Stefan Kuziw, Artistic Director of KALYNA Performing Arts Company, UNF Toronto.
With spirits down in early spring due to COVID-19, I felt that the future of the KALYNA Performing Arts Company (Ukrainian National Federation – Toronto) might be in jeopardy considering we are mostly a mature group of seasoned dancers who might get used to a lifestyle without Ukrainian Dance if we stop doing it for long enough. Seeing the elderly quarantined and hearts breaking from this unprecedented loneliness, I came up with an idea of performing while abiding by all provincial restrictions. I modified choreography to abide to the 2-meter social distancing rule, having a maximum of 5 people per dance, no contact unless living together or dating. Every dancer now also has to wear a mask (branded with the KALYNA logo by the way). I thought it would be a unique experience that everyone especially the seniors in Residences and long term care centres really needed. Live performances of any type have been cancelled since February and likely for the remainder of the year, so for someone to see live dancers in their driveway, parking lot, or even street court (yes we did those as well) would be a treat. And on Saturdays of June 13th and 20th it sure was. We were greeted with chants and yells of Dyakuyu! Thank You! Come back next week! We were given flowers, snacks, and sometimes even beer money (donations…), and the applause was more genuine than I have ever heard. Our dancers were emotional as well. We shared our experiences with tears in our eyes. It was gratifying to see how happy we made our Ukrainian seniors. The driveway performances were fun as well but they were different. That was a simpler type of entertainment but spreading happiness nonetheless.
The idea for this “COVID tour” went through various changes. I wanted to have a COVID theme, but then realized it might not be the best idea – we are trying to help people forget about it! I finally decided on shortening four of our dances to create a 10-minute dance medley. The idea morphed into almost a “kolyada” style, where we arrive, perform, spread joy, then quickly pack up and go to the next location to do the same. The difference is there was no other reason to do it than to give back to the community. We weren’t doing it for donations or to raise any kind of funds. Our dancers drove in separate vehicles, paid for their own gas, food, etc.
So far, we did six driveway and street performances where neighbours filled the streets to sometimes dozens of spectators, and the rest of the mini performances were for the seniors at:
Ivan Franko LTCC – Royal York Rd,
Ivan Franko Seniors residence –
St. Demetrius seniors residence – La Rose,
St. Peter and Paul LTCC – Scarborough,
Kipling Acres – seniors home,
Canadian Ukrainian Care Centre – LTCC.
We are now planning on visiting the St. Elias Catholic Church in Brampton and Poltava in mid-July.
To make this happen wasn’t an easy task. We kept rehearsals going through ZOOM every Wednesday and Sunday for a minimum of two hours each day.
I had an easel with a “play by play” drawing showing the changes in choreography. Everyone was super focused and understood it well. All it took was one parking lot “social distance” rehearsal run through and we were ready. Even then, all dancers wore masks and kept a minimum of two meters apart. Although almost everyone in KALYNA wanted to participate, the challenge of space, choreography and provincial restrictions made it possible to only tour with 13 dancers, about half of our members. I am hoping that we can have the entire troupe perform soon. We are an inclusive group so it’s difficult not having everyone there. We miss being a larger dance family, but I see it on the horizon. This pandemic will be over and we will have everyone together again. The gift we gave was not from us individuals, but rather the group as a whole. It was from KALYNA Performing Arts Company – from our hearts to theirs.