This past June the Yevshan Ukrainian Folk Ballet Ensemble of Saskatoon embarked on a remarkable dance tour through the Balkans, visiting five different countries and performing in venues including tiny village theatres, outdoor festival stages, and cobblestone streets in the main city squares. They were lucky to have their trip organized through Cobblestone Freeway in partnership with Kufer Travel, which promised to immerse the group in the grass root traditions of the various countries they would visit, all the while ensuring that they could share their Ukrainian-Canadian culture with others through their love of dance.
The trip was specifically designed for Yevshan, and the first stop was a visit to the beautiful city of Budapest, Hungary. The group was mesmerized by the unique architecture and stunning views along the Danube River. A night time city cruise allowed them to view the beautiful parliament buildings and historic landmarks along the river.
The next stop was Serbia, where Yevshan had their first full performance, in a tiny Ukrainian village called Ruski Krstur. The theatre was packed with people of all ages who came to see the Ukrainian dance group from Canada, and there was even a family who had immigrated to Saskatchewan years ago, who happened to be back in Ruski Krstur and caught the show; it was a wonderful opportunity to have fans from back home, cheering us on. The hour long show was comprised of dances from all regions of Ukraine and included Yevshan’s popular Hopak, which was met with a standing ovation and cheers for another encore. After the show the dancers poured out into the streets to meet the villagers and thanked them for coming, while offering toys and Canadian souvenirs to all the children. We said our goodbyes and continued en route to Belgrade, the capital city of Serbia.
In Belgrade, Yevshan got to experience true gypsy culture with a private party on the famous Black Panther boat, on Gypsy Island; there the dancers were entertained by an authentic gypsy band and danced the night away, while enjoying great food and a few shots of the local drink, Rakia.
The next stop on the tour was a folk festival of traditional Croatian dancing and singing in Ðakovo, Croatia. Yevshan performed twice during the outdoor festival and also participated in the parade, with over 100 other performing groups. A highlight for the group was where all entertainers were invited into the beer gardens for socializing. A custom at the festival is to have groups from different parts of Croatia sing their traditional songs and chants and then invite a neighbouring table to sing back to them. Although the language was lost on the dancers, they were invited to patriciate and ‘sing’ along.
After two days performing at the festival, Yevshan was off once again, this time to the enchanting city of Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Time spent in this magical city was a highlight for many in the group, and the opportunity to explore the markets, witness the religious observance of Ramadan, and learn about the horrific Bosnian war, through a tour of the Tunnel of Salvation, was truly unforgettable. It was difficult to view the city and still see the remnants of war on the buildings; it was even more difficult to hear firsthand the stories of those who had survived and what they had endured. Everyone left Sarajevo with a better understanding of the tragic consequences of war and were amazed by the resilience and the strength that the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina possess. Before leaving, many in the group drank from a fountain, where legend states that if you drink water from the faucet on Baščaršija, you will come back to Sarajevo again and again – Yevshan made sure they didn’t leave thirsty.
The next leg of the tour brought Yevshan back to the breathtaking coast of Croatia; the first stop was the quaint beachside city of Makarska. After spending the day on the sunny Golden Horn beach, on the island of Brac, Yevshan got prepared for another full show in Makarska’s main square. It was an amazing experience, getting to dance under the lights and stars, in front of St. Mark’s Church, with over 1000 people stopped to watch and enjoy our performance.
The following day Yevshan visited the famous city of Dubrovnik; many in the group took the opportunity to walk the city walls, overlooking the spectacular city below and the vast sea that stretched out into the horizon. After dining on some fresh oysters and local cuisine, the group went on a panoramic boat ride, learning more about this ancient city. The tour continued up the coast with stops in Split, Rovinj, and Žminj where Yevshan performed at a famous accordion festival; upon entering Žminj, the dancers were greeted by over 30 accordion players, parading up the street. Following this stop, Yevshan headed to Pula, where they visited the Arena, the 6th largest Roman amphitheatre, and had their last performance in front of the Temple of Augustus in the city’s main square.
As the tour neared its end, the group made a quick stop in the lovely city of Ljubljana, Slovenia and then finally the capital city of Croatia, Zagreb. In Zagreb, the dancers had a workshop with a local Croatian dance company, learning about the costumes, traditions, music, and unique dance steps. After dinner and dancing with this local group, it was time to say Goodbye, or as they say in Croatia Zbogom!
One cannot count the amazing memories that were made on this trip and Yevshan feels very grateful and fortunate that they had these experiences. To learn more about Yevshan and stay up to date with all of their upcoming events, check out the website www.yevshan.ca and like their Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/www.yevshan.ca .
Submitted by: Luba Wojcichowsky, Dancer Representative Yesvhan Ukrainian Folk Ballet Ens.