This belated blog post comes after a whirlwind adventure for Lehenda. It has taken us some time to really comprehend what we've achieved as dancers, within ourselves and as a company together. It is difficult to sum up this experience in so little words, so I'm not going to try and give you the full review to the very last detail.
Our New York show was a surreal and emotional end to the North American shows of Kazka. It hit home during rehearsals, as we practiced with our creative artists (unfortunately minus Symon and Keith) on stage taking a bow for the first time. Our costume designer stared into the empty soon to be filled auditorium and cried, tears of joy at this realisation. Our set designer spoke a hundred miles a minute, excitement in every word. All the creative artists mirrored our expressions, pure joy with the final kazka show for our tour beginning in over an hour.
After so many shows you could see and feel the improvement. The characters were embedded within us, effortlessly taking the stage with smiles we need not act, that carried on backstage and into our dressing rooms. We rushed our final quick changes and touch ups, heard the final clicks of heels on concrete and swishing material as dancers ran to there final entrances. The final bright lights opened for our finale, the music began, and the smiles still stayed as we sent our energy right into the audiences' seats.
We celebrated that night in the CYM Ukrainian hall in East Village with fellow Ukrainian friends and community members. Riding back in taxis and on subways through the streets of New York, crossing Broadway and through Times Square we couldn't believe how quickly it all flew. So many months of hard work, we were here and gone in a day.
But our performances didn't end there, as we boarded the bus and headed to Soyuzivka Heritage Centre for their Annual Ukrainian Festival. So welcoming and gracious, they helped us settle into our small cottage style accommodation. For the CYM and PLAST dancers in our company, it really did feel like our ploshty, American style, with the full green forest around us and shared dorm like accommodation. With only a few hours till our first performance, we did not have time to take in our surroundings. The stage was beautiful, as the bottom of the resort with the whole of it's magnificence able to view our performance. It you were to look through the trees behind the stage, a beautiful scenic view of the mountains and forest could be seen. You could say Kazka was in its element here.
We performed in front of a small but welcoming crowd that night, but were told this was not the main night, and tomorrow night would hold a much greater crowd. The following day produced a heat we were stunned with. In the high 30's on a stage that had been burning under it's rays, it was important for us to stay hydrated, well nourished and as sane as possible. We performed during the day to start at the peak of its heat, and dashed to the pool post performance to cool our burning feet and faces. The time flew, and soon we were preparing for our final dances. We danced Hopak Kalyna and an extract of Act II of Kazka, the Village girls.
A moment I'd like to share that our girls will never forget, and have spoken of non-stop since returning home, was that last dance. It was the biggest crowd we'd performed in front of to date. With over 6,000 people at the festival, the energy was incredible. The lights amongst a full house, with the forest trees lining it's sides, we once again smiled effortlessly. Our boys were in the crowd also, having finished their performances for the day, cheering the loudest of everyone there, and bouncing our inflatable kangaroo up and down for everyone to see. We danced our hearts out, feeling immense joy as we locked eyes with each other. Taking our final bows and leaving the stage after a long day's dancing, we left the stage feeling energised by the crowd.
It was incredible knowing we'd shared a stage with so many amazing dancers and performers, including DziDzio, Vasyl Popadiuk, Oksana Bilozir and the Roma Pryma Bohachevsky Workshop dancers. Vasyl's own daughter made friends with our Director's son Emeliyan, as they played and ran around backstage like they'd been friends for years. We will cherish these moments forever, they are precious and once in a lifetime. We partied the night away with fellow performers and crowd members, but more importantly as a dance company that was now closer than ever before.
On our way back to NYC, we stopped at CYM ploshtya, where they took us on a tour of their camp grounds. Similar in some respects whilst different in others, we felt quite at home and comfortable with the people we met.
The rest of our stay consisted of retail therapy, long walks through central park and across the Brooklyn bridge, visiting historic monuments and towers, and seeing some of New York's greatest musicals. There wasn't enough time for us to see it all and while some continued to travel or stay in America, others set off home the following week. On our last night together some of us gathered in a hotel room to watch our last performance, emotions hit hard as we said our goodbyes. They weren't for long as we'd soon gather again in Melbourne socially or at our next rehearsal, but it was goodbye to the tour and the experience we all had performing and spreading the Ukrainian spirit together. It was also congratulations to ourselves, to the creatives and to the Lehenda family as a whole, for everything we'd accomplished. And finally, it was a room full of excitement and expectations, for the many more experiences like this to come, for Kazka and for Lehenda.
So the company is back at rehearsals, and though we miss being on tour, it's far from the end. We're training hard and more determined than ever to be better than before, and bring the magic we felt on tour to life again. Lehenda's journey has only just begun...
Written by Maria Zhdanko - Company Dancer
Image Credit: Oleg Deshin, Dina Studio Photography