A Bittersweet End:
Reflections on the Importance of Performance
In any other year, the end of spring would typically be marked with a year end concert for the performing arts groups of the AUUC in Vancouver. All of the learning, rehearsing and preparations throughout the cultural season would culminate in a concert of song, music and dance, typically woven together by our masterful MC.
Such concerts provide the performers and audience alike with the opportunity to embrace their Ukrainian culture through the shared experience witnessed on stage. Be it at the Hall with the familiar painted backdrop scenes or on large professional stages, members of the performing groups take great pride in always placing the same attention to detail in each and every performance.
Concerts, throughout our history, have provided the framework for all involved to offer their talent and expertise in ensuring that our cultural groups continued to grow and develop.
Our early immigrants arrived in Canada with songs and music from their villages, a culture familiar to them and one that would have sustained them through the early years. With new waves of Ukrainian immigrants came the experience of those who participated in the arts in Ukraine. And as time progressed, our organization saw the need to increase the training of our conductors, directors and performers. Countless seminars took place both in Canada and Ukraine and many of our organization’s members took advantage of them. Those held in Ukraine began as early as the 1950’s and were often 3 years in duration. They were held at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory of Music in Kyiv for the training of musical and choral conductors, and the Choreographic Institute in Kyiv for dance.
So, our early concerts were reflective of the knowledge and training of our artistic personnel found at that time. Even before our Hall was built, individuals began to nourish and grow our Ukrainian culture. One such individual was Damian Vykhristow, an incredible musician, singer, conductor and arranger who joined us in the 1920’s. You can hear these rare and unique recordings of Damian along with his wife Maria, Michael Levchuk and Mr. Vinnyk dating back to the 40’s. While somewhat scratchy due to their age, they are a testament to these amazing individuals. Click audio players below to listen.
Those who followed in his footsteps continued to enrich our organization and with each successive generation came the expertise they imparted to all of us. Our performing groups flourished through the 1960’s and 70’s and images of the dance classes and concerts during this period can be found in the remarkable footage assembled by Len Kowalewich. (Click this link to view video - please note that there is no audio at the beginning).
As time progressed, so too did the quality and level of the concerts being presented. Nowhere was this more evident than in dance. Dance seminars increased not only the technical abilities of the dancers but also a greater awareness of the regional peculiarities of Ukraine. There were in fact 18 dance seminars held either in Canada or Ukraine between the years 1971 and 1993. Gone were the familiar, often mismatched red satin skirts and black velvet jackets, that were the mainstay for many of the dances performed in the early years. Costuming, music and choreography were carefully matched to reflect the dances being performed thereby offering the audience a truer insight into the regions from where they came.
2018 National AUUC Workshop
Mention must also be made of the many National Festivals held throughout the history of the AUUC. Many cities across Canada hosted these Festivals including Vancouver. In 1958 a Festival was held to mark the 100th anniversary of BC. “Over 6,000 attended the Festival at the Exhibition Auditorium, with some 1,000 turned away through lack of seating.” (Our Stage, page 254) Recognizing the importance of uniting the organization and its members nationally, these large-scale productions helped to bridge the gap in miles and time. Often years in the making they tapped into the cultural wealth and resources of our members, culminating in a performance featuring hundreds of musicians, singers and dancers all sharing the stage.
Above: A performance at the Exhibition Auditorium 1958.
To the Right: Zoya Dancers
Just as we witnessed a growth in the material being presented on stage, so too was the development of those who worked behind the scenes. From the stage manager who ran the show to the backstage crew who ensured that everything and everyone was in place, each played a vital role in the success of our concerts.
Many of our Hall’s stage managers and technicians took on these responsibilities perhaps at first to fill a need, but as they honed their skills, they became invaluable to the organization and the concerts being presented. Larry Levchuk went from being a talented performer to serving as our stage manager for many years. (Click for backstage memories from Larry) Following in his footsteps, Masha Birkby too followed her passion in working behind the scenes. This passion established her career path which today sees her working on many large-scale productions, yet she returns to our community to offer her expertise. (Click here for Masha’s reflections.)
As we reminisce about those many concerts long ago and reflect upon the end of season concert that was to be, we are reminded of the countless individuals upon whose talents we’ve come to rely. From the teachers in our School who lovingly guide their charges throughout the season, to the directors and conductors of our senior performing groups and to all the volunteers, like Delores Fung, a long-time member of the AUUC Vancouver, each plays vital a role in the final product. (Click for a peek behind the scenes from Delores.)
And so, with 100 years of experience to guide us, we look forward to a time when we can continue to share the culture we all love, a culture that will continue to sustain us for years to come.
Another sampling of our early years comes from a TV show broadcast on CBC in 1964 and hosted by Pat Rose. While only the audio is available, it offers a window into the incredible talent of our cultural groups at this time. Special thanks are given to Karl Kobylansky and his choir as well as Len Kowalewich and his dancers and ends with a lovely song featuring Ed Honcharuk as the soloist.
(Click audio player below to listen.)
A special thank you to Larry Levchuk for making available the audio and video recordings from the early years.
We leave you with an image and feeling of one of our performers…
“When I wake up on the day of a big concert, I’m filled with both nerves and excitement. Those feelings carry me through the day while I pack up costumes and makeup, and as I head to the venue to begin rehearsals. The adrenaline builds until the curtains open, and everything melts away as the music takes over and you get to truly live in-the-moment on stage. Whether you’re 5 years old, 15 or 50…I don’t think that feeling goes away, and that’s why we love doing what we do.” Taralyn Karras, Dovbush Dancer