Mae G. Banner
Ukrainian National Dance Company
Theatre, Nov. 9
Circles, lines, chains—all the formations of Eastern European
folk dancing—were elaborated to the nth degree in a festive
show by the Virsky Ukrainian National Dance Company. About
60 exuberant dancers, accompanied by a full orchestra, filled
the stage at Proctor’s with all the colors of a basket of
patterned Easter eggs.
from the balcony, the changing patterns of regional dances
from the Carpathian Mountains to the Black Sea resembled a
finely calibrated halftime show, except that the choreography
was much more sophisticated. General and artistic director
Myroslav Vantukh has followed in the ballet-informed footsteps
of the founding director, Pavlo Virsky. Both men transform
folk material into spectacles of joyous theatricality.
The program of 14 dances was filled with variety. We saw courting
dances, shepherd’s dances, gypsy dances, martial dances with
long staffs or swords, and even a sailor’s dance, in which
the typical squats and kicks of Ukrainian male dancing merge
with the lilt of the hornpipe. Those heel-and-toe steps you
may have learned in third-grade gym class are surprisingly
versatile when they’re combined with kicks and spins in intricate
The Virsky, now on a national tour, has performed some of
these dances at Proctor’s before. This time, they were better
than ever—clearer, more precise, and more expressive because
every step and every path was so well honed. There was no
clumping, nothing of the stereotyped peasant. Rather, the
choreography showed a strong affinity with ballet. You could
slide some of these dances into Balanchine’s Coppelia or
Nutcracker without missing a beat.
Gender roles are highlighted with different vocabularies of
steps for men and women, yet the Virsky women are more strong
than simpering. In the Embroideresses dance, the women
weave long colored ribbons into a cat’s cradle of colors,
stepping in and out, over and under their ever-changing grid.
The delicate mathematics of the dance was a Ukrainian version
of double-dutch jump rope games.
What the women do with ribbons, the men do with long pointed
sticks. Zaporozchi, billed as the national Ukrainian
dance of Cossacks, presents warfare rituals of 12th-century
tough guys defending their turf. These games of strike and
counterstrike were training for serious battles. Translated
into theater, the dance includes comic relief in the form
of two interlopers who are first beaten and then accepted
into the group.
The Cossack dances, like all the men’s dances, create frames
to show off astounding solo turns that focus on each man’s
particular forte: squat-kicks, pivoting kicks while balancing
on one hand, mile-high split leaps, dizzying barrel turns,
cartwheels, flips, handstands and headstands. Each athlete
comes forward and, with no visible preparation, launches into
his amazing feat, stops on a dime and comes up smiling. It’s
very exciting and it always leaves the audience wanting more.
As generous as it is joyous, the Virsky troupe gives more.
Every dance had its own curtain call in the form of a brief
reprise of its final sequence, complete with male solo turns.
Dancers stepped offstage in clean formation, and immediately
returned to do it again.
Brilliant costumes added variety to the kaleidoscopic show.
Paprika red, grassy green, patent-leather black and snow white
dominated, but some dances sported billowing orange pants
for the men, or cornflower-blue skirts and embroidered aprons
for the women. Scores of regional patterns and styles were
represented: caracul caps, round felt hats, flowered coronets;
swing skirts, accordion-pleated skirts; wide-fringed pants,
red capes, or shepherds’ cloaks.
The Gypsy Dance, based on material from Bessarabia,
introduced women in harem-like costumes with head scarves,
wide, long skirts and bare midriffs. When the women arched
their backs and sank to the floor, their skirts spread like
a field of flowers. Virile, thigh-slapping men entered and
pulled their partners up for a passionate duet that flashed
in a prism of color.
Because the Virsky dancers are thoroughly trained in a state-sponsored
choreographic school, they have acquired the physical discipline
that lets them dance freely. Their stagings are highly stylized
and their dancing overflows with spirit. May they come back