DATELINE NEW YORK: Ukrainian dancers - they're absolutely tops
by Helen Smindak
Whether born in Ukraine or in the United States, Ukrainian dancers have one thing in common: they are superlative performers who enthrall New York audiences with their talent, grace and vitality.
Maxim Belotserkovsky and Irina Dvorovenko have been soaring across the Metropolitan Opera stage these past weeks in the American Ballet Theatre's spring-season productions. Olena Krutsenko has been twirling around the Gershwin Theatre stage since early March with the Moscow Folk Ballet in the current run of the Irish extravaganza "Riverdance on Broadway." Natalya Povorozniuk received high marks from critics during the Eifman Ballet's two-week run at City Center in May.
The Syzokryli Dancers gave a four-star performance at the Ukrainian Festival in the East Village. Andrij Cybyk was one of four Ukrainian dancers in the final-curtain performance of the ALLNATIONS Dance Company last week.
Do you get the picture? Now let me give you the details.
Let's begin with ABT, one of the world's premier companies, and its quartet of dancers from Ukraine: Mr. Belotserkovsky, Ms. Dvorovenko and a third principal dancer, Vladimir Malakhov, plus corps de ballet member Vladislav Kalinin. A recent Associated Press story, describing the first two, said: "Two current, Ukrainian-born soloists are Mr. Belotserkovsky and his wife, Irina Dvorovenko, whose artistic fire is coupled with grand jeté leaps that seem to cut through the air like javelins." In another paragraph, Mr. Belotserkovsky is said to be "suspended for the briefest of seconds like Superman" as he leaps high into the air.
The husband-wife couple has been cast together romantically in several full-length ballets this season - "Cinderella," "Giselle," "Don Quixote" and "Swan Lake." Individually, they are also scheduled to give performances in "The Merry Widow," "Onegin," "Theme and Variations," the Grand Pas de Deux from "The Nutcracker" and the Rose Adagio from "The Sleeping Beauty."
The New York Times' dance critic Anna Kisselgoff, reviewing their May 14 performance in "Giselle," wrote: "Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Belotserkovsky, who have dazzled audiences in the Petipa classics, were seen for the first time in New York as Giselle and Albrecht ... Mr. Belotserkovsky's Albrecht was more ardent (than dancer Ethan Steifel's), a romantic so in love that he virtually forced himself upon Giselle. Together he and his partner offered a fresh and lively first act, although Ms. Dvorovenko's splendid technique sometimes overshadowed her characterization. She sailed though the turns and balances of Act I as others do not, and in Act II she seemed magically suspended in the air as she raised one foot to her ankle during her leg beats."
Ms. Kisselgoff added: "Ms. Dvorovenko has a lyrical side, and greater fluidity in Act II will give her the depth she seeks in 'Giselle.' Mr. Belotserkovsky's integration of dancing and acting is already perfect: his elegant style was not at odds with his portrayal of an anti-hero who allowed passion to get the best of him."
Seven years after leaving Kyiv, where they danced with the Ballet Theater of Kyiv, the two have become the darlings of the ballet world here, adored by ballet fans and dance critics. They were recently characterized in Dance magazine (and were featured on its cover) as a unified team that brings an old-world glamour and the purity of the famous Vaganova technique to ABT. During times off, they dance as guest artists with companies like the Australian Ballet, Finland Ballet, Hamburg Ballet and the Asami Maki Ballet.
Pictured on Pointe magazine's May/June cover, the two stars are making a noontime appearance on Sunday, June 3, at Barnes & Noble Booksellers, 240 E. 86th St., to sign copies of Pointe for fans and store patrons. They will also draw the winning names in an in-store raffle for free tickets to the June 11 performance of "Don Quixote," in which they star.
Mr. Malakhov, who has already given performances this season in "Giselle," "Onegin" and "La Bayadère" and was scheduled to dance the role of Lensky in the company premiere of John Cranko's "Onegin" on June 1, will perform the role of von Rothbart in the season's first performance of "Swan Lake" on June 15. The next day he will reprise the role as he joins Mr. Belotserkovsky and Ms. Dvorovenko in this timeless tale of love and redemption, choreographed by Kevin McKenzie after Petipa and Ivanov and set to a score by Tchaikovsky. A globe-trotting star, he is a principal dancer with ABT and the Stuttgart Ballet, as well as a guest artist with the Vienna State Opera Ballet and the State Opera of Berlin.
Mr. Kalinin, a native of Ukraine who joined the corps de ballet in 1993, includes in his ABT repertoire the Bronze Idol in "La Bayadère," a Stepsister and the Jester in "Cinderella," Sancho Panza in "Don Quixote," the Peruvian and the Dancing Master in "Gaieté Parisienne," and other roles. He was praised by Ms. Kisselgoff last year as a marvelous Gremio who "becomes a doddering dolt without overdoing anything" in "The Taming of the Shrew."
Ukrainian dancers in an Irish music and dance extravaganza, you ask? That was my question also when I learned that two former members of the Virsky Ukrainian Dance Company, Olena Krutsenko and her husband, Sergiy Yakubov, have been performing in "Riverdance on Broadway."
They've been touring with the Irish company since 1996, and Ms.Krutsenko has been in the much-ballyhooed Broadway show since it opened at the Gershwin Theater last March. Her husband, who injured a tendon in his foot back in March, has been sitting impatiently on the sidelines while his foot heals and looks forward to returning to active duty soon.
The two are part of the eight-member Moscow Folk Ballet Company whose performance heightens the impact of the stupendous Irish production with dazzling Russian/Ukrainian folk dance steps and movements, cleverly woven into the tapestry of Irish, Afro-American and flamenco dancing that portrays the American immigrant eperience in the show's second half. The Moscow folk dancers (only six are onstage at any one time), in stylized Russian costumes, present a dance of utter abandonment called "The Russian Dervish," and later join the Irish dance troupe, singers and drummers in a number called "Ri Ra" (Ri Ra in Gaelic means brouhaha or commotion). When the show comes to an explosive finish, they take their bows in the front ranks of the Riverdance company.
And yes, the Slavic dancing is done to wild Gaelic music. The juxtaposition is not so surprising when you consider the resemblance of many Ukrainian dance tunes to lively Irish bagpipe and fiddle melodies; both cultures echo an ancient mysticism and reflect a turbulent past.
Ms. Krutsenko, 30, whose specialty is turns and endless twirls and pirouettes, performs astonishing acrobatic stunts as she is lifted into the air by her partner. She dances in the Moscow Folk Ballet's four appearances - in the first half of the show she appears with the Riverdance Singers in a demi-classic, jazz number "Shivna;" in the post-intermission program, she dances in the "Dervish" and "Ri Ra" numbers and the finale.
Born in Volgograd, Russia, she moved to Kyiv in 1991 to dance with the Virsky company and met Sergiy two years later when he returned from a stint with the Moiseyev Dance Company. The two were married in Toronto in 1998, while on tour with Riverdance.
When Riverdance was invited to perform at the United Nations commemoration of Chornobyl this past April, Ms. Krutsenko specifically asked to be included in the eight-member performing group because "I know a lot of people from Chornobyl, and Sergiy visited Chornobyl after the disaster and witnessed the terrible effects of the explosion." Ms. Krutsenko and a Moscow Ballet colleague, Svetlana Malinina, were the soloists for the "Ri Ra" number, backed by two Russian male dancers and two couples from the Irish dance troupe.
Before his injury, Mr. Yakubov, 32, was an outstanding performer of the breathtaking leaps, jumps and toe-touching splits in the air executed by the men of the Moscow troupe - dance movements familiar to practictioners and audiences of Ukrainian folk dance.
Born in the town of Shpola in Ukraine's Cherkasy region, he has lived most of his life in Kyiv. He danced for two years with the Virsky company, then spent two years as a dancer with the touring Ukrainian Army Song and Dance Ensemble (he was seen with the ensemble in Regis Wargnier's sumptuous, moving film "East-West," which played in New York in April 2000).
Following his return to Kyiv, he danced with the Virsky troupe in Kyiv and the Moiseyev company in Moscow, teamed up with some 20 of Ukraine's best dancers to form the "Hopak" ensemble which toured in Canada and the United States in 1993 and spent a couple of years in Spain. He was invited to join the Riverdance company in 1996.
A point of interest: Mr.Yakubov danced in the Virsky ensemble with Irina Dvorovenko's father, Ihor Dvorovenko, and Ms. Krutsenko studied with Ihor Dvorovenko for a short time at the Virsky dance studio. Both Mr. Yakubov and his wife are well acquainted with juggler Viktor Kee of Cirque du Soleil's Dralion show and violinist Roman Popadiuk, a Ukrainian who now lives in Toronto. It would seem that Ukrainian performers like to stick together.
More dance stars
The Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg, which wrapped up its American tour of 2001 with a two-week run at the City Center in May, included in its roster two Ukrainian dancers, Natalya Povorozniuk, a native of Vinnytsia, and Nina Zmievets of Kyiv. Both ballerinas joined the Eifman company last year.
Dance critic Anna Kisselgoff, who described the company's dancers as extraordinary, commended Ms. Povorozniuk for her sharp differentiation of the double roles she performed in Boris Eifman's new ballet "Don Juan & Molière" - that of Molière's feckless young wife Armande and a fictional character, Donna Anna.
The Syzokryli Ukrainian Dancers and the ALLNATIONS Dance Company are two distinct and separate entities, but they have one highly important element in common - dancer Andrij Cybyk. Mr. Cybyk, Syzokryli's assistant artistic director, took part in the Syzokryli dancers' fabulous show at the Seventh Street Ukrainian Festival on May 20. A former member of the Duquesne University Tamburitzans and a graduate of the Virsky School of Academic Folk Dance in Kyiv, he is Ukrainian by parentage and a gypsy at heart, dancing for years with the ALLNATIONS company and appearing with the Anglo-American Ballet, Nai-Ni Chen company and Michael Mao's modern dance ensemble. Mr. Cybyk is scheduled to appear with the Michael Mao dancers at Symphony Space on upper Broadway at 95th Street on June 8.
Bringing the street festival to a rip-roaring climax late Sunday afternoon, the Syzokryli dancers marched on stage to present a series of heart-stirring dance numbers that brought to mind joyful holiday celebrations in Ukraine and the heroic exploits of the Zaporozhian Kozaks. Outstanding among the fleet-footed maidens were Larissa Ruebsamen and Suzi Myers; Mr. Cybyk, Andrij Dobriansky and Peter Osyf shone in the men's acrobatic leaps, prysidky and sword play. With the stunning Hopak finale came a hail of applause and cheers from the audience, and director Roma Pryma Bohachevsky was invited on stage to take a bow with her protégés.
During the three-day festival, as Shevchenko Place supporters lined up at the Shevchenko Preservation Committee booth to sign a petition urging the city to save the East Village street that honors Ukraine's illustrious bard, several groups of Ukrainian dancers delighted spectators with their youthful energy and colorful costumes. Among them were the Yunist Dance Ensemble directed by Hryhoriy Momot, the Vesna ensemble of Hempstead, N.Y. directed by Orlando Pagan, the Zolotyi Promin ensemble from Hartford, Conn., Zorepad from Albany and Iskra from Whippany, N.J. and the troupe based at St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic School in Newark and several children's groups - the St. George Academy Dancers directed by Daria Genza, and the Barvinok ensemble from Astoria, Queens.
Four days later, Mr. Cybyk was back on stage, this time with the ALLNATIONS company at International House in upper Manhattan, with an amazing display of dance expertise, agility, expression and endurance. Unruffled by speedy costume changes, he performed barefoot and hard-shoe in Mexican, Phillipine, Argentine, Greek, Ukrainian, Russian gypsy and American dances (the Charleston of the 1920's) with poise and dramatic flair.
The fascinating show of dances from around the world - the company's closing performance after 35 years of touring the globe - also revealed the talents of Anna Mikhaylenko of Kharkiv, Ganna Makarova of Odesa and Alex Rudoy of Lviv.
Ms. Mikhaylenko, a ballet and character dance graduate of the Kharkiv Choreographic Institute, began her professional dance career in the United States after winning a full scholarship to the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance.
Ms. Makarova, who began her dance training at the age of 6 with the world-renowned Moiseyev Dance Studio and trained as an actress at the Moscow Academy of Performing Arts, recently graduated magna cum laude from Long Island University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.
Mr. Rudoy, a dancer, choreographer and artistic director of the Europa Dance Company in New York, performed throughout Ukraine and across Europe after training with the Druzhba and Mazltov folk dance companies in Lviv.
Strutting their stuff in various dances during the evening, the trio teamed up with Mr. Cybyk for a flirtatious, foot-stamping Ukrainian dance "Boikivski Zabavy" (Boiko Games) that drew bravos and cheers from the enthusiastic audience.
At a reception following the show, special acclaim for years of devoted service went to all the dancers and to Sophia Janusz Pachecano, a former Voloshky Ukrainian Ensemble dancer in Philadelphia and an ALLNATIONS dancer who served for 14 years as the company's associate director, and Herman Rottenberg, the company's producer and founder.
Helen Smindak's e-mail address is HaliaSmindak@aol.com.
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, June 3, 2001, No. 22, Vol. LXIX
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