An internationally-recognized dance group from Winnipeg has been entertaining audiences around the world for nearly half a century. While the preparations for the group’s 50th anniversary are still underway, it has decided to try a little something different in the meantime.
The Rusalka Ukrainian Dance Ensemble, renowned for its always colourful, graceful and beautiful presentation of Ukrainian dance, will showcase Druzhi – A Celebration of Ukrainian Dance in Manitoba featuring the talents of 20 Ukrainian dance schools from across Manitoba. The show will also include performances by the world famous dance group.
"Rusalka did a similar concert in the mid-90s, so it has been about 15 years since this type of show was done," says Felicia Wiltshire, who currently sits on the group’s board of directors as communications chair.
The group wanted to do something different this year by bringing together "all the young talent from across the province for this show," Wiltshire says.
"Usually these kids only get to see each other dance in a competition setting, and we thought this would provide them with an opportunity to perform in a friendly setting — plus allow them the chance to see Rusalka perform.
"Druzhi means friend in Ukrainian," she continued. "We really wanted that to be the spirit of the show."
Because these groups usually only meet up in competitions, she says, they "never have a chance to join together to put on one great show that celebrates all of their talent and hard work."
Wiltshire estimates up to 200 dancers will be involved in the show with performers coming from as far away as Dauphin, Swan River, Oakburn, Brandon, the Interlake and various other Manitoban communities.
"The dancers performing will be between the ages of 12 and 17, so it is really the up-and-coming talent in the province," she says.
Rusalka came into being in 1962 with the late Peter Hladun as its director. Since then it has flourished and expanded its sights to include touring and performing throughout Europe, Asia and North America.
The ensemble has acted as a good will ambassador for Winnipeg and for Canada. It was the first Ukrainian Canadian dance group to visit Ukraine and study under Veryovka Ukrainian Dance Ensemble of Kiev, and has performed for Pope John Paul II.
Closer to home, the dancers have shared the stage with Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet and have collaborated in a production with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.
According to Wiltshire, the ensemble currently has 40 members and is under the artistic direction of Tom Mokry.
Tickets are $20 for the upcoming show (plus applicable fees) and are available for purchase online at ticketmaster.ca or at Ticketmaster outlets. The performance will take place Sun., March 18 at Pantages Playhouse Theatre.
Cheryl Girard is a Winnipeg-based writer who loves to write about all things Manitoban.
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