Shumka’s Ukrainka

September 20th
Time: 7:30 PM
Shuman Insurance Presentation Series
Cost: Adult: $64+gst | Student: $49+gst | Digital: $25+gst

The Four Faces of Lesya Ukrainka

Lesya Ukrainka is a renowned Ukrainian artist, musician, story- teller, poet, and writer. February 25, 2021 marked the 150th anniversary of her birth. She had a troubled life – suffering with physical ailments – and lived vicariously through her art. She is a legend among the Ukrainian diaspora, and as a woman, is especially inspiring in a patriarchal culture.

Ukrainian dance normally explores themes or stories, but not individuals. It depicts celebrations, but rarely the trials and challenges of life. Shumka’s Artistic Director, Les Sereda, is inspired to develop a dance theatre work for Shumka that focuses on the life of Lesya Ukrainka – its artistic angst, its physical hardships, its creative triumphs, and escapes.

Along with her literary achievements, Lesya Ukrainka explored ethnography and collected data on folk traditions, specifically, Ukrainian folk melodies. She recorded 220 of the latter, published a work on children’s games, songs, fairy tales and formed a collection “Folk Songs for Dance,” making her one of the pioneers of the ethnic studies scholarly field in Ukraine, amongst other accomplishments.

Lesya Ukrainka made an invaluable contribution to Ukrainian folklore as a collector and performer of folk music. Her repertoire included traditional, Cossack and lyrical songs, lullabies, children’s songs, ballads, ritual chants, and, most unique of all, fairy tales.

Ukrainka was well on her way to becoming a pianist, but due to tuberculosis of the bone, she did not attend any outside educational establishment. Writing was to be the main focus of her life.

Despite her continuous pain and intense medical treatments, Ukrainka led an extremely active cultural and social life. She was a member of the Ukrainian national and feminist movements, published three poetry collections in L’viv from 1893 to 1902, and wrote over 100 poems throughout 1903-1913 during her trips abroad.

Said Sereda, “I believe that Lesya lived out her dreams through her writing. Her health limited her physically but through her writing she could experience the world. She wrote not only of love, but also social justice and human rights. This was at a time when such subjects were frowned upon. Now is a time when these subjects are at the forefront.”

Lesya Ukrainka journeyed through her imagination living the life she never could. And she did so with strength, conviction and a deep sense of artistry that depicted the real and imaginary. The current generation of the Ukrainian diaspora has limited knowledge and understanding about the significance of her life and her work. Knowing their belief in social justice, human rights, and women’s rights, she is the legend they know little about.

Shumka can help to tell her story.

Artistic Inspiration and Innovation: This project has great potential for Shumka. Rarely have we made such a relevant social statement with our work, and this piece – through the story of the woman who inspired it – would be a way for us to support women’s rights, human rights, and profile the challenges of debilitating illness on an individual’s life. Although it is a story from over 150 years ago, it speaks to today’s societal social causes and in such will inspire our young dancers and our audiences in new ways.

Its relevance will be unprecedented in our repertoire. Shumka has always prided itself on not being a traditional showcase of museum pieces, and this work would be a shining example of how our art form can be poignant for today’s audiences.

The story of Lesya Ukrainka is not a well-known one outside of the Ukrainian diaspora. But it is inspiring and uplifting; centuries ahead of its time. This is an opportunity to increase awareness and to educate the public about this historical Ukrainian woman who was so advanced in terms of women’s issues and human rights.

The importance of the ethnographic and biographical research is also key to this project. Instead of our usual imagined characters, this story is one of historical significance and must reflect that accurately.

The importance of the musical research and melodic threads to pull the story together musically, is increased in this work as well, for much of Lesya’s creation focused on folk music and melodies. The importance of technical/projection and state-of-the-art lighting design is of increased importance as well, in that we wish to tell a story of the “life to which Lesya escaped her physical pain and disability through her imagination and artistic creation.” A story within a story per se.

All of these elements play a uniquely significant role in the development of this work, providing a team of Ukrainian/ Canadian artists with an opportunity to develop their skills and enrich their knowledge and experience base. The project allows them to collaborate in a manner consistent with their artistic vision and intentions, and for their artistic voices to develop and emerge.

This performance is part of the Shuman Insurance Presentation Series and is show sponsored by Scott’s Quality Lawn Care.