Tradition defines Ukrainian dance festival

Matt
Matt Gardner
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The Prince Albert Barveenok Annual Dance Festival is as much about tradition as it is competition, according to one of the main organizers of the event.

Dancers perform at last year’s Prince Albert Barveenok Dance Festival. The 2014 festival will take place this weekend from Friday to Sunday at the E.A. Rawlinson Centre. Morning, afternoon and evening sessions are scheduled with tickets costing $3 per session.

Speaking to the Herald in advance of this weekend’s festival, event co-chair and P.A. Barveenok Ukrainian Dancers president Robert Tessier noted the twin aspects of its appeal.

“Ukrainian dancing is different regions … and different techniques and different steps, so a lot of the kids learn a lot of those different regions, different steps and they wear different traditional costumes … They’re there for the fun of it, just to share that cultural experience with everyone in the community,” Tessier said.

“But they’re also competing -- competing with themselves. They’ll be judged by an adjudicator and they get feedback based on how they’re doing in regards to steps and all that.”

The 27th annual Barveenok festival will take place this weekend from Friday to Sunday at the E.A. Rawlinson Centre, with morning, afternoon and evening sessions scheduled.

Approximately 350 dancers are expected to compete, representing 13 different Saskatchewan clubs from communities such as Meath Park, Rosthern and Saskatoon.

Serving in the role of adjudicator this year is Dave Ganert, who recently retired from his position as artistic director for the Edmonton-based Ukrainian Shumka Dancers.

Dancing, however, is only one aspect of Ukrainian tradition that will be on display at the festival, which serves as a significant fundraiser for the Barveenok dance club.

Attendees will also have the option of enjoying a plate of Ukrainian cuisine or buying Ukrainian merchandise from vendors.

“People have the choice,” Tessier said. “If they want to come and take part in watching the dancing, it’s $3 a session.

“But if they want, they can just walk in and just buy a festival platter and just enjoy the food -- or some people, they like to shop and buy Ukrainian items … It’s a good opportunity for them to purchase any of those things.”

While food, crafts and dances are the most visible manifestations of Ukrainian links to the old country, some attendees may also share a sense of trepidation over current events overseas.

A lot of the kids learn a lot of those different regions, different steps and they wear different traditional costumes … They’re there for the fun of it, just to share that cultural experience with everyone in the community. Robert Tessier

Tessier noted that the ongoing political turmoil in Ukraine will likely make its presence felt at the festival in some way, noting it had also come up at recent Ukrainian church services.

“It’s a topic of discussion,” he said. “You find that there are so many families that are still involved with Ukrainian dancing, they’re very rooted in their tradition, and so they definitely watch the news, they look into it, they read into it. People have a lot of personal connections in Ukraine.”

“When you have an event, it wouldn’t surprise me this weekend to have a few people that are sitting down eating and will be talking about it,” he added. “The younger generation probably has a little more difficulty in understanding what’s happening.

“But some of our babas and gidos (grandmothers and grandfathers) that have come and settled in Saskatchewan, they know what’s going on because they lived through the Communist part of it, and so it’ll be interesting to see.”

Current events aside, the focus of festival organizers is on providing an entertaining experience for dancers and spectators.

The festival begins on Friday at 1 p.m. and runs until Sunday at noon. Morning sessions are scheduled between 9 a.m. and noon, afternoon sessions between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. and evening sessions from 6 p.m. to 8:30 or 9 p.m.

Tessier encouraged members of the public to come out and attend.

“Anybody who has time -- whether it’s an hour or a few hours or the whole weekend -- it would be nice for them to at least come and take a look,” he said. “I’m sure they won’t be disappointed.”

Tickets cost $3 per session and are available at the door.

Organizations: E.A. Rawlinson Centre

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, Meath Park, Rosthern Ukraine Saskatoon

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