Soyuzivka welcomes thousands for Labor Day weekend festivities
by Roma Hadzewycz
KERHONKSON, N.Y. - Thousands of visitors celebrated the last Labor Day weekend of this millennium in rousing fashion here at the Ukrainian National Association's upstate New York resort, Soyuzivka, from Friday, September 3, through Monday, September 6.
The traditional end-of the-summer gathering attracted visitors from throughout the United States, Canada and Ukraine, representing all age groups and segments of the Ukrainian community.
Spotted at Soyuzivka were hordes of teenagers, with parents in tow, who came to see friends from Plast camps and the Jersey shore town of Wildwood for one last time before returning to school; new immigrants from Ukraine attracted by the resort's entertainment programs and dances; college students and young professionals eager to socialize and network; young families who came to enjoy the outdoors and compete in tennis and swimming competitions; and Soyuzivka stalwarts, who have been coming here for years to attend concerts by the best and most interesting talent from North America and Ukraine.
It seemed that none were disappointed as Soyuzivka - concluding its 45th summer season - once again turned out an array of activities: four separate concerts featuring performers from Ukraine, Canada and the United States; national swimming and tennis championships; three nights of dancing to the music of five Ukrainian bands from the United States and Canada; exhibits of fine art by artists from Canada and Ukraine; and, of course, huge quantities of good food and liquid refreshments.
Veseli Cherevychky at Veselka
The weekend began with a preview performance by Veseli Cherevychky (a name the troupe translates as Jolly Boots), a children's folk dance ballet and vocal ensemble from Lviv. Directed by Maria and Volodymyr Chmyr, the 17 youngsters age 5-14 are winners of the UNESCO International Folklore Festival held in France. They have arrived in the United States to perform at the International Children's Festival at Wolf Trap Farm Park in Vienna, Va., and to give a series of concerts for Ukrainian American communities on the East Coast and in the Midwest.
Their abbreviated concert on Friday evening - the first on their U.S. itinerary - wowed Soyuzivka guests, and word soon spread about the huge talent of these little performers.
The full concert, nearly two hours long, came on Sunday afternoon, drawing a standing-room-only audience of young and old that overflowed the Veselka auditorium and clearly was astounded by the troupe's wonderful stage presence (worthy of pros) and spirit, not to mention terpsichorean finesse, vocal harmony and good musicianship.
The littlest of the Veseli Cherevychky, Slavyk (Yaroslav) Bas, 6, and Khrystynka Popovych, a half year his junior, charmed the audience with their footwork and personalities. Soyuzivka's mistress of ceremonies for the concert, Marianka Wasylyk, engaged Slavyk and Khrystynka in conversation between numbers to learn a bit more about them and elicit their reactions to their first appearances in the United States.
Ms. Chmyr later commented on the extraordinary reception given by the audience to her charges: "No amount of money could buy such applause. The children flew out onto the stage as if they had wings, because they knew they were performing before 'nashi' (our people) and that they love us."
At the pool, on the courts
The weekend sports program began on Saturday morning with the swim meet at Soyuzivka's pool. As spectators watched at poolside and from above, on the Veselka patio, 36 swimmers competed in 44 individual events and eight relays.
The meet and the tennis tournament, taking place on the Soyuzivka courts past the pool, were interrupted at 11 a.m. for the official opening ceremonies of both events. The athletes were welcomed by Roman Rakoczy Sr., speaking on behalf of the sports events' organizers, and Ukrainian National Association President Ulana Diachuk.
Myron Stebelsky, president of the Ukrainian Sports Federation of the U.S.A. and Canada, pointed out that this year marks the anniversaries of two key Ukrainian sports clubs: the Carpathian Ski Club (KLK), which is celebrating its 50th jubilee, and the Chornomorska Sitch Ukrainian Athletic-Educational Sports Association, commemorating its 75th.
[Detailed information on the tennis and the swimming championships, both held under the auspices of USCAK, as well as results of the second annual golf week at Soyuzivka, held in the days prior to Labor Day weekend, will appear in subsequent issues of The Ukrainian Weekly.]
Energy from Edmonton
As the swimming and tennis competitions continued, the energetic Vohnetz dancers of Edmonton rehearsed inside the Veselka hall. Thirty-seven of the group's 45 members traveled to Soyuzivka for what artistic director Ken Kachmar said was a major performance (and quite a road trip) for this junior group of the Vohon ensemble, which performed at Soyuzivka in 1998.
Vohnetz functions under the aegis of the Edmonton School of Ukrainian Dance, which was founded in that Alberta city in 1987 and today has 135 dancers age 3 and up. Vohnetz comprises dancers age 11-17, many of whom later audition for the professional Vohon dancers.
Mr. Kachmar and his sister Debbie Kachmar, the assistant artistic director, put the dancers through their paces, then took time out to speak with The Weekly.
Mr. Kachmar explained that dancing is a major component of the Ukrainian identity in western Canada; in Edmonton alone, he said, there are four major groups, Vohon, Cheremosh, Volya and Shumka. The majority of Vohnetz's dancers are Ukrainian, but many non-Ukrainians also are involved in Ukrainian dance.
Mr. Kachmar reported that his dancers truly enjoyed their stay at the celebrated Soyuzivka, marveling at its beauty and taking advantage of the fact they were in New York state to travel to New York City for shows and shopping. The troupe spent a full week at the UNA resort, taking over the Lviv villa that usually houses Soyuzivka camps.
Vohnetz took to the stage that evening for a show emceed by Bohdanna Wolanska, who provided background information on the performers and introduced prominent members of the audience, including UNA officers.
The Edmonton ensemble opened with a "Pryvit" (Welcome) dance and closed with the traditionally rousing and distinctly Ukrainian "Hopak." In between were dances from various regions of Ukraine, including Zakarpattia, Volyn and Hutsulschyna, and a sword dance executed by the male members of Vohnetz.
Musical interludes were provided by bandurist and soprano Alla Kutsevych, alto Liudmyla Hrabovska and soprano Anna Bachynska. Ms. Kutsevych also performed several bandura solos, showcasing the magical sound of the national instrument of Ukraine.
The fourth concert of the weekend was the Sunday evening appearance of Ihor Bilozir of the Vatra musical ensemble (performing in lieu of a fellow singer from Ukraine, Ivan Popovych, who took ill). Mr. Bilozir, a noted singer, pianist, composer and pedagogue, offered a program of his own works, leading off with the nostalgic "Svitlytsia," which has become a modern-day classic.
He provided a running commentary, noting the origin of the songs and recalling fellow Vatra members. Among the selections were Mr. Bilozir's first song, written at age 14, "Pershyi Snih" (First Snow), and his latest work, "Divchyna z Pisen" (Girl of Songs).
Art at the Main House
Soyuzivka's Main House was transformed for the weekend into an art gallery featuring works by Vitaliy Lytvyn of Mississauga, Ontario (a suburb of Toronto), who is familiar to the resort's guests from his numerous previous exhibits; and Andrij Pikush, now on his third visit to the United States to promote the art of his native village of Petrykivka in the Dnipropetrovsk Oblast of Ukraine.
Mr. Lytvyn, whose specialty is linocuts on historical, literary and folkloric subjects, is also a staunch advocate of preserving the history of the Kozak past of Ukraine. He recently published a trilingual (Ukrainian, English, French) book of works dedicated to the Kozaks and is involved in a project aimed at having UNESCO recognize the site of the battle of Berestechko (1651), which, he said, is one of the largest and most significant battles of the 17th century, involving Ukrainians, Russian, Poles, Tatars, Turks, Frenchmen, Germans, Lithuanians and others.
Queried about this interest, he explained that it stems from his youth: "I was born in that area and since youth I heard stories and legends about the Kozaks. I visited these historic places, started collecting information and illustrating these historic events."
Speaking with The Weekly, Mr. Pikush described his quest: to popularize the art of Petrykivka and the work of his fellow artists who are members of the Creative Association Petrykivka, an independent union of 47 leading masters from that region.
As head of the association, Mr. Pikush brought with him his own works and those of his colleagues. He took pleasure in speaking with visitors about the art form of Petrykivka, intricate and colorful decorative creations rooted in the Kozak past. Its main elements are flora and fauna that swirl in bright colors, reflecting the free spirit, joie de vivre and democratic system of the Kozaks.
Dances every night
Dances were another integral part of the Labor Day weekend festivities at Soyuzivka. On Friday evening the popular Luna band of New Jersey played outside on the Veselka patio, while Midnight Bigus (a.k.a. Twisted Kyshka and Bigus Makom) took over the Trembita Lounge, playing and singing an eclectic blend of hits, including its own multilingual version of the "My Delilah."
On Saturday evening, Tempo of New Jersey and Zolota Bulava of Toronto took over the bandstands at Veselka indoors and out, while Sunday featured the music of Fata Morgana, which played inside the Veselka auditorium due to a steady drizzle that may have dampened guests' attire but not their spirits.
On Monday morning, guests awakened to light drizzle and grey skies tinged with blue, a reminder that, although summer may be over as far as the calendar is concerned, Indian summer lies ahead.
And so, another summer season at Soyuzivka officially came to an end, proving that Soyuzivka remains a magnet for the Ukrainian community from near and far.
Guests can continue to enjoy the resort's picturesque location in the Shawangunk mountain range during the fall, winter and spring months (except for February and March, when the resort is closed).
A quick look at the Catskills Region Travel Guide - which bills the area as "where the Catskills meet the Hudson" - reveals that the area framed by the Catskill Mountains and the Hudson River has much to offer: from antiquing and arts and crafts to wineries and farmers' markets; from mountain biking and rock climbing to golf, skiing, archery, horseback riding, canoeing and fishing; as well as diverse museums and historic sites. (For further information call Soyuzivka, 914-626-5641, or the Ulster County Travel Guide, 800-DIAL-UCO. The county's tourism website is found at http://www.co.ulster.ny.us/.)
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, September 12, 1999, No. 37, Vol. LXVII
| Home Page |