For a number of years the Ukrainian Festival was
held at the Bloor West Village around this time of the year. This proved to
be a very expensive proposition, despite the fact that it was one of the
most successful – and eagerly awaited by many, I might add – events of the
summer. The city simply asked for too much security details, which drove the
cost way up. Electricity set ups and other needs also were huge expenses.
This is the reason also why the German Christmas Market did not succeed in
Toronto. The city’s requirements and costs are so exorbitant that organizers
are compelled to look for other locations to hold a festival.
Ukrainian Zabava was the alternative that was
needed! Holding the event at Harbourfront seemed to be a good, less expensive
Yes and no! It depends who is looking. The event
on Boor street was a solid Ukrainian ‘Happening’ with opening ceremonies, a
parade on Bloor Street, food and drink booths, a great number of kiosks
displaying goods from their homeland, lots of entertainment and a general
good feeling of togetherness, camaraderie and pride in their heritage. It
was allowing other ethnic groups to look over the fence at what this proudly
Ukrainian community was willing to share with their new neighbours here in
The event at Harbourfront in comparison is a
somewhat watered-down copy of the original concept. Yes, there were still a
kiosks offering Ukrainian merchandise and customs . There was Easter egg
painting in the kid’s tent and some entertainment spread throughout this
huge area that is ‘Harbourfront’.
There was ‘Culture in action’ in the Lakeside
Terrace Tent. Dance and musical entertainment at the Toronto Star stage –
but few and far between. Of course the exposure of the cultural aspect of
the event may have been larger
since many more people visited the area for
other attractions, not just the Ukrainian event. That could be a positive
slant on continuing on this venue in the future, especially if the costs to
the organizers are lower.
Ukrainian wedding ceremony
One of the highlights of the event was of course
the "Ukrainian Wedding" stage show on the Sirius stage. The MC led the large
audience through the complicated rituals of a typical Ukrainian wedding.
The audience learned that the world of the ancient
Slavs was tightly connected to the world of the ancestors that had already
passed away. Even today, in southern Ukraine – which preserves more
traditions and customs - every summer village women pay their respect to the
ancestors of the families – so called ‘Didam’
In the ancient times people believed that during
those days the spirits of the forefathers come to this world to take care of
the living ones. Their greatest might was displayed at the time of the
Equinox, when ‘rysalky’ or witches were roaming through the fields and
forests of the country, not so unlike the stories we know from other
In this play, at the presence of the whole
community, the women-sorceress unites the couple – Halyna and Vasil
(Ukrainian Adam & Eve) - that was brought together by fate: from the
preparation for the wedding through the bridal night, the gathering, the
wedding train, the bedroom (the couple are not on stage then), splitting of
the Korovay Cake to changing the hair of the bride until she is a married
woman and only her husband is allowed to see her hair. Mnohaya Lita!
The evening at the large stage concluded with a
performance of the large, over 30-man Canadian Bandurist Capella, consisting
of musicians and a choir. The Bandura is a 16-string instrument that is
native to the Ukraine.
One of the performers of note in the choir was Petro
Stilmachenko a tenor and opera singer. His son Sergei – a baritone – is well
known on stages around Europe and often performs with the Opéra National de
Paris. In Canada he performed with the Montreal Opera, Vancouver Opera,
Oxford Festival and other venues. Surely we will hear much more of both them
in times to come.
Another highlight at the Studio Theatre was Damian
Kolodiy’s film "The Orange Chronicles". The film focuses on the passionate
people who filled the streets of Kiev during the Presidential Elections of
2004 to protest the poisoning of their candidate Victor Yuhchenko, an unjust
election and the corrupt government that created it. Surely you remember the
heavy news coverage we had on that locally.
This extraordinary documentary chronicles
operations and sentiments on the ground during the lead up to the elections,
and provides a clear understanding of the dramatic confrontations and high
stakes of that time. It also explores what motivated the people to activate,
as well as the emotional conflicts among the bitterly divided populace.
Lessons about the power of organized activism can be applied the world over
to successful opposition against electoral corruption.
It was one of the best and most moving
documentaries I have seen in a long time. More power to the people!