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Storied Sask. Ukrainian dance group marks milestone decades in the making


A 60th-anniversary celebration is no easy feat during a pandemic, but the Yevshan Ukrainian Folk Ballet Ensemble managed to mark a big milestone with only a few minor adjustments to their plans.

“We’ve been planning this event for about three years, we had to reschedule and change the format so it’s been really difficult as it has been for everyone during this pandemic, but we finally feel we’re at a place where we can showcase what we’ve been working on so hard,” Luba Wojcichowsky, Yevshan alumnus told CTV News.

With safety protocols in place for guests, the current performing group had to wear masks while performing which created challenges — but they pulled it off.

“For the last two years, they’ve been in the studio and on Zoom or dancing in boxes marked on the floor. For the dancers it’s a great accomplishment that they’ve been able to put this show together during a pandemic,” Wojcichowsky said.

Yevshan was one of the first Ukrainian dance groups in Western Canada in 1960 according to Wojcichowsky who was thrilled that dancers from all six decades were represented at Saturday’s celebration.

One of the original members from the 1960s, Bohdan Zerebecky who also became the group's artistic director in 1974, was on hand to celebrate the achievements of the group he had a part in shaping over the years.

“The 1980s, when we came back from studying dance in England, Yevshan was in a low ebb and we had to restructure it and after restructuring it, we produced a 25th-anniversary production,” Zerebecky said.

That production toured all corners of Saskatchewan, getting the Yevshan name to many communities.

The group was sought out to perform at high profile events including The Brier and Jeux Canada Games. Marcella Zerebecky, also a former dancer and director of the group recalls how the troupe could mobilize impressively on short notice.

“The Duke and Duchess of York arrived in 1989. One of the groups that was supposed to perform, cancelled, and at the very last minute they asked us to come perform,” Zerebecky said.

The Zerebecky’s say, their mission was to elevate Ukrainian dance as a discipline here in Saskatoon to help dancers train at high levels and not endure injuries. Much of that came from the inclusion of ballet training.

“We tried to develop something so that we could have male dancers that could dance for long periods of time without having to stop because of an injury,” Marcella Zerebecky said.

Over the years there has been close to a thoupeople involved in the group’s success. Just over 300 people came out to the anniversary celebration.

“So many alumni came to the event who live not only in Saskatoon, but from Regina and from other cities and other provinces and it’s nice to see them and be part of our group,” Vitali Sorokotiaguine, current artistic director told CTV News.

Sorokotiaguine moved to Saskatoon from Ukraine in the mid 1990s to take on the role as artistic director. He lead the group to performances in Ukraine multiple times as well as tours to Chile, Cuba, the Balkans, New York City and San Diego. Each time bringing the ensemble’s unique flavour to audiences.

“We are always evolving but always staying really true to Ukrainian roots and Ukrainian culture, and that’s something that we’re very proud of,” Wojcichowsky said.

Having dancers travel to teach younger children in smaller communities in Saskatchewan over the years also helped the artform grow around the province.

In helping to organize the event, Wojcichowsky says one of the biggest themes in talking to alumni and current dancers was the connection to Yevshan as a family.

“Through the 60s, 70s, 80’s and 90s, and present everyone came back to the fact that once you’re a Yevshan dancer, you’re always a Yevshan dancer,” she said. Top Stories

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