Roztiazhka History - Written By Mykhailo R. Doschak
It must be understood that scores of individuals have been (and continue to be) involved in the instruction of Ukrainian dance in Perth, particularly to children, but to list them all is beyond the purpose of this article. We hope to provide a concise overview of the dates, events, and key people leading adult Ukrainian dance in Perth
1950 - 60's
The beginnings of Ukrainian dance in Perth can be traced back to 1949-1950, surrounding community life in the Displaced Persons camps. It was here that folk dance retained its truest meaning, being used to honour and describe religious events, and to celebrate social functions. Thus, 'Vesnianky', the 'Arkan', 'Kozachok' and 'Hopak' were all first witnessed on West Australian soil.
The first adult dance group in Perth 'Poltava' was organized by Vladimir Kania in 1951, and ran successfully for almost three decades. Consisting of 8 to 10 dancers and piano accompaniment, they thrilled an unsuspecting Australian public with age-old melodies and choreographic form (not to mention the cossack leaps and squats!). Vladimir was trained in Ukrainian dance in his hometown of Jaroslav, on the river San in Western Ukraine, and has clearly been the foremost influence upon Ukrainian dance in Perth. One of Poltava's finest performances was at the Capitol Theatre in 1952, as part of a concert in aid of the United Nations Forces in Korea . Dancing to a full house of 3,000, they stole the show from the other acts, and received critical acclaim. During this period, a second dance group was formed in Melville, The Melville Ukrainian Dancing Group was also directed by Vladimir Kania, and continued successfully for many years.
Ukrainian dance in Perth received a boost in 1966, when the renowned folk-dance master Vasile Avramenko passed through Perth, on his personal crusade to promote Ukrainian dance throughout the world. In conjunction with the Ukrainian Association of Western Australia, an intensive workshop was organised and frequented by no less than 100 students, from 5 years of age through to 30. One student, Bohdan Karpewicz, was instrumental in leading the Perth 'Hromadska' Ukrainian dancing group, and they took part in a national Australian Meet of Ukrainians in Canberra, organised by the Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organisations.
Groups came and went over the next decades, mostly a result of social groups of friends enjoying folk dance, teaching the young, and performing for the Ukrainian community, as well as to an intrigued Australian public. A dance school was started by Fedir Melnyczuk (circa 1967) who also taught the dances, and introduced many Australian-born children to Ukrainian dance.
1970 - 80's
Another notable school of dance was organised by the Ukrainian Youth Association (SUM) in Perth circa 1973. Initially led by Vladimir Kania, and later by Andrij Mandyczewskyj, the group was named 'Kalyna', and aimed to maintain and promote Ukrainian culture in Western Australia. High-points in dance were achieved with televised performances of Ukrainian dance in Perth during local Telethon charity fund-raising, which continued for a number of years.
During this phase of our development, exciting contributions were made to this ever developing art form by many young Australian-born Ukrainians. Excited by the ability to explore and create new choreography, their efforts were further boosted by the increasing amount of new resource books from Ukraine itself, particularly 'Ukraiinski Narodni Tanky' edited by Humeniuk in the Ukrainian language, and describing the works of Pavlo Virsky. The existing folk dance was re-infused with rich choreographic ideas and a well-defined dance-step lexicology. The definition of this 'alphabet' opened the door to fresh efforts at original choreography, with the forging of an Australian-Ukrainian character which differs to that from our Ukrainian, Canadian, European and other contemporaries. We find this an exciting development with Ukrainian dance, as creativity is the soul of the arts, and not a detriment.
Through the 1970's and 1980's, an ever increasing interest from the Australian public resulted in a consistent volume of dance performance in the general Australian society. Beginning with the advent of large multicultural festivals at packed concert hall venues, Ukrainian dancers from both ensembles would often perform to enthusiastic audiences, at times in conjunction with performances by the Australian dance community. The most notable of these were the Shell Oil Company sponsored "Shell Folkloric Festivals", which ran nationally for a decade to sizeable audiences, until funding cut-backs fuelled by the oil crisis ended them in 1986. Other exciting developments for the dance community were the advent of regular (3-yearly) national Ukrainian Youth Association (SUM) Meets in Australia ('Krayovi Zdvyhy') and worldwide. These meets were invariably associated with concerts showcasing the 'National' wealth of Ukrainian music, song and dance groups, and provided dancers in Perth with the first means of interstate dance friendships, collaborations, and friendly competitive rivalries! Notable as well, through this period, were the increasing resources for Ukrainian dance becoming available from Canada . New albums of dance music, choreographic books, and Ukrainian regional dances were finding their way to a ravenous Australian-Ukrainian audience.
1990 - 00's
In 1986, following the departure of many 'Kalyna' dancers, the Ukrainian dance scene was again undergoing transition. The newly formed group of dancers, led by Mykhailo R. Doschak, renamed themselves 'Roztiazhka'. They remained with SUM until 1991, when the dancers decided to become an independent dance company to concentrate on Ukrainian dance alone, and to meet the workload of performances with an increased focus to the Australian public in general. Other key instructors, who invested much work and personal time during this period of change, were Peter Jakimowiez, Halya Doschak, and Ivan McLean. The highlight of this period was the first 'stand-alone' Australian concert production and 4 city tour of any Perth Ukrainian dance company in 1994. This 90 minute production was directed by Mykhailo R. Doschak, and was entitled 'The Cossacks Are Coming!’ A product of the composite wealth of 45 years of Ukrainian dance history in Perth, 'Roztiazhka' was joined and accompanied live by the 'Kashtany' Music Ensemble of Perth, under the musical direction of local Perth composer Myroslav Gutej. Following an excellently organised promotional campaign, to the credit of local photographer Bohdan Warchomij, the show performances were to 'full-house' audiences in Mandurah, Bunbury, Albany and Perth, with much positive press coverage.
Roztiazhka was led by Alex McLean and Stephanie Ostaszewskyj-Parin from 1995. They proudly represented the 'Next Generation' of Ukrainian dancers in Perth, and created a unique social group of individuals who continue to develop and enjoy Ukrainian Cossack and Ukrainian folk dance. Highlights during this time include mammoth performances at the Perth Entertainment Centre as part of the nationally televised 'Oz Concert', a celebration of Australia Day from its multicultural community. Roztiazhka also took part in Perth’s 'Dance Advance' concert, the highlight of the annual 'Dance Week', and a showcase of Perth’s leading dance companies.
Today Roztiazhka is led by Mark Petrowsky and Melissa Cawley our dancers continue to entertain audiences around Australia with their highly energetic performances.
The dawn of the Technological Age has once again re-infused fresh resources and energy into our Ukrainian dance scene. Videos, touring Ukrainian ensembles from interstate, Canada, and the former Soviet Union (to this date, no Ukrainian dance company from Ukraine itself has ever toured Perth) have all intensively boosted the excitement and achievements of local Ukrainian dance companies in an increasingly critical dance world.
The above synopsis of our history in Perth has been provided as an insight into our local heritage, one which has been meaningful for the many generations of Ukrainian people as well as for many Australians, touched by the beauty of Ukrainian dance, and pleased that they have had the good fortune to have witnessed it. It continues in the good hands of our young dancers, and there is much excitement for Ukrainian Cossack and folk dancing in Perth, Australia.
Poltava Ukrainian Dancers: 1952
Back row (L-R): Natalya Anuriv, Halyna Leheta , Lydia Pushyk.
Front row (L-R): George Pushyk, Vladimir Kania, Mykhailo Doschak.
Guitarist: Eugene Daskevych.
Melville Ukrainian Dancers: 1954
From left to right: Halyna Shyhymaha, Mykhailo Kuzoriz, Nina Tkachenko, Eve Omelnyckyj, Vladimir Kania, Nina Pawlenko.
Poltava Ukrainian Dancers: 1968
From left to right: Nina Lubtchenko, Olia Lubtchenko, Mykhailo Spryn, Wolodymyr Lubtchenko, Victor Shilo, Vladimir Kania, Slawka Shilo
Standing (L-R): Natalya Hawrylak, Stiffy Lozyk, Alex McLean, John Karpewycz, Julie Panotidis
Seated (L-R): Raine Gorter, John Ostaszewskyj, Katrina Lozyk, Mark Petrowsky, Jeremy Simon, Darina Gassanova, Clem Mykytiuk, Andrij Lozyk
Standing (L-R): Ronnie Wityk, Peter Wityk, Tayissa Barone, Natalya Hawrylak, Julia Grynchyn, Stephanie Parin, Hanya Furdas, Melissa Cruelty, Danielle Seetsen, Kasiana Mandyczewsky, Lauren Minosora, Emma Thompson, Maranne Purnell, Luke Doschak, Michael Doschak.
Kneeling (L-R): Tymko Kaszczyszyn, Simon Korzec, Ivan Wityk, Daniel Lozyk, Michael Semenesczyn, Mark Petrowsky, Andrij Lozyk, Stiffy Lozyk, Jeremy Siomon, Mark Marunczyn, Alex McLean, David Marunczyn.