Toronto Ukrainian Festival at Harbourfront

By John Pidkowich

Toronto and environs celebrated Ukrainian Zabava, a festival of Ukrainian Canadian culture co-produced with the Toronto Ukrainian Festival and Harbourfront Centre under the banner of their World Routes 2007 summer events, presented by RBC. Ukrainian Zabava ran through Labour Day Weekend August 31 - September 3, 2007 on Toronto’s spectacular waterfront in and around Harbourfront’s York Quay Centre.

The festival’s opening reception was held in the Marilyn Brewer Community Space, where dignitaries and invited guests from the community mingled and shared their appreciation for the Ukrainian Wedding exhibit. Official greetings were delivered by Melanie Fernandez from Harbourfront Centre, Andrew Hladyshevsky, President of the Ukrainian Canadian Foundation of Taras Shevchenko, Dr. Andrij Nahachewsky, Director of the Canadian Centre for Ukrainian Culture and Ethnography and holder of the Huculak Chair of studies, University of Alberta; and from the Government of Ontario, the Hon. Laurel Broten, Minister of the Environment with her family. In his welcome, Ukrainian Toronto Festival Chair, Jurij Klufas announced a new festival sponsor this year, the Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Corporation in addition to the festival’s cherished long-time sponsors. Long-time member of the Festival Board, Raya Shadursky introduced, among others, the Hon. Donna Cansfield, Ontario's Minister of Transportation, High Park-Parkdale MP Peggy Nash and MPP Cheri DiNovo and, Alexander Danyleiko, Consul General of Ukraine in Toronto. The exhibit articles in the Space and Loft above showing elements of a Ukrainian Wedding – wedding cloths (rushnyky), costumes, headdresses, video and photograph images - were prepared by the Ukrainian Museum of Canada, Ontario Branch. A display of note is the wedding bridal gown hand-sewn and stitched by Anna Kuriliw and worn by her when she married Joseph Kuriliw, now a family heirloom on exhibit loan by her children Oksana and Ihor Kuriliw.

The festival’s theme and program celebrated a Ukrainian Wedding in traditional style with infusion of contemporary elements. The stage production of the Wedding Show was presented Saturday and Sunday featuring a picturesque traditional Hutzul ceremony for a wedding couple, folk dancing and transition to modern fun-filled celebrations. The touring show was organized by Oleh Skrypka with Iryna Klymenko, Director and performed by the Hurtopravtsi Ensemble, direct from Ukraine. The Ukrainian wedding is known as the richest among old Ukrainian traditions and, particularly in Ukraine’s Hutzul Region in the Carpathian Mountains, is filled with ancient symbolic rituals marking the importance of this life milestone. In the audience, many Ukrainians and Canadians alike, until now unfamiliar with Hutzul culture, were in awe and some had tears swell up in their eyes over the beauty of Hutzul wedding tradition and celebration of this great time of joy.

Saturday Evening’s concert stage entertained some 5000 people and featured the festival’s main headliner, Oleh Skrypka and Le Grand Orchestra. Skrypka is a leader in the revival of Ukrainian culture in Ukraine and famous for the “old hits” of the glam-punk band “Vopli Vidoplyasova”, French Chanson, well-known and forgotten Ukrainian folk songs and romances.

The Studio Theatre featured screenings of seven documentaries and films including question and answer sessions with film directors Damian Kolodiy of Orange Chronicles which examines Ukraine’s Orange Revolution and, Marusia Bociurkiw of Flesh & Blood: A Journey Between East and West.

 The Festival showcase of Ukrainian musical and artistic talent, among many performers,  included: Pid Oblachkom who created an atmosphere of joy and nostalgia with their harmonious female voices and jazzy tunes; Edmonton’s Brian Cherwick’s excursion of fascinating old-world Ukrainian musical instruments; Canadian Bandurist Capella male chorus accompanied by the many stringed bandura – the national instrument of Ukraine; Yavir and Desna traditional Ukrainian dance ensembles and; Ancestral Voices modern dance by MN2 Productions from New York.

Needless to say, you cannot have a true Ukrainian Zabava without live band music to dance to and party, provided each festival evening - Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights - by Zbruch, Da Zogue, Richka of Montreal, Zirka, Ukrainia, Dunai, and Pryvit with dancing until 1:30 am in the Brigantine Room and on the Lakeside Terrace.

One of the most anticipated summer events, next year’s Toronto Ukrainian Festival will return to Bloor West Village and resume as street festival for the city and its Ukrainian community to gather to celebrate Ukrainian Culture and Heritage.