Sizzling KOBZARI Invigorate Toronto

Ukrainian Shumka Dancers and Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus (on the background) perform at Sony Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto on March 2. Mykola Swarnyk

New Pathway.

The Ukrainian Shumka Dancers and the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus, the leaders of the Ukrainian culture in North America, always perform at the highest artistic levels. But when they get together on the same stage, it holds a promise of an extraordinary performance. On Saturday, March 18, their production of Kobzari at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts lived up to that promise. The hall was packed and the audience was visibly moved by the evening of song, music and dance inspired by Taras Shevchenko’s ageless and powerful poetry.

In fact, this is the first time that Shumka and Capella ever performed together. However, it was not Capella’s first experience with a dance group, explained its Artistic Director and Conductor, Oleh Mahlay: “In 1958, Capella toured Western Europe with a dancing group Orlyk from England. So, today was extremely special. Shumka is one of the premiere Ukrainian dance groups – not just in Canada, but in the world. It was a pleasure to work with Shumka’s Chair of the Artistic Committee John Pichlyk and their team, the dancers were absolutely wonderful.”

The first experience seems to have inspired future plans. Oleh Mahlay sounded enthusiastically: “The goal is to do it in the future as well. Bring Shumka to other cities and bring Capella to other cities. Our culture is so beautiful – the Ukrainian dances, which come from rituals, customs and traditions; our beautiful music that encompasses the history that Ukrainian have; and the bandura that is just Ukrainian, which no other culture can claim. And to bring the bandura, our music and dancing with two professional level organizations, which love and have such a passion for those things, would be really a gift. I am looking forward to our future tours.”

Shumka’s John Pichlyk spoke to the New Pathway about the origins of the Kobzari project: “I wrote the story but it has been a very collaborative work. It started with the inspiration of the 200th anniversary of Taras Shevchenko. Yuri Shevchenko of Kyiv composed the music and Victor Lytvynov, also out of Kyiv, was the lead choreographer. Our collective team in Edmonton has been working on the production for a couple of years. We wanted to pay tribute not only to the man, but to the voice that is true today. We feel that some of the themes of courage, hope and strength are so important for us here and to give strength to our friends in Ukraine for them to fulfill their dreams.”

We noted the authentic sound of songs on the background during Shumka’s performance and wondered whether they were recorded by the Cherkasy Folk Choir, renowned by its originality. John Pichlyk: “No, it’s a choir from Kyiv, but they are very talented people too. This whole idea was to create the human voice as part of the symphonic arrangement. So it’s not just choir; it’s the feelings, emotions and pitch that need to be part of the orchestra. And I think it really rings true and has a different level of emotion.”

The story that runs through the show is about the traditions and the future, told in Shevchenko’s beautiful poems, as explained by John Pichlyk: “It’s of a Kobzar teaching the people what they need to achieve their dreams. Where does your strength come from for you to overcome adversity, when oppression is right in your face – how do you rise above it?”

Who are those people in black that play the opposing force throughout the show? “They are the figures of oppression. Our Ukrainian history is full of that, whether its invasions or hunger, or political strife. So, they are generic. And even individual oppression – people heave doubts, fears of their own, they have their internal чорна хмара, how do you get over that? How do you get confidence to move forward? So it’s all on many levels and we hope that the audience takes away what they want to take.”

The show ends with the Kobzar’s young pupil taking over and leading the people. John Pichlyk explained: “It ends with надія, hope for the future. Who will be the future kobzari, who will take all this love and tradition forward? And that’s what we want to say – the answer lies in our youth.”

Kobzari will be shown in Edmonton on April 8-9 at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium

Images: Mykola Swarnyk