Dance Genre Buzz : The Gravity Defying, Fast Paced Splendor Of Ukrainian Dance

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Ukrainian dance is a fast-paced, high energy carnival ride of leaps, kicks, twirls and bright colors. Much of what the world sees today as Ukrainian dance, however, is only part of the rich traditions of the Ukraine.

Dance has been a part of what is present day Ukraine since at least the 3rd millennium BC, as evidenced by Trypillian clay vessels depicting dancing figures. Before the introduction of Christianity, dance had a very important role in pre-Ukrainian ritual, which combined music and poetry with movement. Echoes of these ritual dances can be seen today in the Spring Dances, or Vesnianky (Becнянки). Another seasonal event marked by dance was the pre-harvest festival of Kupalo (Ніч на Купала), still a popular theme with Ukrainian choreographers.

Ukrainian Dance Featured In This Year’s Parade!

Leading off The 8th Annual Parade this year, to honor their culture in these difficult times, will be Iskra Ukrainian Dance Ensemble!  For this month’s Dance Genre Buzz, we chose to venture deeper into the Ukrainian Dance style they will be proudly displaying down Broadway on Saturday, May 17th!   Be on the lookout for their colorful costumes and gravity defying leaps!

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Concurrent with the Ukraine’s Kozak, or Kozaky (Козаки́), uprisings, social dances began gaining popularity. Ukrainian social dances (Побyтовi танцi) are characterized by musical accompaniment, and increased improvisation.

The third major variety of traditional Ukrainian folk dance is thematic or story dances (Cюжетнi танцi). The story dances incorporated a high level of dramatic pantomime and stylized movement designed to entertain audiences.

Today, dance in the Ukraine consists primarily of what anthropologists and dance historians refer to as “Ukrainian Folk-Stage Dances” (Українськi Hapoднo-Cцeнiчнi Taнцi). This heavily stylized art form is a choreographed representation of traditional dance and movement, redesigned for concert dance performances.  source

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Ukrainian dance (Ukrainian: Український тaнeць, translit. Ukrayins’kyy tanets’ ) refers to the traditional folk dances of the peoples of Ukraine.

Today, Ukrainian dance is primarily represented by what ethnographers, folklorists and dance historians refer to as “Ukrainian Folk-Stage Dances” (Ukrainian: Українськi Hapoднo-Cцeнiчнi Taнцi, translit. Ukrayins’ki Narodno-Stsenichni Tantsi), which are stylized representations of traditional dances and their characteristic movements that have been choreographed for concert dance performances. This stylized art form has so permeated the culture of Ukraine, that very few purely traditional forms of Ukrainian dance remain today.

Ukrainian Dance is often described as energetic, fast-paced, and entertaining, and along with traditional Easter eggs (pysanky), it is a characteristic example of Ukrainian culture instantly recognized and highly appreciated throughout the world.

Modern History

Ukrainian folk-stage dance began the path to transforming into its present incarnation first and foremost through the work of Vasyl Verkhovynets (b. 1880, original surname Kostiv), an actor, choir conductor, and amateur musicologist. Verkhovynets had acquired a professional level of training in the arts as part of Mykola Sadovsky’s theatrical troupe, which had itself incorporated a distinguished level of folk dance in its productions of dramas based on Ukrainian folk themes. While touring central Ukraine with the theatrical troupe, Verkhovynets’ would take off whenever he could and visit the villages surrounding the cities he was performing in, in order to learn about and record the villages’ traditional dances. His landmark book which he based upon this research, Theory of Ukrainian Folk Dance (Teopiя Українського Hapoднoго Taнкa) (1919), brought together for the first time the various steps and terminology now recognized by all contemporary students of Ukrainian dance. It also fundamentally altered the nature of Ukrainian folk dance by setting dances on a stage (with the audience seated at the front, two wings, and a backdrop), and laid out a method of transcribing folk dances, which was later put into use across the Soviet Union. This book has since been reprinted five times (the last time in 1990) and remains a basic instructional text of Ukrainian dance.

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The history of Ukrainian dance diverges at this stage of Vasyl Verkhovynets career. Because of the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, it would develop contemporaneously both in Ukraine as well outside of the Iron curtain for more than 40 years. In Ukraine, Verkhovynets remained involved in the training of the next generation of dancers, while outside of Ukraine Vasyl Avramenko, building on Verkhovynets’ work, would develop the art form in the Ukrainian diaspora.

Ukrainian folk dance was fundamentally altered when it began to be performed onstage, as it was transformed into a new art form: Ukrainian folk-stage dance. Once dance masters such as Verkhovynets and Avramenko began gathering a repertoire of dances and touring Ukrainian lands with their troupes, teaching workshops in the villages as they went, the inherent regional variations which stemmed from the improvisational nature of pre-modern Ukrainian folk dances began to slowly fade. The types of dances one would see in one part of the country began to be performed in other parts of the country, and “Ukrainian dances” became a more homogeneous group.

Ukraine has many ethnocultural regions, many with their own music, dialect, form of dress, and dance steps. The scholarship of Verkhovynets and Avramenko, however, was mostly limited to the villages of central Ukraine. Gradually, others began filling in the gaps of this research, by researching the dance forms of the various ethnic groups of western Ukraine, publishing this scholarship, and founding regional dance ensembles. Most of this research, however, occurred after Verkhovynets’ and Avramenko had already toured Ukraine, which limited the available sources of “traditional dance” knowledge to isolated villages or the immigrant communities who left their native territories before Verkhovynets and Avramenko began touring.

Because of the spread and influence of Verkhovynets and Avramenko’s early work, most of the dances representing these ethnocultural regions, as performed by modern-day Ukrainian folk-stage dance ensembles, still incorporate the basic steps of bihunets and tynok, although new variations between “regional” styles of dance have developed as a result of more and more advanced instruction and choreographies becoming prevalent. Story (character) dances, such as pantomimed fables, and staged ritual dances are not necessarily linked to particular regions.

The stage costumes adopted by modern-day Ukrainian dance ensembles are based on traditional dress, but represent an idealized image of village life, with dancers identically dressed in vibrant colors untarnished by time or nature. While the dance-steps, costumes, and music differ from dance to dance, it is important to realize that many of these variations are modern-day choreographic constructs, with changes having been made to advance the art more than to preserve cultural traditions.

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The “regional dances” of Ukrainian dance include:

Stylized “Kozak” Dances

Central Ukrainian or Kozak Dances, representing the culture and traditions of the Ukrainian Kozaks (Kozaky), Poltava and other central Ukrainian lands surrounding the river Dnipro (Dnieper); these are the dances most commonly associated with Ukrainian dance. The culture of central and eastern Ukraine developed under many foreign influences, due to both trade and foreign invasion. The greatest indigenous cultural influence was the semi-military society of the Kozaks, whose love of social dances spawned the Hopak, the Kozachok , the Povzunets, the Chumaky, and many others. The men’s costumes for these dances are styled after Kozak dress, with boots, a comfortable shirt, a sash (poyas) tied around the waist, and loose, billowy riding trousers (sharovary); common accessories include overcoats, hats, and swords. The women’s costumes have subtler variations, since the woman’s blouse generally displays more embroidery than the men’s shirt, the skirt (plakhta) is woven with various geometric and color patterns, and they wear a headpiece of flowers and ribbons (vinok). All of these pieces can vary from village to village, or even based on a family tradition, although most professional ensembles dress their performers with identical costumes, for aesthetic reasons. The style of these dances is acrobatic and physically demanding for the men, who are often showcased individually; women have traditionally played secondary roles, displaying grace and beauty while often dancing in technically demanding unison.

Hutsul Dances, representing the culture and traditions of Hutsulshchyna. While Vasyl Avramenko’s Hutsul dances are notoriously inaccurate depictions of the dances of the Hutsuls, the highlanders who inhabit the Carpathian Mountains, the demand for additional research to fill in the gaps of Verkhovynets initial work eventually brought about a revived interest in Hutsul customs and traditions, and soon Hutsul and Carpathian dance ensembles had developed the second most-recognizable style of Ukrainian dance. The well known dances of the region of Pokuttia is the Kolomyika which is named after the biggest city of the region, Kolomea; the Hutsulka. The mountainous Hutsul region of Ukraine, Hutsulshchyna, is adjacent to the Romanian regions of Bukovina and Maramureş, and the regions are ethno-culturally linked. In depicting Hutsuls dances, dancers traditionally wear leather moccasins known as postoly, and decorated vests known as keptari. Men’s pants are not as loose as the kozak dress, and women wear a skirt composed of front and back panels, tied at the waist. Hutsul costumes traditionally incorporate orange, brown, green, and yellow embroidery. Hutsul dances are well known for being lively and energetic, characterized by quick stamping and intricate footwork, combined with swift vertical movements. A well-known Hutsul dance is the arkan (‘lasso’, cf. Romanian arcan), in which men dance around a fire.

Transcarpathian Dances, representing the culture and traditions of Ukrainian Zakarpattia. Dances from this region are known for their large sweeping movements and colourful costumes, with the general movement being “bouncy”. A signature dance from this region is bereznianka.

Bukovynian Dances, representing the culture and traditions of Bukovyna, a transitional highland between Ukraine and Romania, historically ruled by the Romanian Principality of Moldavia, as well as the Habsburg Empire and the Tatars. Ukrainian dances depicting Bukovynian music and dance is peppered with dichotomies and contrapuntal themes, perhaps reflecting the political histories of the region. In these dances, both men and women perform a variety of foot-stamps. Usually, the girls’ headpieces are very distinctive, consisting of tall wheat stalks, ostrich feathers, or other unique protuberances. The embroidery on the blouses and shirts is typically stitched with darker and heavier threads, and women’s skirts are sometimes open at the front, revealing an embroidered slip.

Volyn’ Dances, representing the culture and traditions of Volyn’. This region is located in north-western Ukraine. The representative costumes worn by Ukrainian dancers are bright and vibrant, while the dance steps are characterized by energetic jumping, high legs, and lively arms. The dances representing this region have been influenced by the traditional dances of Poland, due to Volyn’s geographical proximity with Poland, and Poland’s extended rule over the area.

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Polissian Dances, representing the culture and traditions of Polissia. The steps of Polissian dance as depicted by Ukrainian dancers are characteristically very bouncy and with emphasis on high knee movement. The costumes often incorporate white, red, and beige as the main colors, and girls often wear aprons. A popular Polissian dance is called mazurochky.

Lemko Dances, representing the culture and traditions of Lemkivshchyna. The ethnographic region of the Lemkos lays mainly in Poland, with a small part falling within current Ukrainian borders. Relatively isolated from ethnic Ukrainians, the Lemko people have a unique lifestyle and ethnography, like that of the Hutsuls, which Ukrainian dance choreographers enjoy depicting. The dance costumes typically depict the men and women with short vests, with the style of dance being light-hearted as well as lively.

Podillian Dances, representing the culture and traditions of Podillia.

Boiko Dances, representing the culture and traditions of Boikivshchyna.

Gypsy Dances, representing the culture and traditions of Ukrainian Tsyhany: The Romani people have lived in Ukraine for centuries. Those inhabiting the Carpathian Mountains have even developed their own dialect of the Rom language, as well as customs and traditional dances limited to their own villages. Many Ukrainian folk-stage dance ensembles have incorporated stylized Tsyhans’ky (“Gypsy”) dances into their repertoire.  source : Wikipedia

 

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