Canada’s Ukrainian Shumka dancers are coming to Saskatoon on March 29 with the Shumka at 50 tour, celebrating more than 50 years of showcasing Ukrainian dance on stage.
This upcoming performance in Saskatoon is the last leg of the tour, bringing their “Shumka at 50” shows in Canada and China to a close.
“We’re very excited. It’s been awhile since we’ve been to town so we’re looking forward to it. There’s a large diaspora community and we are certainly looking forward to connecting with them,” said Leslie Sereda, a member of Shumka’s artistic committee.
Shumka at 50 is a two-act production including different pieces that incorporate dance and theatre. The show begins with Harvest Angels, which is a stunning display of four distinct regions of Ukraine set against the backdrop of a golden wheat field.
Following is Pathways to Hopak, which is a piece about life and emotional journeys.
“Pathways to Hopak is certainly more of a contemporary take,” Sereda said. “It’s about the cycle of life from birth to growing up and finding love and it’s a full circle back to birth again as a celebration.”
A Cobbler’s Gift tells the story of an aspiring young boot maker who works diligently to craft a new pair of boots as a gift for a beautiful woman. Then, The Eve of Kupalo: A Midsummer’s Night Masque combines dazzling movement, stagecraft and film art, diving into the mystery of summer solstice rituals that have endured for centuries in Ukrainian and European culture.
“It’s a celebration of a traditional Ukrainian spring-time festival and yet it has some contemporary flair to it,” Sereda said.
The show finishes with a 50th anniversary Hopak, a traditional Ukrainian dance that Shumka has incorporated modern dance styles into as well.
“They’re short theatre-type pieces. We’ve created more story-theatre pieces and Shumka definitely pushes the boundaries of what Ukrainian dance may be,” Sereda said. “It’s not always what people think of when they think of Ukrainian dance. We really believe that it’s an art form that lives and breathes and needs to evolve. We’re always looking at new ways to express ourselves as Ukrainians and Canadians.”
Sereda began dancing with Shumka in 1991 and is now an alumnus. He was a part of many past tours and since retiring has been involved in Shumka in different capacities, most recently serving on the artistic committee.
“My greatest joys within the company were being on stage,” Sereda said. “Since retiring I’ve certainly found other joys in being part of the production team and working on other elements of choreography or music creation. Being part of that side has definitely been an honour and a privilege.”
The show features 46 dancers, mostly from western Canada and local to Edmonton, where Shumka is centered. In the past Shumka has involved dancers from all across Canada as well.
Aiming to expresses Ukrainian heritage through folk culture, Shumka preserves Ukrainian dance as part of the Canadian arts scene.
“Being on stage and telling stories on stage — there’s nothing better as a performer than being able to share your gift with an audience. That’s why we set up this studio; that’s why we give the blood, sweat and tears to be able to share,” Sereda said.
Shumka also has a dance school in Edmonton which allows dancers to take classes and train all year in addition to providing summer camps and programs. The aim is to serve as a career development opportunity for dance instructors and choreographers.
Following the Shumka Syllabus for Ukrainian Dance the instruction is uniform, providing progressive curriculum in the style of Ukrainian dance. The school then allows trained dancers the opportunity to audition for Shumka’s shows and tours.
Training is extensive and committing to being a part of Shumka’s tours requires dedication.
“The challenge is that we’re a part-time dance company,” Sereda said. “We all have jobs, families, careers and go to school. We have many students in the company and trying to find that balance between that world and the world of a performer is a difficult thing.”
Shumka toured internationally to China and in the past has been to the United States and Ukraine. The process behind their production is a lengthy one and preparation is quite extensive.
“This production is a multi-year process to get it under way,” Sereda said. “Within that process there’s music creation, set creation, costume creation and all the stuff that goes on behind the scenes, months — if not years — before the production hits the stage.”
The process behind-the-scenes is very important and Shumka works with local, national and international artists to create astounding masterpieces through cultural expression.
“As Canadians, we look to our cultural roots to define who we are and as Ukrainians we definitely have a strong passion in our roots from the home country,” Sereda said. “Even as generations go on we look for ways to identify ourselves with those cultural ties.”
“In Canada dance has become an important way for Ukrainian Canadians to keep connected to that homeland, even as third or fourth generations who are removed from it to a great extent still want to represent it in some way, shape or form,” Sereda said.
With recent events in Ukraine, Shumka recognizes the importance of this expression of heritage and is showing its support and unity with Ukraine.
“We just wrapped up two student matinees and we have an evening performance [in Edmonton]. We’ve added a moment in on stage with the Ukrainian flag to show our solidarity and after our show this evening we will be collecting funds for Ukraine to help with the movement and what is going on there,” Sereda said.
Canada’s Ukrainian Shumka Dancers will be performing at TCU Place on March 29. Tickets are available at tcuticket.ca or shumka.com.
Naomi Zurevinski / Culture Edito