The Sadok Ukrainian Dance Ensemble is about to present a musical theatre production in tribute to Canada’s many Ukrainian immigrants who overcame hardship to start a new life for themselves.
The production, Free Land, is part of Sadok’s 15th annual Okanagan Ukrainian Festival, which takes place at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre May 25. It is based on the early immigration period of 1891 to 1914, where more than 170,000 Eastern Europeans of Ukrainian descent were invited to Canada to open up the west.
The musical play explains the hardships of the early immigrants from clearing land with hand tools to surviving the cold Prairie winters, to those who faced persecution during the First World War when the War Measures Act was invoked, said Sadok’s artistic director Andrea Malysh.
“This concert commemorates the centennial of Canada’s first national internment operations of 1914 to 1920,” said Malysh. “The story takes us back to a tragic time in Canada’s history but what comes next is the story of an ethnic group who flourishes in this country. Through perseverance and hard work these new immigrants carve out Canada’s breadbasket creating the Canadian Prairie landscape.”
Free Land is the 22nd theatrical dance and music production choreographed by Malysh, who has 30 years experience in Ukrainian folk dance and ethnographic studies.
The story behind the production goes back to Canada’s first national internment operations when thousands of men, women and children were branded as “enemy aliens,” said Malysh.
“Many of those immigrants were imprisoned, stripped of what little wealth they had, and forced to do heavy labour in Canada’s hinterlands. They were also disenfranchised and subjected to other state sanctioned censures, not because of anything they had done, but only because of where they had come from, who they were,” she said. “Following release from work camps, Ukrainians and other Europeans were left with nothing to show for their forced labour.”
Sadok will highlight the first Ukrainian immigrants to Canada who were from the region of Bukovyna near the Carpathian Mountains.
“The costumes are traditional by design with our latest children’s costumes coming directly from Ukraine,” said Malysh.
The newest addition to this year’s Ukrainian festival is Tsveet, an musical ensemble made up of young musicians, who will accompany Sadok to two dances, including a ladies lyrical called In the Wheatfield and the children’s circle dance, Kolomayka.
After their hometown performance, Sadok will be guest performers at the cultural showcase at the Vegreville Ukrainian Pysanky Festival July 5.
“This excitingly vibrant and colourful style of dance is always enjoyed by audiences of both Ukrainians and non-Ukrainians alike,” said Malysh.
The May 25 performance at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre starts at 2 p.m. Tickets are now available at the Ticket Seller box office. Call 250-549-7469 or order at ticketseller.ca.