Dancing with the Bukovyna State Ensemble of Song and Dance

To say the least, it's a dream come true.

Dances from the Bukovyna region have always been a favourite of mine. I love the stamps and the music and the costumes. So when I found out I'd get to dance with the Bukovyna State Ensemble of Song and Dance for a couple months, I was pretty darn excited.

I admit, I had high expectations for my time here. I worked with Leonid Sydorchuk, the artistic director of the ensemble, this summer with Troyanda. Not only did he impress me by teaching us a dance in a 45 C studio while wearing jeans, but he also impressed me by his talent. We spent only a couple hours with him, but I could tell he had a brilliant dance brain that was thinking brilliant dance thoughts. And I couldn't wait to dance under his direction.

Well the time has come (...and almost gone  we have less than two weeks left here!), and my high expectations have been greatly beat. Within our first two days with the ensemble, Leonid told us we'd perform in a show the following week, he told us we'd be on a TV morning show, and a dancer invited us to his birthday party. Talk about a warm welcome.

 We talked about our performance on  Dobroho Ranku, Bukovyno  ("Good morning, Bukovyna") on Jan. 24.

We talked about our performance on Dobroho Ranku, Bukovyno ("Good morning, Bukovyna") on Jan. 24.

We learned the dance, Chervona Kalyna ("red guelder rose"), in two days. When we first rehearsed with the full choir and orchestra, I had to concentrate so hard on actually doing the dance steps because I was distracted by the beauty of the music. Plus I was in awe because, you know, I was dancing with the Bukovyna State Ensemble of Song and Dance. So many feelings. So many emotions. So many "moments".

The performances (yes, two) were even more unbelievable. We wore beautiful hand-beaded vyshyvanky (blouses), and the energy from the dancers, choir, and orchestra coming together was like nothing I've experienced before. There was a full audience for the second show, which was in honour of the 90th birthday of Darius Lastiwka, the late artistic director of the ensemble. It was a pretty special show to be a part of.

We haven't performed in any shows since, but we've been keeping busy. The ensemble rehearsals Monday to Friday for three to four hours per day. Rehearsal starts with an hour of ballet, led by Olena Kozmak, before we work on the dances. A couple times a week, we have rehearsal with the orchestra, otherwise the accordion player accompanies us.

Like we've done with other ensembles, us Canadians dance along at the back of the room. We generally rehearse in a theatre (and sometimes in a small studio), but when the full orchestra is set up, there's no room on stage so we dance between the aisles in the audience.

Leonid is kind enough to work with just us Canadians every day, whether it's running through a dance we've learned or teaching us a new combination. If we don't get a stamping combination, for example, he will take us by the hand and do it with us until we get it. It's like there's a special dance energy that runs from him to you because next thing you know, you're doing the difficult step that seconds ago you were fumbling through.

The dancers are just as helpful. They'll take time out of their pererva (break) to clarify steps or even teach us entire dances. Some of the dancers are instructors, and it shows. When you're dancing with them, they'll be saying the upcoming steps to you or directing you which way to go.

And the boys wow, talk about strong partners. No offense to those back home, but I have never had as strong of dance partners as the guys from the Buko ensemble. And get this they smile and look at you while you dance! Imagine that.

There's been a couple times when Leonid throws us into a dance we barely know to fill in for an absent dancer. And though we may only know a few steps in it, no one gets frustrated with us. They tell you where to go, say what step to do next, and give you a pat on the back when you're done.

 The Canadians and Romchyk, the best tsymbaly player in Chernivtsi.

The Canadians and Romchyk, the best tsymbaly player in Chernivtsi.

Right from when we step our foot into the Philharmonic Hall (where we rehearse), we feel welcome. The people at the door greet us. The dancers say hello. The choir asks how we are. The orchestra gives us high fives.

And our friendships extend beyond the studio. We're grateful to have made friends from the ensemble who host us for dinner at their homes, take us to cool pubs, and invite us to their super cool birthday parties (the one we went to was like going to a wedding with food and drinks and dancing at a beautiful hall, and everyone was dressed to the nines, and it was just overall a next-level birthday celebration).

So, to the Bukovyna State Ensemble of Song and Dance, you are all lovely dancers and singers and orchestra players, and I'm so thankful to have worked with you during the past month. I hope you know how much I, along with so many others in Canada and around the world, respect what you do.

Oh, and if you happen to be in Lviv this summer, the Buko ensemble is performing and hosting workshops at the International Ukrainian Dance and Culture Festival. I was there last summer, and it was quite the event.

 We watched the ensemble perform a holiday dance at the open air museum in Chernivtsi on Jan. 21.

We watched the ensemble perform a holiday dance at the open air museum in Chernivtsi on Jan. 21.

Kaitlin VittComment