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Canberra Today 15°/19° | Wednesday, November 29, 2023 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Ukraine ballet dances ‘Forest Song’ for peace

The Grand Kyiv Ballet of Ukraine in a scene from “Forest Song”… never before seen outside Ukraine.

THE Grand Kyiv Ballet of Ukraine is coming to The Playhouse soon with an enticing double-bill that includes a classic Ukraine folktale that carries a poignant message about peace in the world.

The Ukrainian showpiece is a one-hour version of the ballet “Forest Song”, described as “a fairytale for adults and children”, to be followed by the last part of the popular comic ballet, “Don Quixote”, complete with gypsies, bullfighters, lavish costumes and dazzling leaps and bounds. 

When I catch up by phone with the founder-director and principal dancer of the company, Oleksandr Stoianov, he is in Wellington, in NZ, on tour. 

Named People’s Artist of Ukraine in 2019, he is known for his virtuosic high jumps and energy and has even been tagged the “Nureyev” of Ukraine. 

As director, he’s now running a pretty tight ship, touring here, he tells me, with 35 dancers instead of the usual 70, one sound operator, one lighting person and three stage-hands, although his ultimate aim is to have two such companies on tour simultaneously. 

Sometimes he performs himself, but isn’t sure whether we’ll see him in Canberra – they have three couples dancing and they will change nightly. 

Normally his dancing partner is his wife, prima ballerina Ekaterina Kukhar, but after the war in Ukraine broke out while they were on tour in France, things changed dramatically overnight.

“When war broke on February 24 [2022] my wife and I were touring in France… the kids got on the phone, crying and saying the war had started and rockets were flying,” he says. 

“We couldn’t get home, so they came by car with a friend to the border with Poland where we went to meet them.

“It took us eight hours to get there but three days for the kids, as there was a huge panic…we found the children sleeping in a refugee camp.” 

Stoianov says he has never seen his wife cry so much. Her only objective was to collect their two children, Anastasia, 8, and Timur, 14, and settle them in a friendly, safe place.

Principal dancer and director Oleksandr Stoianov… called the “Nureyev” of Ukraine.

They’re with her now in the US while Stoianov continues with the company, which is now making a new home to live and rehearse in a town not far from the border between Poland and Ukraine. 

In such circumstances, the company will take the opportunity to showcase Ukrainian national dance by highlighting the first part, “Forest Song”, a shortened, 50-minute version of a ballet which, Stoianov tells me, is rich in costume, folklore and music.

A magical love story that has a truly weird ending, “Forest Song” looks at the conflict between the human world and nature in a tale of love between a man, Lukash, and a fantastical forest creature, Mavka, who longs for peace in her country, “just as in Ukraine today”, Stoianov adds.

Based on a dramatic fairytale of the same name written by Lesya Ukrainka in 1911, the tale was turned into a ballet by Ukrainian composer Mykhailo Skorulskyi in 1936 and first staged in 1946 in Kyiv, but never before, he says, seen outside Ukraine. 

Audiences can expect to be treated to difficult duets, jumps, rotations and virtuosic fouettés.

So, what is the future of the Grand Kyiv Ballet?

According to Stoianov, the plan is to tour around the world. They already have engagements in Europe, in Germany, Poland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark, and are looking for support to bring a full production of “Forest Song” down under at a later date. 

The Grand Kyiv Ballet of Ukraine, The Playhouse, May 21-23.


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Helen Musa

Helen Musa

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