A full report on our North American Tour of Kazka was published in the September 2015 edition of Church and Life and also The Free Thought!
If you don't receive these papers you can read the report below.
KAZKA – The Fairytale Comes to Life
Not so long ago, in previous editions of ‘Church & Life’ and ‘The Free Thought’, we shared with readers the story of the creation of KAZKA – a fairytale of love, loss ...and a mysterious blue fox. But KAZKA is also the story of a group of talented young Ukrainian Australians, whose dream it was to bring to life an exciting new dance production based on traditional Ukrainian fairytales; a folk ballet the likes of which had never before been seen on an Australian stage.
The KAZKA production and tour were a passionate undertaking by a team of almost 60 determined individuals who, with a little bit of blood, buckets of sweat and even some tears, came together with a common vision to promote our rich culture and heritage through dance. In producing KAZKA, Artistic Director Melanie Moravski Dechnicz’s aim was to present a new and unique full-length folk ballet that would captivate and engage Ukrainian, Australian and international audiences alike. And that it did!
Many readers will have personally experienced the Australian part of the KAZKA tour and if you haven’t, then you undoubtedly will have heard about it. Lehenda performed to packed houses in Adelaide, twice in Melbourne and then in Sydney. Audiences were left spellbound, rising to their feet and calling for more at the end of each show. The overwhelming response to these early performances left the ensemble in no doubt that they were part of something big, but they were also a little apprehensive about what lay ahead. It was one thing to have a successful tour in Australia, but taking KAZKA on the road to North America was quite something else.
Each of the dancers and crew are familiar with the high calibre of Ukrainian dance ensembles in North America. Most of them have spent hours studying videos of famous ensembles such as Shumka and Cheremosh in Canada, and who hasn’t heard of Syzokryli, Hromovytsia or Voloshky in the United States? Each of these dance companies has a reputation for performance excellence and innovation. How would Lehenda stack up against them, we all wondered. With North American audiences used to such high standards of Ukrainian dance and production, what would they think of a bunch of audacious young Aussies of Ukrainian heritage, coming to show them what they could do?
Even before they boarded their flight out of Tullamarine Airport, the KAZKA dancers and crew had vowed that at every step of the way, whether in rehearsal or the all-important performances, they would collectively put their best feet forward and demonstrate that, although Ukrainians living in Australia are geographically about as far removed from their traditional homeland as you can get, they were still proud of their heritage, filled with true Ukrainian spirit and determined to do their nation proud.
The first leg of the international tour saw Lehenda arrive in Toronto, Canada in the middle of summer. It was a treat for them all, having left dreary cold Melbourne during one of the coldest winters on record. The Lehenda dancers were welcomed like royalty and made to feel immediately at home. With such a tight touring itinerary, there was not much time for sightseeing on that first day, as their first performance was just a day away and there were things to be done, preparations to be made. It was with great trepidation that the dancers and crew prepared for the Toronto show, the company’s first international performance. Nerves were stretched during rehearsal, as there was so much hanging on this first show. Everybody knew that if Toronto went well, then the Ukrainian social media grapevine would spread the word to the other performance cities, but if it didn’t... It was make or break time. However, they need not have worried, as over 650 people rose to their feet at the end of the first staging of KAZKA overseas, delivering to the dancers a standing ovation that went on for many minutes.
After a couple of days downtime, playing tourists around Toronto, going to the baseball to watch the Blue Jays and visiting Niagara falls, it was time to move on to Chicago. On arrival in Chicago, the reception received by the group from a number of Ukrainian community organisations was overwhelming. Upon reflection, for many of the dancers and crew, the time spent in Chicago was the best time of the entire tour. Not only was there much fun had, visiting famous Chicago landmarks such as ‘The Bean’ and the
waterfront, the audience reaction to KAZKA was truly humbling. The seemingly never-ending calls of “Molodtsi” reverberated around the theatre and both the dancers and crew knew that they were sharing a special moment. Many in the Chicago audience were what are commonly referred to as ‘Novoprybuli’, or recent arrivals from Ukraine, and so many of them hung around after the performance, wanting to meet the young Ukrainian Aussies who had shown them that, even in a country as far away as Australia, the Ukrainian spirit was not only alive, but it was thriving.
Following on from Chicago the group travelled to Wilmington via Washington. Once again, they all got to play tourist and visit most of the famous landmarks, such as the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. Arriving in Wilmington after a long day spent on the road, the group had an early night, as the next day was performance day. After yet another great show, which also happened to be attended by Kateryna Yushchenko, the former First Lady of Ukraine, and which included yet more standing ovations, it was time for an early night, as the next morning the group was heading to New York. New York was the city that many in the group had been most looking forward to. The famous Times Square, Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan, Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, Grand Central Station – these were all on everybody’s must- do list of places to go, things to see and fortunately, the group got to spend the most time in this amazing city. Even though they’ve been back for almost two months, the dancers still excitedly reminisce about that first night in the Big Apple, where they walked through the city proudly wearing their Ukrainian costumes, mingling with the crowds and posing for photos in Times Square.
In New York the audience reaction to KAZKA was rapturous and uplifting and once again, many in the audience waited around well after the performance ended, just to meet the cast and crew. The New York performance was especially poignant and memorable, as it was first time that most of the creative team had come together at a performance of KAZKA. At the conclusion of the performance, during the standing ovations, four of the principal creatives, Melania Moravski Dechnicz, Nicholas Buc, Natalia Moravski and Stephan Moravski, were presented with floral bouquets amid further calls of “Molodtsi”. It was a moment that nobody will ever forget.
Even though New York was the final performance city for KAZKA, the dancers’ work was not yet done. Over the weekend of 10th to 12th July, the largest Ukrainian cultural festival was taking place at Soyuzivka, the Ukrainian Cultural and Heritage Resort located north of New York in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains. Lehenda was invited to perform in the festival alongside many high profile acts from Canada, the United States and Ukraine. For the dancers and crew, performing at Soyuzivka in front of an audience of over 6,000 was an unforgettable experience. Despite the stifling heat, they happily and proudly got on with the job, performing each day in front of an audience who made it clear just how happy they were to see the Cossack Thunder from Downunder.
All too quickly, Lehenda’s international tour of KAZKA was drawing to a close. For dancers and crew, it had been an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime experience, one that they will treasure forever. Ask any of them and they will tell you that there were fun times, but there was lots of hard work too. There were never- ending bus trips, but there were exciting boat trips as well. There was lots of good, hearty Ukie food, as well as lots of food not really fit for a dancer’s waistline. There was laughter and there were tears, thankfully mainly tears of joy. But more than anything, the group will tell you that what stood out for them the most were those moments of sheer pride, when they all came together on stage to realise their vision of showcasing traditional Ukrainian dance and folklore in a fresh and creative way. Keeping the Ukrainian spirit alive in the diaspora is precisely what Lehenda strives to do through its passionate performances. As dancers, members of Lehenda see it as their duty to keep their culture alive and to promote a strong, vibrant Ukrainian identity.
Some words from the cast and crew...
Andrei Kostka – aka ‘The Dido’
KAZKA was not just another Ukrainian show that managed to tour overseas. It was not just the seminal work of the group of artists concerned. It was much, much more than that. KAZKA, in essence, was the representation of 67 years of settlement of a diasporic community in the farthest flung corner of the world.
A community with the least contact with either its roots or another diasporic settlement. A community reliant on its own resources, but fortunate to be in a land that valued its immigrants and their origins. KAZKA represents the selfless work of a community of volunteers over generations, not just in dance, but in schools, youth and spiritual organisations that have managed to pass onto a future generation a Ukrainian identity in the landscape of the great southern land. That first rehearsal is burned into the hard drive of my memory forever. From the sight of the initial choreography to the computer generated sound of a rough draft of the original score, everything just felt ‘right’! It soon became obvious that this was going to be a privilege to participate in as a guest artist with Lehenda in this venture. For me, the return from dance retirement was an undertaking in itself and merits a written piece on its own. In short, it was a miracle how the balls of work, family and fitness were cast into the air and all somehow managed to land in the right spots. With the gracious support of family I got there, and hopefully was able to blend in with the fresh faced youth with whom I not only shared the stage, but a once in lifetime experience. As sets and costumes and sundry appeared, that ‘right’ feeling just got ‘righter’! Throughout the tour, I could not feel anything other than proud. I could hold my head high, my shoulders broad and my chest out. We had accomplished this, those that came before me, us, and those that will follow! There is no one word that describes the tour, it’s just that feeling you get when a collection of like-minded folk take on an undertaking, go through a baptism of fire and come out the other side. Show days were hard work, but ultimately rewarding and no obstacle was insurmountable to the pool of talent present. Much was learned and a lot of experience gained, and of course there was fun! The interaction with other diaspora communities was priceless. For so many reasons KAZKA was intoxicating for all concerned ...and I think I want more!
Stephan Moravski – Set and Graphic Designer
I have been involved in KAZKA from its very beginning, from when Melania came to me and said “I have an idea”. From that point on I knew that with her passion and dedication we would be in for one hell of a ride and that our story would be told. Five years later, after having moved to New York myself to complete my masters and to pursue my career in set design, I found myself standing on stages and watching my sets being hung, running around and problem solving and doing what it was I do now professionally, but for our story KAZKA, which half a decade earlier had just been a seed of an idea. It was my love for story telling that led me to a career in set design, and my love for Ukrainian culture and its dispersion that made this whole experience so rewarding for me. With the limited resources we had as a new company, it was at times stressful, but ultimately breathtaking to see the dancers and team build and paint the sets from my specifications, detail the props, assemble the stage, and to join us not only in their physicality, but in their spirit to tell this story. The whole KAZKA experience has warmed my heart and its success has stirred the hearts of thousands of audience members, which for me, is its ultimate success – this is why we tell stories.
Yarema Pryslak – aka ‘The Blue Fox’ (a shared role)
As a cast member, going on tour with Lehenda with its production KAZKA was one of the best things I’ve ever done. Travelling to Canada and the United States with the group was a fantastic experience. Not only did we get to perform in some amazing places, but as a group, we all got so swept up in the surreal feeling that came with performing in places like New York, we spent the three weeks on tour almost drifting as though through a dream. Some of our company had toured internationally before, but there were a lot of us, the younger members especially, who had never thought that they would be on one of those tours, myself included. That being said, even for the experienced dancers, they had never been a part of something like KAZKA, as it isn’t your typical Ukrainian concert. We had something exciting and unique and we were going to bring to an audience that, unlike Australia, almost has an over-abundance of Ukrainian dance schools and dance companies. Needless to say, it was a daunting prospect, but an exciting one all the same. During the tour, the Company became closer than we ever had been before. Being so close to a group like ours for such a long time, you start to see your friends from different perspectives. It’s rare you get such an opportunity.
Melanie Moravski Dechnicz – Artistic Director
Staging KAZKA was a dream and a mammoth undertaking for such a long time, that it now feels surreal that we have shared it with so many audiences in Australia and North America. It brings me such joy to see the energy, enthusiasm and excitement that it has brought to my dancers. Also, the way that this excitement
has been transferred to audiences, both Ukrainian and non-Ukrainian alike. Touring KAZKA was full of great adventures, seeing new places and meeting great people; and an experience all involved will hold close for a very long time. The last six months have transformed our relatively new dance company into an experienced touring company, with the cast and crew all knowing their way around theatres, working as a well oiled machine to bump every show in and out. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all who were involved in staging KAZKA. Without the extreme dedication and generosity of our creatives, production team, dancers, crew, sponsors, supporters, family and friends who all believed in this project, KAZKA would never have been told. They say it takes a village to raise a child, in this case it has taken a village to tell a story! We look forward to continuing to share KAZKA with many more audiences.
And the all-important thank-you...
We gratefully acknowledge and thank the following sponsors for their valued support of KAZKA: Karpaty Foundation, Slipetsky Property, PLAST Ukrainian Scouts - Sydney Stanytsia, Mimivic Group, Dara Joinery, Ukrainian Studies Foundation in Australia, BMS Telecorp, Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organisations – National Fund, Fielden Management, Ukrainian Youth Association CYM – Sydney Oseredok, St. Bernard’s College, Quadtec Laser Engraving, Jarema Polatajko, Dr Rohan Crouch, RAD Consulting, Telergie, Association of Ukrainians in Victoria, Veselka Ukrainian Dance Ensemble, PLAST KPS, Association of Ukrainians in Victoria – Geelong Branch, Tobin Brothers Funerals and Haigh’s Chocolates. We’d also like to extend our sincere thanks and appreciation to ‘Samopomich’ Self-Reliance Ukrainian American Federal Credit Union for their wise counsel and invaluable support during our international tour.
Just one more night...
By popular demand, Lehenda is bringing KAZKA to Geelong for one night only. So if you missed it the first time around, or you just want to watch the blue fox dance one more time, come along to the Playhouse at GPAC on Saturday 10th October at 6:00pm.
Tickets: $32.50 adults, $25 students & concession, $18 students under 12 years