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Cheremosh Dance Festival preserves Ukrainian culture and heritage

This weekend, the Arden Theatre will be filled with bright red boots, embroidered dance costumes and lots of dazzling acrobatics at the Cheremosh Ukrainian Dance Festival.
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PREVIEW

Cheremosh Ukrainian Dance Festival

May 8 to 12

Arden Theatre

5 St. Anne Street

Adjudication performances: Free

Sunday Show of Stars tickets: $20 adults, $10 10 years and younger Call the Arden 780-459-1542 or at www.ticketmaster.ca.


This weekend, the Arden Theatre will be filled with bright red boots, embroidered dance costumes and lots of dazzling acrobatics at the Cheremosh Ukrainian Dance Festival.

A major Western Ukrainian Canadian dance festival and one of the largest in North America, Cheremosh attracts more than 1,200 high-calibre dancers annually.

They arrive from 41 different dance studios across the metropolitan Edmonton region, Westlock, St. Paul, Vermilion and Calgary. Out-of-province ensembles also roll in from Yellowknife, Prince George and Saskatoon.

“Last year, we even had interest from a group in the Ukraine, but it became a cost factor,” said festival director Vanessa Wiebe, also a nine-year professional dancer with Cheremosh Company

For organizers, adjudicators and dancers, the festival is a way to practice their culture and strengthen the community.

“At the end of the day, we just want everybody to love dance and preserve the Ukrainian culture.”

During the festival’s first four days, dancers perform for adjudicators who assess professionalism, technique, performance and big smiles. Sunday is capped with Show of Stars, a variety showcase of the highest scores performing alongside Cheremosh’s professional company.

“This final showcase is something you’ve never seen before. It’s cool to watch – the colour, the excitement, the energy. Ukrainian dance is happy. It’s bright and colourful,” Wiebe noted.

Dancers perform choreography representing traditional dances from eight of Ukraine’s major regions. To the untrained eye, the dances are fairly similar.

However, Wiebe notes the steps, music, costumes and subtle nuances vary reflecting the traditional nature of each region. For instance, in Poltava, a central area of Ukraine, girls wear large floral headpieces and men don big showy pants.

In the colder mountainous area of Hutzl, dancers are more likely to don lots of layers adorned with fur.

“Dance is a huge part of who we are and we are a big community. It’s a proud culture and through dance we create bonds of friendship. Once you are connected in the Ukrainian community, it helps in all aspects of life. We’re a very tight-knit community.”

When Cheremosh planted its flag 35 years ago, there were no Ukrainian Dance Festivals. Dancers could only express their cultures by registering in the Ukrainian categories at mainstream festivals, explained Wiebe.

To showcase their culture, the noncompetitive festival was started by Corinne Warwaruk and Patricia Creighton, two current dancers at the time.

“When the Cheremosh started nearly 35 years ago, there was no way to enter just a cultural festival. This was the first really big festival promoting Ukrainian culture and dance.”

Today’s dancers range from about five years old to more mature ex-professional dancers no longer able to power those incredible leaps and high jumps, but who still love to perform more modest choreography.

The Arden Theatre's traditional theatre format is part of what gives the festival a certain allure.

“The Cheremosh Festival is always held in a traditional theatre and it gives students the opportunity to dance on a professional stage. Many kids from small towns dance in community halls. So when you put them in a professional level showcase, it becomes (a) fun experience for them.”

A Ukrainian market returns from Thursday to Saturday at the St. Albert Place plaza. U Kreations from Prince Albert is setting up a 20-foot-by-40-foot tent and will display assorted items such as Ukrainian ceramics, books, purses, wallets and home décor. Prairie Catering will also be on site serving piping hot traditional dishes.




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Anna Borowiecki

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