This article is published through our Regional Reporter Program. We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts through the Digital Now initiative.
Yevshan Ukrainian Folk Ballet Ensemble is celebrating its 60th anniversary on Feb. 12 with an evening of dance performances and a look back through its long history. The event, taking place at TCU Place in Saskatoon, will showcase new work alongside dance pieces from the company’s past.
The group’s accomplishments over six decades are numerous. Yevshan has performed across Canada and internationally, including Ukraine, Sweden, England, Cuba, Croatia and several locations in the United States. The company has also danced at two world fairs and for the Queen on three occasions.
Preservation of Ukrainian culture in Canada is a significant aspect of Yevshan. “We’re noted for our folk ballet,” said Brenda Kalyn, chair of the company’s board. “The ballets are cultural in nature. They tell stories about Ukraine and its people and its folklore.”
“The dancers are linked not only to the dance but to the culture,” continued Kalyn. “The dance is a part of these dancers in a holistic and spiritual, physical and emotional way that goes beyond just the technicality of dance.”
The dance is part of these dancers in a holistic and spiritual, physical and emotional way.Kalyn
Connection is a central theme of the anniversary celebration, connection not only to Ukraine but also each other. Angela Wojcichowsky, an alumnus who danced with the company for 20 years, spoke about the Yevshan community. “People from every era, from the very first group that was born in the ’60s to the current dancers, there’s always been a thread … and a connection.”
In addition to performances, the anniversary event will feature filmed interviews with dancers from every decade of Yevshan’s history speaking about their personal experiences with the company. Old photographs and costumes will also be highlighted. The evening will start with a reception and banquet and will end by opening the dance floor to audience members.
Yevshan was established in 1960, and the 60th anniversary celebration was originally scheduled to take place in 2020, but the event was postponed several times as a result of COVID-19. “The dancers are really, really excited to … perform for the first time in two years and be able to showcase a little bit of the past and the present,” said Wojcichowsky.
Kalyn commended the Yevshan dancers for “their tremendous commitment to continuing on with rehearsals three times a week on Zoom [during the pandemic],” adding, “I just can’t say enough about that tenacity and spirit that they have managed to maintain.”
Vitali Sorokotiaguine has been artistic director of Yevshan since 1993, when he moved to Saskatchewan from Ukraine. “He has instilled this passion and this excellence in choreography,” said Kalyn. “His contribution is immeasurable.”
I just can’t say enough about that tenacity and spirit that [the Yevshan dancers] have managed to maintain.Kalyn
“He brought such exciting and new ideas, and he was a dancer himself,” commented Wojcichowsky, referencing Sorokotiaguine’s start with the company. “The opportunity to be with him in the studio in those early years and to see his vision for Yevshan evolve, I absolutely cherish those memories.”
Both Kalyn and Wojcichowsky have travelled to Ukraine with Yevshan and described the experience as deeply meaningful. “To be able to perform for an audience in Ukraine was absolutely incredible,” said Wojcichowsky.
Beyond the 60th anniversary celebration, Yevshan has a lot of exciting plans ahead, including a performance tour in Greece and Bulgaria and dancing at Canada’s National Ukrainian Festival in Dauphin, Man. And the company is looking forward to performing at conferences and private gatherings again, events like weddings and family reunions. “They range from little performances to giant shows, but each one is really special,” said Wojcichowsky about the variety of events that Yevshan is involved with.
“Yevshan has been such an important part of my life. All of my siblings have been involved in the dance group,” remarked Wojcichowsky. “I met my husband at a Yevshan event. He proposed to me at my last show.”
“Yevshan just holds such a wonderful place in my heart,” she added. “I think a lot of us feel that way.”