Ukrainian dance festival showcases young talent

Matt Gardner
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Providing welcome respite from a cold and rainy weekend, the 27th Annual Prince Albert Ukrainian Dance Festival offered audiences at the E.A. Rawlinson Centre a colourful array of festive entertainment.

Dance clubs from across the province congregated in the city on Friday for the three-day festival hosted by the Prince Albert Barveenok Ukrainian Dancers, which featured impressive choreography by young dancers from across Saskatchewan.

P.A. club president Robert Tessier pointed to the hard work put in by dancers striving to constantly improve their craft.

“It’s important to note that there’s a lot of time well spent,” Tessier said. “This is my fourth year involved here with my family, third year as co-chair … You can see how they’ve committed a lot of time and have really flourished as dancers.

“They’re perfecting …all those important things that the adjudicator asks for, and it’s so interesting to see how these kids are growing and have become really good entertainers …

“They make it look easy, and really it’s not. It takes a lot of years of commitment from these dancers, and those who stuck with it are now seeing the rewards of it and the parents are so appreciative of it -- and you get that feel, that vibe from the audience.”

Participating dance schools hailed from communities including Prince Albert, Meath Park, Prud’homme, Hafford, North Battleford, Cudworth, Wakow, Nipawin, Saskatoon, Rosthern, Myrnam and Carrot River.

While the dancers enjoyed the chance to display their talents before an appreciative audience, numerous details by organizers helped reinforce the event’s cultural impact.

“I think people recognized a few little touches that we had,” Tessier said. “This year it’s the pride of the Ukrainian tradition. It’s very valuable and it’s very well-recognized and people are cherishing it, especially seeing what’s happening in the Ukraine.

“Little things like the stage crew here -- they set up some special lighting in the back where you can see the actual colours of the Ukrainian flag on the backdrop … Little touches like that kind of brought goosebumps to some of the older Ukrainian crowd that we had here, and they really enjoy the fact that we’re putting in time to make sure that this tradition is an important one and it’s not lost.”

Speaking for his own club, Tessier praised the performance of the P.A. Barveenok Ukranian Dancers, which included a large beginner group and dancers under the age of five.

“We’re a young group and we can see that now some of our older dancers have really gelled together, and as a large group they look really good and have a lot of fun together,” he said.

A member of the P.A. Barveenok club for six years, dancer Alexei Kawula pointed favourably to the increasing complexity of many routines as dancers get older.

It’s so interesting to see how these kids are growing and have become really good entertainers. Robert Tessier

“Every year, because your physical abilities come up … (you get) new openings for dance steps, especially for boys, because boys get to do all these cool moves as they get older,” said Kawula, 12.

The weekend festival was the first for fellow P.A. dancer Stephaan Salahub, 17, who began participating in Ukrainian dancing this year.

“It just kind of looked fun,” he recalled. “It’s like, ‘Hey, I want to be able to do that.’”

While noting the extensive practice required for his performance, Salahub described the end result as relatively carefree.

“It was a lot easier than I thought,” he said. “I thought it’d be really difficult, but it was really fun and quite easy.”

Having danced for 11 years, P.A. Barveenok member Joseph Stefanyshyn noted that performing on one’s home turf has its advantages.

“I think it’s easier to dance here than all the other ones … just because you know more people here,” said Stefanyshyn, 16.

While solo and duet awards were presented on Saturday night, others will be mailed to the clubs, many of which had to leave early due to extensive travel time.

Prince Albert tends to be a popular location for the festival, Tessier said.

“Everyone who comes here speaks highly of our city,” he said. “They really appreciate the venue, they appreciate the hotels that we have and the food was great … The city is big enough where we can host something like this, but yet small enough where it’s very communal.”

While the Prince Albert club will hold a registration night in the fall, Tessier encouraged anyone interested in joining to seek out additional information at or on the group’s Facebook page.

“We’re having a lot of fun … Anyone else who’s interested, please come join us, because I’m sure they won’t be disappointed.”

More pictures from the 27th Annual Prince Albert Ukrainian Dance Festival may be viewed here.

See also:

Tradition defines Ukrainian dance festival

Organizations: E.A. Rawlinson Centre, Daily Herald

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