DATELINE NEW YORK: New Yorkers bring culture to Catskills

by Helen Smindak

In the good old summertime, when most city folk migrate to the shore and the countryside in search of cooler climes, artists and craftspeople hit the road, too. They're off to Ukrainian folk festivals, concert and opera series like those in Newport, R.I., and the Hamptons on Long Island, and Catskill resorts like Soyuzivka and Hunter, N.Y., where weekend cultural programs reign supreme.

Spending a few days in the northern Catskills recently, I visited the picturesque Hutsul-styled Grazhda concert hall on Route 23A in Jewett Center, N.Y., and found a Ukrainian artist in performance on a Saturday evening. Lyric coloratura soprano Oleksandra Hrabova, with Kyiv Conservatory graduate Maryna Rohozhyna at the piano, delighted the capacity audience with her scintillating voice, offering arias by Puccini, Gounod, Bellini and Donizetti, songs by Ukrainian composers Mykola Lysenko and Ihor Sonevytsky, and lilting Ukrainian folk songs. As an encore she sang Gershwin's touching "Summertime," her Ukrainian accent adding an especially endearing quality to the lullaby.

A native of Lviv who has been winning plaudits and prizes in this country for the past three years, Ms. Hrabova clearly enjoys singing and pleasing her listeners. Though petite in stature, she owns a strong voice that enables her to reach high notes effortlessly; she is equally adept as an actress, able to convey coquettish or sad feelings with her facial expressions and dark, soulful eyes.

This marvelous young singer is well on the way to becoming a successful performer on the American musical scene. Since coming to the U.S. after touring in Ukraine, Europe and Canada, she has won the 1997 National Opera Association Competition in Washington, (second prize) and Di Capo Opera Vocal Competition in New York (third prize). A winner of this year's Liederkranz Foundation Award and the 1998 Metropolitan Opera National Council Regional Auditions (third prize), she is looking forward to portraying Violetta in the Di Capo Opera's 1999 production of Verdi's "La Traviata."

Appearing on the evening's bill as a replacement for ailing baritone Yaroslav Hnatiuk, formerly of the Lviv Opera, also was violinist Oleksander Abayev, who interpreted Ravel's tempestuous "Gypsy Rhapsody" with intensity and verve.

The concert was but one in the classical music series sponsored by the Music and Art Center of Greene County, whose president and music director is Dr. Ihor Sonevytsky of New York. The season opened with an anniversary concert for the prominent contemporary Ukrainian composer Myroslav Skotyk. Other concerts this year presented such outstanding artists as cellists Natalia Khoma and Nestor Cybriwsky, pianists Volodymyr Vynnytsky and Thomas Hrynkiw, violinist Anton Miller, soprano Luba Shchibchik, baritone Oleh Chmyr and the Leontovych String Quartet, which consists of Yuri Mazurkevych, Yuri Kharenko, Borys Deviatov and Volodymyr Panteleiev.

In addition to the musical felicities that have prompted area residents to dub this center "Little Tanglewood," the Grazhda hall offered a richly varied treat for the eyes and temptation for art collectors - over 100 works of Ukrainian artists, were arranged on the pale-blond log walls and in the adjoining hallway of the architecturally impressive building.

Included in the annual exhibit were, among others, oils by Ivan Trusz, Mychajlo Moroz, Luboslav Hutsaliuk, Mykola Nedilko, Myron Lewytsky, Ludmyla Morozova, Bohdan Domanyk, Yaroslaw Wyznyckyj and Bohdan Tytla; watercolors and acrylics by Edward, George and Jerome Kozak; icons by Halyna Tytla, George Kozak and Bohdan Bozhemsky; as well as as tempera paintings by Sophia Lada and Taras Shumylowych.

Art works were also on display a few miles down the road at the Xenia Motel, now operated by Oksana and Oleh Cziselsky, formerly of Lviv, as well as at the home of Mr. Wyznyckyj, a former Brooklynite.

At the time of my visit, several workshops were being held as part of the music center's summer program. Anna Baczynsky of New York patiently coaxed and guided a group of youngsters through a folk singing class at the Grazhda, while pysanka and ceramics expert Sofia Zielyk, also from New York, instructed students in the intricacies of decorating Ukrainian Easter eggs and ceramics at the mountain-chalet summer home of her parents, Lubomyr and Larysa Zielyk. Mrs. Zielyk, an authority on Ukrainian embroidery and gerdany (bead-strung necklaces), was scheduled to conduct classes in her specialties the following week.

The Grazhda is part of a spiritual and cultural center for Ukrainians that includes St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church, designed by architect Ivan Zhukovsky; a bell tower; and the parish hall (known as the grazhda) and parsonage, designed by architect Ivan Zajac. All are located on a pine-covered hilltop site between the Hunter ski area and Lexington, N.Y. The structures were built by master builder Jurij Kostiv in the timber block-work style that is traditional in Ukraine's Carpathian Mountains. Iconographer Petro Cholodny Jr. and sculptor/wood carver Mychailo Czereszniowskyj executed the decoration of the church interior.

A popular stop for tourists and summer vacationers, the complex is situated in an area that has attracted a number of year-round Ukrainian residents, among others Mr. and Mrs. Wyznyckyj, Clementine Szewczuk, who runs Karpatia House in Lexington, and painter/sculptor Natalia Pohrebinska, who lives in Lexington and commutes to nearby Saugerties, N.Y., where she operates an art and antiques shop, the Stone House Gallery.

A comedy for Dzundza

George Dzundza has changed his occupation so often in the past 25 years that he could be called a chameleon. In reality, he's a versatile actor who has appeared on movie and TV screens as a police sergeant, bar owner, detective, bank robber, Russian KGB officer, American Nazi leader, proprietor of a 24-hour grocery store and a host of other characters.

He's been cast for the most part in tough guy and villain roles, but beginning on September 24, you'll find him doing comedy on NBC Thursday nights from 8:30 to 9. He is featured in "Jesse," a new romantic family comedy starring Christina Applegate ("Married ... With Children"). As Jesse's father, John Warner Sr., he will portray a gruff, plainspoken soul who owns Der Biergarten, the German-theme restaurant/bar where Jesse works as a waitress.

The sitcom revolves around Jesse, an attractive single mother whose life is a juggling act involving her job, her dreams and responsibilities to the men in her life - her father, two brothers (John Lehr of "Friends and David DeLuise of "Third Rock from the Sun") and 10-year-old son (Eric Lloyd). The production is the creation of Bright/Kaufman/Crane, producers of "Friends," in association with Warner Bros. Television.

Mr. Dzundza sees his newest character as an Archie Bunker type. "He's a likable, somewhat clumsy and politically incorrect kind of a guy who's always putting his foot in his mouth," he says. "He's just a regular working Joe."

It's a role the actor will be able to interpret from first-hand experience, since he worked as a bartender and waiter in the 1970s while studying with renowned drama instructor Stella Adler in New York for six years. Part of that job experience included bartending at the Ukrainian National Home on Second Avenue and waiting on tables at the Orchidia Restaurant in New York and at Soyuzivka. Mr. Dzundza has been making a name for himself in the acting profession since 1973, when he got his first big break in the national touring company of the prize-winning play "That Championship Season." He returned to Broadway as the understudy to Jack Weston in "The Ritz"; when Mr. Weston left, Mr. Dzundza was bumped up to the lead.

In 1978 he starred in Thomas Babe's compelling play "A Prayer for My Daughter" at the New York Shakespeare Public Theater. His characterization of a blustering, overweight police sergeant won this critique from reviewer Mel Gussow of The New York Times: "(Mr. Dzundza's) personality is as imposing as his physique." Referring to the four-man cast, Mr. Gussow added: "The actors are superlative - in creating individual characters and in concert as an ensemble."

Interviewed that year following a performance of "A Prayer," Mr. Dzundza told me he gravitated towards the acting profession from his boyhood in Manhattan's East Village when he wrote skits for SUM (Ukrainian American Youth Association) bonfires. "I used to like making people laugh," he said.

Hollywood's doors opened for the New York actor after he appeared as a bar owner and one of Robert DeNiro's hometown buddies in the Vietnam movie "The Deer Hunter." Director Michael Cimino's story of young Ukrainian American steelworkers from Clairton, Pa., who play pool, drink beer, watch football on TV, get drunk at a wedding, hunt deer and then go off to fight the war in 1972 won five Oscars - including the Oscar for Best Picture of 1978.

Since moving to Los Angeles in 1981, Mr. Dzundza has been working with some of America's finest film and TV actors and directors. He has been starred with Clint Eastwood in "White Hunter, Black Heart," Kevin Costner in "No Way Out," Richard Gere in "No Mercy," Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone in "Basic Instinct," Gene Hackman in "Crimson Tide" and Demi Moore in "The Butcher's Wife." Coming up in the near future is the movie "Instinct."

Mr. Dzundza's numerous television credits include the movies "Skokie," "The Defection of Simas Kudirka," the two-part mini-series "Cross of Fire," depicting Ku Klux Klan doings in the '20s, "The Lost Honor of Kathryn Beck," "The Ryan White Story" and "The Babymaker." As the adoptive father of Timothy Hutton in "A Long Way Home," he drew this accolade from John J. O'Connor of The New York Times: "superbly etched."

In the first season of NBC's "Law & Order" he co-starred as Detective Sgt. Max Greevey. Later, in the hilarious NBC sitcom "Open All Night," he played Gordon Feester, the proprietor of a 24-hour grocery store. He has guest-starred on many shows, including "Starsky and Hutch," "Joe Forrester" and "The Waltons."

Born in a displaced persons' camp in Rosenheim, West Germany, he came to the U.S. with his Ukrainian father and Polish mother when he was 5 years old. The family lived in Amsterdam, N.Y., before settling in New York City, where the young Mr. Dzundza attended St. John's University as a student of speech and theater arts.

Now a resident of Tarzana, Calif., he devotes his time away from the set to his wife, daughter and two sons. He enjoys playing volleyball and walking, and is said to be a major fan of hockey legend Wayne Gretzky.

Readers' questions

Dateline often receives mail from readers with questions about upcoming events and Ukrainian-sounding names spotted in the media. We try to answer these with personal phone calls or notes, but here are a few of general interest.

Question: Will the Ukrainian State Bandurist Capella be touring the United States and Canada this fall, as reported in recent issues of Bandura magazine? - G.W.S., Stratford, Conn.

Answer: Unfortunately, the planned 1998 tour of the Ukrainian State Bandurist Capella of Kyiv has had to be called off. According to Nick Czorny-Dosinchuk, editor-in-chief of Bandura magazine, the untimely passing of the Ukrainian American gentleman who was in charge of tour arrangements has brought a stop to all plans for this year's tour. The capella, currently celebrating its 80th anniversary, and its director, Mykola Hvozd, hope to come to the U.S. next year.

Question: The popular singer Milla Jovovich has a CD titled "The Divine Comedy" which includes the Ukrainian song "Oy u Hayu, pry Dunayu." It is very prettily sung in Ukrainian, although a couple of words like "hrayu" and "hnizdechka" are not pronounced perfectly. Do you know the ethnic background of Ms. Jovovich? - M.J.P., Hamilton, Ontario.

Answer: Milla Jovovich, who was born in Kyiv in 1975, started out as a model in her teens but turned her talents to singing and acting in recent years. She has appeared in several movies, including the 1997 Bruce Willis movie "The Fifth Element" and this year's Spike Lee Movie "He Got Game." According to the British magazine Frank, which featured a story on her in its June issue, Ms. Jovovich was married to director Luc Besson (of "Fifth Element") in December 1997. She is currently working on a new CD that is due to come out next year, "Dateline" attempted to reach Ms. Jovovich by phone and fax at her Manhattan apartment but got no response; she may be out of town on assignment or has moved to L.A.

Question: A review of the film "High Art," which appeared in The New York Times on June 12, gave credit to a Lisa Cholodenko as the director. The reviewer, Janet Maslin, called the film "an attention-getting debut feature," and described Ms. Cholodenko as "the rare filmmaker to acknowledge Calvin Klein ads as part of her creative inspiration." Can you tell us whether Ms. Cholodenko is Ukrainian, as her name would indicate? - K. and S.G., New York City.

Answer: Ms. Cholodenko, who lives in Manhattan, told "Dateline" on the phone that her grandparents were Ukrainian. She asked to be contacted later since she was on another call at the time. However, attempts to reach her by phone and fax have been unsuccessful. The 90-minute film, "High Art," starring Ally Sheedy, was written and directed by Ms. Cholodenko. Released by October Films, it was shown last spring at the Angelika Film Center in Greenwich Village.

Question: The book "The Millionaire Next Door," which has been on The New York Times best-sellers list (non-fiction) for several months, was written by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko. As far as I know, the name Danko is Ukrainian. Do you know whether Mr. Danko is Ukrainian? - J.S., Dayton, Ohio.

Answer: Reached at his home in the upstate New York town of Niskayuna, Mr. Danko was quite willing to discuss his ethnic background. He said he couldn't "vouch for his Ukrainian background," even though he is taken for Ukrainian whenever he visits Yugoslavia. Mr. Danko said his father's family came from Poland, but his father died when he was 5 and he was raised by his Lithuanian mother. A marketing researcher at the State University of New York in Albany, he attends a Lithuanian church. Mr. Danko and his colleague compiled the book "The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America's Wealthy" (Longstreet Press) using two decades' worth of surveys, interviews and data. Their conclusion: wealth in this country is more often the result of hard work, diligent savings and living below you means. "Millionaire," Mr. Danko's first book, has sold about 1 million copies and is coming out in paperback this month.

Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, September 13, 1998, No. 37, Vol. LXVI

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