade in Les Miserables, which leaves the audience emotionally exhausted – yet exhilarated!
Overall, the message of Shumka’s newest creation left this member of the audience in tears as it followed the Ukrainian people in their struggles throughout history still relevant today. It’s easy to be a critic but you have to hand it to Shumka – they are not afraid to explore Ukrainian culture through dance and they do it at an exceptionally high level.
Hands down, Shumka has some of the strongest Ukrainian dancers outside of Ukraine.
Go see Shumka and WIN a FREE TOUR OF UKRAINE FOR YOU AND A GUEST from Cobblestone Freeway Tours!!!
Enter to win at one of the upcoming Kobzar performances put on by Ukrainian Shumka Dancers and Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus in Edmonton.
Find the booth at the show and enter your name to win!
See the show on April 8 & 9;
Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium;
tickets at Ticketmaster!