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Anola dancers return from Ukraine sojourn

By: Jordan Ross

Posted: 09/13/2018 9:15 AM

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Thirteen Ukrainian dance students have arrived home, trophy in tow, from an inspiring trip to the country where their colourful, high-flying dances originated.

The Selo Ukrainian Dancers returned Aug. 26 from a jam-packed two and a half weeks of performances, workshops, and sightseeing in Ukraine.

The seven female and six male dancers, aged 14 to 20, hailed from Anola, Oakbank, Ile des Chenes, and other surrounding communities, said Rod Picklyk, who together with his wife Bonnie founded the Anola-based dance school 32 years ago.

The Selo dancers are well-known in Manitoba, having performed at Folklorama, the Gardenton Ukrainian Festival, and the Cooks Creek Medieval Festival.

While the school typically organizes an international excursion every few years, political turmoil thwarted a Ukraine trip planned in 2014, which was rerouted to other European countries, Picklyk explained.

"The whole Crimea situation was escalating," he recalled.

But the goal of transporting students to the global epicentre of Ukrainian culture wasn’t forgotten, and Picklyk said it was worth the wait.

"It was a once in a lifetime experience."

The trip culminated with an award-winning performance at a Ukrainian Independence Day celebration in the capital city of Kyiv on Aug. 24.

Participating in the nation’s foremost display of civic pride "brought a whole other level of meaning and power and passion to the performance," Picklyk said.

Dancers performed in the city’s historic Maidan Square, where violent protests erupted four years earlier.

"It was a very powerful experience for the dancers to be there and feel the meaning of what that place is," Picklyk said.

Renowned dancer and choreographer Hryhoriy Chapkis then surprised Selo with a grand prix trophy and an invitation to perform next summer in Bulgaria.

Picklyk said the honour was "totally unexpected," as the dancers didn’t realize they were being adjudicated.

Visits to villages were also a valuable part of the trip, allowing the dancers an opportunity to encounter Ukraine’s rural hospitality.

In Mamaivtsi, they performed in the village’s small cultural centre.

"The people that came out were genuinely touched that there were these performers from Canada, they were just so happy that the culture is alive and well," Picklyk said.

In the Carpathian Mountains, villagers in Bukovets asked a male dancer to participate in an elaborate annual recreation of a traditional wedding celebration.

"The effort that the village goes through to present this—the food, the costuming, the horses—it’s remarkable," Picklyk said.

Sprinkled throughout the trip were performances at other cultural festivals, and workshops with top-tier dancers in cities like Lviv, in western Ukraine. A train ride to the seaside city of Odessa offered a chance to go swimming in the Black Sea.

"Wherever we performed, we were always very warmly welcomed," Picklyk said.

"By the end of the trip, I think all of the families that went certainly felt…a reconnection to their roots."

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