CLEVELAND – The Maria Zankovetska National Drama Theater, in existence now for a century, is coming to North America in late October.
The troupe traces its beginnings to 1917, at the time the Russian Empire fell and the Ukrainian Revolution began, when young Ukrainian activists established political and cultural organizations, including the first national theater in Kyiv. Its first production was presented at the Troyitsky National Home in Kyiv. In the 1930s, the group moved to Zaporizhia; after Soviet Ukraine incorporated Halychyna in the early 1940s, the theater moved to Lviv, where it’s been ever since under its current name.
Three generations of Ukraine’s actors went through the Zankovetska Theater. Historic theater productions were revived; new plays were produced. And road tours were set in motion, including half a dozen to North America going back a decade. The most recent was two years ago, with Mykola Lysenko’s 1889 operetta based on Ivan Kotliarevsky’s “Natalka Poltavka.”
Now there’s a new one on the way: “Hutsulka Ksenia.” The Zankovetska Theater will present the production on October 20 in New York, at Master Theater in Brooklyn; on October 21 in the Philadelphia area, at the Ukrainian Educational and Cultural Center in Jenkintown; on October 22 in Yonkers, N.Y., at the Ukrainian Youth Center Hall; on October 25 in Warren, Mich., at the Ukrainian Community Center; on October 27 in Chicago at St. Nicholas Cathedral School; on October 28 in Parma, Ohio, at Pokrova Church Hall; and on October 29 in Missisaugua, Ontario, at the Annapilis Christian Community Center.
This grueling schedule speaks to the Zankovetska Theater’s dedication to Ukrainian culture and its determination to bring it to world audiences.
For the Cleveland area, the production is particularly significant. The composer of the piece, Jaroslav Barnych (1896-1967) was born in Ukraine and started his musical career in Stanyslaviv (now Ivano-Frankivsk). Soviet occupiers who took over Western Ukraine at the start of World War II considered young artists like Barnych “enemies of the people,” which forced him, along with thousands of others, to flee to the West and the post-war displaced persons camps in Germany. There he became a mainstay in the Blavatsky Theater, writing music and helping to stage theater productions over the course of the five years the camps were active (1945-1950) before settling in Cleveland with his wife and daughter. There Maestro Barnych organized a choir named after Shevchenko with more than 100 singers. Thousands attended the concerts where they performed.
The Maria Zankovetska National Drama Theater, in existence now for a century, represents the very best of Ukraine’s vibrant art scene. Audiences now have the opportunity to experience this unique cultural ensemble here in the North America, where Ukrainian immigrant culture and Ukrainian post-independence culture converge.