Rusalka Ukrainian dance troupe still kick­ing at 50

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Jen Zoratti

EIGH­TEEN dancers from the Ukrainian Na­tional Fed­er­a­tion Dance School struck out on their own in 1962 and formed a hum­ble dance en­sem­ble, bonded by their shared Ukrainian her­itage and pas­sion for dance. Lit­tle did they know that 50 years later, Rusalka — named for the se­duc­tive wa­ter nymph of Ukrainian folk­lore — would be re­garded as Winnipeg’s pre­mière Ukrainian dance en­sem­ble. Over the past five decades, Rusalka has de­lighted au­di­ences all over the world with its ki­netic per­for­mances, danc­ing for the likes of Queen El­iz­a­beth II and Pope John Paul II. Many Rusalka dancers have gone on to have ca­reers in the arts — ac­tress Mimi Kuzyk is an alumna. More than just en­ter­tain­ment, Rusalka is a vi­tal part of Winnipeg’s large and vi­brant Ukrainian com­mu­nity; in fact, it still calls the his­toric UNF Hall on north Main Street home. There have been more than a few Rusalka mar­riages and many found­ing mem­bers, such as My­ron Tara­siuk, have chil­dren who dance in the en­sem­ble. He will per­form along with his daugh­ter An­dri­ana at the 50th an­niver­sary gala con­cert Sun­day at the Cen­ten­nial Con­cert Hall. Tara­siuk, 63, danced with Rusalka from 1962 un­til 1984. He re­calls those for­ma­tive years and hav­ing to ex­plain to peo­ple that Rusalka, de­spite bear­ing a name that started with the same three let­ters, wasn’t a Rus­sian dance troupe. It’s a telling anec­dote about pub­lic per­cep­tion at the time; Ukraine wouldn’t gain in­de­pen­dence from the Soviet Union un­til 1991 and it be­came part of Rusalka’s rai­son d’etre to fa­mil­iar­ize peo­ple with the his­tory and cul­ture of Ukraine. In 50 years of high­lights, 1979 sticks out for Tara­siuk. That was the year Rusalka first toured Ukraine. “It was a year I will never for­get,” says Tara­siuk, who is also a teacher in the English/Ukrainian bilin­gual pro­gram in the Seven Oaks School Di­vi­sion. “First of all we were, to my knowl­edge, the first Western troupe to per­form in Ukraine when it was still un­der the Com­mu­nist regime. That was an achieve­ment in it­self. And to top it off, we were danc­ing in front of rel­a­tives we never met be­fore. Em­bar­rass­ingly, I re­mem­ber los­ing fo­cus dur­ing a dance be­cause I was so fo­cused on the fact a grand­fa­ther I’d never met was in the au­di­ence. It was a very emo­tional trip.” For Rusalka dancer/board mem­ber Pa­trick Kuzyk, who danced from 1977 to 1989, that first tour to Ukraine was an eye-opener. He was 19 at the time. “It re­ally fo­cused my de­sire to dis­cover and pre­serve my Ukrainian her­itage,” Kuzyk says. The 1979 trip was in stark con­trast to Rusalka’s most re­cent Ukrainian tour. In Au­gust, the en­sem­ble per­formed as part of In­de­pen­dence Day cel­e­bra­tions in Lviv. “I’m in the same place, watch­ing my daugh­ter per­form, my son per­form and my niece per­form on In­de­pen­dence Day,” Tara­siuk mar­vels. “You never for­get some­thing like that. In 1979, ev­ery­thing in Ukraine was grey. There was noth­ing to do. There was pro­pa­ganda ev­ery­where. Now, ev­ery­thing is in colour. There are bars and cafes. It’s alive.” Kuzyk says Rusalka’s longevity can be owed to the ded­i­cated gen­er­a­tions of fam­i­lies who have tire­lessly vol­un­teered their time, en­ergy and money. “I can’t be­lieve the group has made it to 50 years, but I am thrilled it’s made it,” Tara­siuk says. “As with all per­form­ing com­pa­nies, you have your highs and lows and bud­gets are drained.” Rusalka’s legacy is be­ing car­ried on by “the kids,” many of them sec­on­dand third-gen­er­a­tion Cana­di­ans who want to keep their Ukrainian cul­ture alive. “You want to see young peo­ple in­volved and en­gaged. For them, it’s fun. And for the Ukrainian com­mu­nity, it’s a great thing. It of­fers a tie to our an­ces­tral roots. There are such good kids in this group; I can’t say enough about them,” Tara­siuk says. Kids like Kuzyk’s 17-year-old daugh­ter Kathryn, who grew up sur­rounded by Rusalka, al­ways dreamed of be­ing a dancer. That dream be­came re­al­ity in 2011. “The op­por­tu­ni­ties still sur­prise me,” she says.

SUP­PLIED PHOTO

Rusalka is named for the se­duc­tive wa­ter nymph of Ukrainian folk­lore.

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