The year 2016 witnessed several anniversary celebrations of important Ukrainian artists and seasoned Ukrainian ensembles and organizations, as well as the birth of new groups. Even when not directly related to the ongoing specter of war in their homeland, the activities of Ukrainian artists and performers found a resonance far beyond their local communities.
The operatic world mourned the tragic death of baritone Vasyl Slipak, a soloist for 20 years with the Paris National Opera, who was killed by sniper fire in eastern Ukraine on July 29. Born in Lviv, Mr. Slipak, a former member of the Dudaryk boys’ choir, returned home to participate in the 2014 Maidan Revolution and joined the Right Sector 7th Battalion to fight Russia-backed militants near Luhansk.
Adopting the nom de guerre “Meph” (a reference to the aria of Mephistopheles from “Faust”), Mr. Slipak told his colleague at the Paris Opera, Guillaume Dussau, that it “was about culture and the freedom of his country… he insisted Ukraine needed him more than French opera.” In Paris he was well-known for his powerful portrayals from “Carmen,” “Aida” and “Faust” to rarities like Ulmann’s “Emperor of Atlantis.” Major media outlets throughout the world covered the story about the opera singer-turned warrior.
On March 20, Toronto’s Vesnivka Choir launched the first phase and public presentation of its ambitious e-library of Ukrainian choral music sheet music in the public domain of its webpage (www.vesnivka.com/e-Library). The goal is to share the choir’s vast collection of over 1,000 works composed by Ukrainian composers and by Canadian composers of Ukrainian heritage. This initiative was created as a legacy project of Vesnivka’s 50th anniversary and as a gift to all who share the love of singing and Ukrainian choral music. The archives allow the downloading of sheet music either in the original Ukrainian or in a transliterated form, using the English alphabet. This most valuable program also provides an audio recording and a YouTube link to view the actual score as a synthesizer generates all the voices. Now many Ukrainian songs with informative historical notes will be easily available to choir directors and singers all over the world.
Also in March in New York, Music at the Institute presented a program by the ensemble Origo directed by Eric Rice called “Musical Grammar in 17th Century Cracow and Kyiv.” The aim was to show the pollination of Western (Italy and Germany) musical styles in the lands of the East – Poland and Ukraine. Half the program was devoted to the divine liturgy of Mykola Dyletsky, one of the most important figures in early Ukrainian music and author of the first book on musical theory in Eastern Europe, “Musical Grammar.”
Violinist Solomiya Ivakhiv in February released her CD recording of 20th and 21st century Ukrainian music for violin and piano. Together with her pianist, Angelina Gadeliya, Dr. Ivakhiv began to record these compositions the previous summer. One unique aspect of the CD is the close personal collaboration she has with the living Ukrainian composers. Dr. Ivakhiv explained, “For me this was deeply personal as well as professional. I wanted to expose the journey of the featured Ukrainian composers and to raise awareness of Ukrainian musical culture.” Each of the composers faced many obstacles in trying to maintain his artistic voice during times of harsh Soviet oppression.
The CD features the music of Borys Liatoshynsky, Myroslav Skoryk, Valentyn Silvestrov, Yevhen Stankovych and others. Naxos Records distributed the CD “Ukraine – Journey to Freedom” to over 9,000 libraries and the album is currently in the top six classical music albums on iTunes.
The newly formed Women’s Bandura Ensemble of North America gave its first concerts, titled “Expanding Traditions,” at The Ukrainian Museum in New York on February 13 and in October-November in Detroit, Cleveland, Whippany N.J., and at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. The ensemble has 20 members from several states and Canada. The programs included a wide mix of instrumentals, vocals, smaller quartets and solos.
Four members of the Canadian Bandurist Capella presented a concert called “Bandura Without Borders” at The Ukrainian Museum in New York on May 21. In their first program as a quartet, Ivan Dusanowskyj, Borys Ostapienko, Orest Chornomaz and Oleksander Petlura omitted all vocals, instead showcasing the possibilities of the modern bandura instrument. In addition to more familiar Ukrainian folk tunes, the concert featured arrangements of Mozart, Bizet and even a pop song by Steven Tyler and a set of variations on a tune from the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
The Canadian Bandurist Capella presented two concerts in January in the Greater Toronto area, combining with the St. Elias Church Singers of Brampton Ontario, and two Toronto women’s choirs, Dibrova and Levada.
The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in Chicago on February 21 hosted a recital by two opera stars: internationally acclaimed bass Stefan Szkafarowsky and Lviv Opera soprano Marta Zaliznyak-Derzhko.
Three Ukrainian performers assumed principal roles in a new production of Modest Mussorgsky’s “Boris Godunov” at the Commonwealth Lyric Theater in Boston in May. Adrian Bryttan conducted a cast that included soprano Olga Lisovskaya as Ksenia and Dmytro Pavlyuk, bass soloist from the Odesa Opera, in the title role.
On May 14, Crimean Tatar R&B/soul-style singer Jamala succeeded in drawing the world’s attention to the Russian government’s persecution of her people by winning the annual Eurovision Song Contest with her song “1944” about Stalin’s mass deportations and genocide. This was widely reported as a victory for Ukraine and the Crimean Tatars. Former winner and singer Ruslana wrote: “What’s most important to me is that Ukraine is sending the world a message with this song of its deep pain and strong spirit. Only something real is capable of transmitting that energy! Ukraine looks like the real thing.”
Pianist Mykola Suk opened The Washington Group Cultural Fund’s 2016-2017 Music Series with his solo recital on October 2, featuring Myroslav Skoryk’s Partita No. 5, which Mr. Skoryk composed and dedicated to Mr. Suk. Another notable concert was held on November 13 with jazz pianist John Stetch.
The Ukrainian National Museum in Chicago held its annual fund-raiser on September 24 with the theme of a “living exhibit” of the renowned Chicago-based band Good Times and its contribution to the Ukrainian American heritage.
In Washington on November 6, the 21-member Kyiv Chamber Choir, directed by Mykola Hobdych, sang the last of nine concerts of its 2016 “Sounds of Ukraine” tour that began in Chicago and continued through Cleveland, Toronto, Rochester, N.Y., Hartford, Conn., Boston, New York and Philadelphia. Enthusiastic audiences welcomed its programs, which combined the best examples of Ukrainian sacred and classical songs with folk music, as arranged by contemporary Ukrainian composers.
2016 saw a kaleidoscope of artistic activity, from traditional folk art genres to cutting-edge contemporary artists.
The Ukrainian Museum in Chicago on January 8 launched its ‘’Bohdan Soroka (1940-2015) Retrospective Art Exhibit” devoted to the artist’s most recent graphic series, including Ukrainian Christmas traditions, angels, musicians, the four seasons and Ukrainian wooden churches. The son of politically active parents, Mr. Soroka was born in a prison in Lviv, where his mother was being held for assisting in anti-Soviet uprisings. The artist has had personal exhibits in Ukraine, England, Germany, France and Canada, and throughout the United States.
A unique exhibit titled “Invasion Redux” depicting the hybrid war waged by Russia in Ukraine opened at the Ukrainian Institute of America in New York on January 22. Kyiv-based artist Mykola Zhuravel offered viewers a look at current events in Ukraine not as a documentary, but as a highly personal metaphorical reflection with striking elements of surrealistic grotesque. Through his paintings, 3-D panels, installations and videos, Mr. Zhuravel created a phantasmagorical world of life-sized Russian TV propaganda “zombies” and aggressive bears with videos linking to flight MH17 shot down by Russian terrorists and zombies towering above Kyiv buildings.
Another multi-media exhibit, “Ukraine Exists,” which was also on view at the United Nations, opened on January 31 at the Ukrainian American Cultural Center of New Jersey in Whippany. Dubbed a “Project of Truth and Art,” this exhibit featured installations, posters, embroidery, calligraphy and ceramics by various contemporary artists in war-torn Ukraine. By developing the theme of a country tearing itself away from the Soviet past, the various artists underscored that through their works they are not indifferent to the fate of Ukraine and its people. This exhibit later travelled to the Ukrainian National Museum in Chicago.
An exhibition of paintings, titled “Folkways and Fantasies,” by Jewish scholar and artist Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern opened at the Ukrainian Institute of America in New York on February 7. Professor Petrovsky-Shtern teaches at Northwestern University in Chicago. His paintings evoke fantastic fairy-tale imagery and echoes from the artist’s conflicted unconscious.
Marta Kuzma, vice-chancellor and rector of the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm, was appointed to be the next dean of the Yale School of Art on February 9. Born in New Jersey, Ms. Kuzma brings more than 25 years of experience in leading international institutions of contemporary art as a curator, writer and academic.
Kyiv-based artist Petro Bevza exhibited his paintings exploring metaphysical imagery titled “Jordan” also at the UIA on March 18. As stated in the title, the central imagery is of water in Ukrainian folk traditions as cleansing and as a symbol of longevity, renewed emotions, and irresistible force. Mr. Bevza attempts to unlock the hidden secrets of immediate and distant spiritual memory.
Marking its 40th anniversary, The Ukrainian Museum in New York launched an exhibition of the works of an artist long associated with the museum, titled “Jacques Hnizdovsky: Content and Style. Evolving Perspectives” on March 13. Mr. Hnizdovsky had designed the museum’s logo for its debut in 1976. This current exhibit comprised more than 100 works, including oils, woodcuts, linocuts, ceramics, sculptures and drawings.
Approximately 200 people attended the 40th anniversary banquet celebration for The Ukrainian Museum in New York on April 17 at the Tavern on the Green in Central Park. Honored guests included Ambassador of Ukraine to the United Nations Volodymyr Yelchenko, Consul General in New York Igor Sybiga and representatives of many Ukrainian organizations.
Co-curators Myroslava Mudrak and Tetiana Rudenko received the 2016 Alfred H. Barr Award for Smaller Museums, Libraries, Collections and Exhibitions for the catalogue “Staging the Ukrainian Avant-Garde of the 1910s and 1920s,” which accompanied the exhibition organized by The Ukrainian Museum in New York in cooperation with the Museum of Theater, Music and Cinema Arts of Ukraine in Kyiv. The jury deciding on the award made it clear that “these artists, filmmakers, dancers, scenographers, theater directors and costume designers deserve to be considered alongside their better known counterparts in the Paris and the Russian avant-gardes.”
A contemporary take on the age-old Kozak Mamai image was displayed starting on June 12 at The Ukrainian Museum in New York in an exhibit of the works of Lviv-based artist Orest Skop. While referencing the traditional role of Mamai as musician/warrior of the steppes, musician/philosopher and a sort of Ukrainian Robin Hood, Mr. Skop imbues his colorful paintings with the imagery of the new contemporary Ukraine.
The ancient and colorful Petrykivka art style was on prominent display during Philadelphia’s Fairmount Avenue Arts Crawl festival on June 3-5. This art form began as painting on adobe white-washed walls, beams and hearths, as well as furniture and household items. This exhibit was presented by the Cultural Trust of the Ukrainian League of Philadelphia. The Petrykivka style was recently added to the list of “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” by the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. In 2003, an exhibition of Petrykivka masters took place at UNESCO headquarters in Paris.
In a unique cross-cultural exhibition, The Ukrainian Museum in New York presented Romanian and Ukrainian folk textiles side by side beginning on October 9. Titled “Carpathian Echoes: Traditional Textile Materials and Technologies in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania and Ukraine,” the exhibit featured complete costumes, sashes, shirts, vests and coats woven out of colorful fabrics made of hemp and sheep wool. This exhibition was the result of a fruitful collaboration between guest curator Dr. Florica Zaharia from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Lubow Wolynetz, curator of folk art at The Ukrainian Museum.
Meanwhile in Cleveland, another collaboration took place between the Costume Society of America and the Ukrainian Museum-Archives. For its 2016 project, the CSA trained UMA volunteers on professional handling of precious textiles and other costume-related apparel. The UMA textile collection consists of over 1,000 items from the late 19th century to the present day. In all, the CSA provided the UMA with services and equipment valued at over $30,000.
In early October, Adrian Bryttan presented a series of lecture exhibits in Tannersville, N.Y., showcasing his large-sized gold-leafed sculptures based on Scythian themes. He conducted two classes for students and faculty at local high schools.
On October 14, the Ukrainian Institute of America in New York opened an exhibit of paintings by Lviv-born artist Serhiy Hai depicting archaic motifs with echoes of Hellenic and Etruscan art, such as riders and horses, nudes, masks and still lifes.
And in Chicago on October 30, the Ukrainian National Museum showcased the paintings of Khrystyna Kozyuk, titled “A Colorful Kaleidoscope of Cultures.” Ms. Kozyuk uses oversized canvas to experiment with a variety of vibrant colors, textures and shapes.
Seven contemporary Ukrainian American artists from the New York City area were featured in the exhibition titled “CIM” at The Ukrainian Museum on December 11. The participants were Luba Drozd, Adriana Farmiga, Maya Hayuk, Roman Hrab, Yuri Masnyj, Christina Shmigel and Marko Shuhan; they had studied at places like Bard College, Pratt Institute, Cooper Union and the School of Visual Arts. A wide variety of materials and styles was the hallmark of the exhibit from the representational to conceptual, incorporating drawing, painting, sculpture, installation, video and sound.
The year closed with a far-reaching decision on December 14 by the Amsterdam district court, which ruled that the priceless collection of gold artifacts on loan to a Dutch museum when Russia occupied Crimea must be returned to Ukraine. While provoking an angry Russian reaction, the decision drew praise from Ukraine, whose president said it means “Crimea is ours, period.” The battle for the return of the Scythian treasures had been fought in the Dutch courts since early 2014. However, if the Dutch legal system accepts appeals in this case, the treasures could still remain in storage for months more pending a final appeal.
According to filmmaker Damian Kolodiy, more video footage has been collected and archived from Maidan events than since the 2004 Revolution. On February 4, Mr. Kolodiy’s documentary film “Freedom or Death” was screened in Passaic, N.J., at a commemorative evening marking the two-year anniversary of the sacrifices of the fallen Heavenly Brigade during the Maidan Revolution. Mr. Kolodiy also related his experiences showing the film in Donbas, Sloviansk, Kramatorsk and Mariupol. The filmmaker explained the change within Ukrainians in Ukraine after the screenings “because the film hit them a lot harder than the diaspora audience due to the information bubble created by Russia, and the way we showed the facts on the ground. The film serves as a tool for learning.” A similar screening was held in Philadelphia.
“Julia Blue” is a film about a university student, Julia, falling in love with a traumatized soldier in war-torn Ukraine. The filmmakers held a panel discussion at St. George Academy in New York City on April 3 to discuss their movie, then in post-production. “Julia Blue” was shot entirely on location with breathtaking cinematography of the Carpathian Mountains and Kyiv, and was written and directed by Roxy Toporowych. On November 28, Ms. Toporowych was announced at the 26th annual Gotham Independent Film Awards as the winner of the Calvin Klein Spotlight on Women Filmmakers “Live the Dream” grant. The $25,000 cash award aims to further the careers of emerging women directors by supporting the completion, distribution and audience engagement strategies of their first feature film or episodic series.
Ariadna Ochrymovych, an independent film producer and director, interviewed Holodomor survivors in every city in Canada for her documentary “Holodomor: Voices of Survivors.” It was screened at the Yorkton Film Festival in Saskatchewan on May 28 and at the International Short Film Festival in Selby, the United Kingdom, on July 30. One version of this film was cut to 30-minute length so it could be used in schools as part of the “Holodomor National Awareness Tour” in Canada.
On October 14, “Women of Maidan,” a feature documentary by filmmaker Olha Onyshko made its world premiere at the 17th annual Woodstock Film Festival in Woodstock, N.Y. The film is set in the harsh winter and recounts the violent backlashes of the Berkut police at Maidan. Women who risked everything standing side by side with their men became the core and heartbeat of a movement that united and ignited Ukrainian society. While editing her film, Ms. Onyshko began coordinating efforts to bring wounded soldiers to the United States for medical treatment. In 2014, she received recognition from the U.S. House of Representatives and the Embassy of Ukraine for her extraordinary work.
Filmed in eastern Ukraine, the feature documentary film “Okradena Zemlya” premiered at the Ukraine House in Kyiv on November 25 and was greeted with a standing ovation. Montreal filmmaker Yurij Luhovy combined Holodomor survivor testimonies, commentaries by historians, recently declassified Soviet archival documents and rare historical footage. The English version, “Genocide Revealed,” gathered 12 international awards, including best Historical Film and Best Documentary.
One of Ukraine’s most distinguished cultural institutions, Lviv’s Maria Zankovetska Theater presented its production of Mykola Lysenko’s “Natalka Poltavka” on a tour of Stamford, Conn., New York City, Lindenhurst, N.Y., Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland and Philadelphia in the first weeks of April. Based on the 1819 play by Ivan Kotliarevsky, “Natalka Poltavka” is a classic Ukrainian operetta, whose themes of a marginalized culture evoke George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” and Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story.”
On June 3, Yara Arts Group in New York City launched an ambitious new theater piece, dramatizing the meetings of the great Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko with Ira Aldridge, the great African American Shakespearian actor. “Dark Night Bright Stars” explores how these two great artists, who rose from serfdom and slavery, and found a common language in art and song, even though they could not speak to each other directly. Their meetings in 1858 were documented in the diary of Count Tolstoy’s 15-year-old daughter, who also acted as translator. The production by Virlana Tkacz included excerpts from Shevchenko’s poems and Aldrich’s stage monologues. The original musical score was by Julian Kytasty. “Dark Night Bright Stars” was also performed before Ukrainian audiences in Odesa, Lviv and Kyiv.
2016 marked the anniversary celebrations of two major dance companies that have been showcasing Ukrainian culture for many years not only in America, but internationally. The Hromovytsia Dance ensemble was founded in Chicago in 1980 by Roxana Dykyj and her husband, Ivan Pylypczak. Thirty-five years later, the company comprises over 45 dancers age 18-40 dedicated to reshaping the very definition of Ukrainian dance. Hromovytsia travelled to Ukraine in 2003 and 2011. In 2007 the troupe embarked on a European tour that took the dancers to Florence, Rome, Strasbourg, Munich and Paris.
And on October 16, the Iskra Ukrainian Dance Academy and the Iskra Ukrainian Dance Ensemble that emerged from it, celebrated 20 years of educating youngsters and delighting audiences with their productions of Ukrainian folk dance. Presented as “A Celebration in Dance,” the program at the College of St. Elizabeth in Morris Township, N.J., was a journey through Ukraine’s various regions, as well as the journey in the life of a young dancer from neophyte to seasoned performer. Iskra’s first artistic director was the renowned Roma Pryma Bohachevsky, who was dedicated to teaching dancing shaped by ballet. Iskra’s current artistic director is Andrij Cybyk. Programs include a pre-dance class for children age 3-5 and a dance fitness class for adults.
The biennial $25,000 Kobzar Literary Award Ceremony and Dinner was held on March 2 in Toronto. Exploring Ukrainian Canadian themes, the five Kobzar finalists shared their personal motivations and recited excerpts from their shortlisted books. Shevchenko Foundation President Andrew Hladyshevsky told the audience that it was interesting to have finalists of non-Ukrainian background as “those authors express how they have been influenced by core Ukrainian Canadian values that have emanated out in ripple effect to other communities.” The 2016 Kobzar Literary Award was presented to Indiana-born Maurice Mierau for his book “Detachment: An Adoption Memoir” about a Mennonite father and his two newly adopted boys from Ukraine.
The U.S. Agency for International Development on January 15 sponsored an exhibition at America House in Kyiv of photos taken by young people internally displaced by the conflict in eastern Ukraine. The exhibition also toured Kharkiv, Zaporizhia, Dnipro, Odesa, Severodonetsk, Sloviansk and Lviv.
On April 24, prize-winning photojournalist Marta Iwanek won first place from the National Press Photographers Association for the best photo in the category of Photojournalism, Portrait and Personality, an international award. The powerful photo shows an 11-year-old boy of Ukraine on his bed after being admitted to Shriners Hospital for Children in Montreal. Ms. Iwanek also received an award for the best Single Multimedia Project for her work on “The Amazing Repair of Charlie’s Tiny Heart,” which documented open-heart surgery at Sick Kids.
On April 26, students at Wesleyan University in Connecticut commemorated the 30th anniversary of the Chornobyl nuclear tragedy in Ukraine with a performance of “Voices from Chernobyl.” Adapted, produced and directed by Wesleyan history major Rachel Santee, this imaginatively produced performance consisted of 10 monologues from the book of the same title by Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich. Accompanying the performance was a gallery exhibition of photographs titled “Chornobyl + 20: This is Our Land, We Still Live Here.”
An exhibit of photographs, campaign buttons and memorabilia, signs and fliers going back to the 1910s titled “Politics and Ukrainian-Americans” debuted on July 18 at Cleveland’s Ukrainian Museum-Archives. Citizenship manuals from the 1920s and ‘30s showed Ukrainians enjoying their ethnicity while learning, becoming naturalized and ultimately voting. A special display consisted of rare buttons like an “I Like Ike” button in Ukrainian, and buttons for different nationalities for Nixon, from Armenians to Ukrainians. The United States is a nation of immigrants and visitors to UMA quickly realize this is not just a Ukrainian museum, it’s an American museum.
The Ukrainian Museum in New York marked Ukraine’s Independence with two exhibitions opening on September 11: “In Metal, On Paper: Coins, Banknotes and Postage Stamps of Independent Ukraine, 1991-2016” and “Money, Sovereignty and Power: The Paper Currency of Revolutionary Ukraine, 1917-1920.” Together these two exhibitions provided a unique opportunity for visitors to take a walk through Ukraine’s 1,000-year-old history from ancient to contemporary times.