Guest blogger Danielle Marie Georgiou is a Dance Lecturer at the University of Texas at Arlington where she serves as the Assistant Director of the UT Arlington’s Dance Ensemble. She is also a member of Muscle Memory Dance Theatre – a modern dance collective.
Thursday night I had the pleasure of attending the Virsky Ukrainian National Dance Company’s performance at the Meyerson Symphony Center, and I was blown away! First, by the explosion of colorful costumes, then by the amazing athleticism of the dancers, and finally by the cultural and historical relevancy of their work.
A folk dance company at its roots, Virsky has transformed the traditional folk idiom into performance art by combining theater and contemporary ballet. The dancers not only perform the complex steps to perfection, they emote and involve the audience, making the night an interactive experience.
It all began with Artistic Director Myroslav Vantukh’s Ukraine, My Ukraine! Immediately on display was the larger-than-life agility of the men, whose deep pliés, acrobatics and sky-grazing cabrioles were executed with extreme ease, making their bravura all the more astounding. There were times when I felt the audience gasping in astonishment as the dancers lept so high in the air that it seemed that they could fly!
Their boldness continued with Povzunets, or Cossack Playful Dance, one of the more popular and well-known dances. It is a light-hearted jaunt that demonstrates the technical ability of the performers with impressive tricks, and an amazing, almost inexhaustible technical mastery. Danced entirely in a deep grande plié position, the men executed gravity-defying inversions, cartwheels and one soloist performed a magnificent sit-spin resembling a propeller.
Another highlight was Kyiv Fellows, a humorous contest between a group of tall and short men. The tall contenders approached their opponents with a charming mazurka step, then challenged with 180-degree toe-touches, while the short group countered with giant hitch-kicks and floor-grazing barrel rolls. But the men hit their peak in Moriaky (Sailors), a fast-paced, joyous dance full of aerials, pirouettes and split leaps evoking ideas of endurance and durability.
It was a welcomed relief to see men dancing like men. They exuded the ultra-masculine virility that makes dance theater and bravura dance so exciting. Cossack men were warriors, and when you attend a performance showing a historical figure, you want to see them portrayed accurately, as they were Thursday night.
But we can’t forget about the ladies. They added a lovely element of realism and femininity in the lyrical Kozachok, as they gracefully did a series of pirouettes and fouettés completely in unison. They continued to entice with the sexy Gipsy Dance, in which their bodies personified the movement and sound of a tambourine. They danced with their entire bodies, a challenge for even the most seasoned performer. And the tender underbelly that exists in every woman was beautifully portrayed in Podolianochka (Girl From the Podilla Region). The piece speaks of spring and the pure love between two young people. The female soloist was technically masterful while bringing a sense of truth to the story. You could feel her love toward her pursuer radiating throughout the house.
Aside from entertaining, the production educates. In the socially conscious Chumack Joy, the lives of four poor men are explored; they learn to appreciate the small tokens in life, such as a new pair of shoes. It’s a humorous piece, but at the same time sensitive in nature and relevant today. Moreover, the ideas presented will stimulate any choreographer in search of new forms, concepts, and structures. They transformed a bare stage by building structures with their bodies: in Kmil (Hop) the male dancers built a five-foot human chair, and in Zaporozhtsi (National Ukrainian Dance of Cossacks) the use of spears, swords and geometrical symmetry illustrated Cossack warfare rituals.
The evening was culturally enriching, moving dance beyond a spectator event. It was an experience that left the audience with a little of that cheerful, rambunctious Ukrainian spirit.
Unfortunately, Virsky was in town for one night only. Hopefully, they will return to Dallas in the near future.