Monday, August 12, 2013


Greetings, dear folks,

Have been remiss in not writing for a while.   Hope to correct this.  Stuff happens.  Have been attending the wonderful festival in Winnipeg -- Folklorama - Kyiv Pavilion  .

But as I watched last week's Spirit of Ukraine Pavilion and this week's Kyiv Pavilion dancers (various groups), I remembered an article I wrote for The Ukrainian Weekly back in 2008 -- it still stands.   But not much has changed.   Now that the USSR is no more and stage costumes can be ordered from designers in Ukraine, the folks in North American have to realize that those designers are in business (i.e., make money) -- they will present you with selections of who knows what, and try to tell you that this is a fine stage costume from Polissia or Bukovyna..... yeah, sure.  The artistic director or choreographer here should know enough about regional costumes to select what is appropriate or ask for a redesign, not accept what is presented.  Many of those designs are ridiculous.  And the groups here pay big money for inappropriate and wrong costumes.   If you're reading this, and are concerned, please pass this on to your dance group directors.  Do ask the knowledgeable people at Ukrainian museums, or reliable consultants before you waste your money - and then look bad on stage.  Sure, you will be colourful and pretty -- but that Hungarian- or Slovak- or Russian-influenced costume is not a Ukrainian one, and is not presenting the UKRAINIAN folk costume in all its beauty.


The Ukrainian folk costume, in its almost infinite regional variants, is truly something exquisite.   Both the male and female, but especially the latter, are so rich in symbolism, ornamentation, and just plain beauty, that it is amazing.  Throw in some of the strange and downright weird items of clothing and accessories, and you really have something that means much more than simple and practical protection from the elements.

Some of us have grown up with the Kyiv/Poltava "national" folk costume, and the Hutsul one (from the Carpathian Mountains).  The Volyn, Polissia, Boiko, Podillia, Bukovyna, Zakarpattia, Lemko, and other regional costumes were less familiar to us.   Even within each of these there are many variations, some broader than others. 

And we learn more about costumes all the time.  Dance ensembles and performers appear in newer and newer costumes, branching out to the lesser-known regions.  But some of these "new" outfits defy belief and authenticity.  I can't help but cringe when I see a supposedly Ukrainian Zakarpattia dance performed with the girls in crinolines and lacy hats that are so clearly from the Slovak or Hungarian side of the border, and not at all from the Zakarpattia side.   And one group has the Zakarpattia dancers in mauve or violet outfits!   Some of the Volyn costumes have veered into the Polish sides of the boundaries.    Of course there is some blending along borders; this is normal.  But if a dance group is to choose a costume for a particular region, surely it should be one representative of the Ukrainian part of that region, and not one where the other nationality from across the line is more obvious in the outfit.  

Don't even get me started on the Bukovyna shirts and costumes.  Beginning in the late 1950-early 1960s, the Rumanian influence on the traditional Bukovyna costume grew.   It was the local Ukrainian women that adopted the look from south of their border, and abandoned their elegant, symbolic, truly exquisite Bukovynian silhouette.  Instead of the tree of life, the ornamental and abstracted female figures and birds on the shirt sleeves, in the traditional three-part arrangement on the sleeves, there are now fully-beaded multicolored flowers all over the sleeves and bodice.   These may be bright, some may even think they are pretty, but they are not true Bukovyna sorochky [shirts], not even close.  In the old sorochky, there are touches of beads, sequins, and metallic threads, but not all-beaded.   And yet, these variegated big-flowered shirts are extremely popular – even Kateryna Yushchenko has one. 

Then there still are the women wearing the Rumanian blouses (on the chiffon-type fabric), with the almost-smocked gathered neckline.   These are lovely blouses, but should not be worn in place of Ukrainian ones, because they are not.  How offended would we be if at a Polish or Rumanian event, the women wore Ukrainian sorochky?   Of course, you could wear whatever you wish, but if it is an occasion for which a Ukrainian sorochka is appropriate, it should be one.  

True, traditional folk art and costume do develop and change over time, but we are no longer part of anything truly "folk" – no one is, whether in Ukraine or anywhere else in the world.  Even in the villages there are no real folk anymore.   The babusia or dido tending the cows in the field sits there reading a book or the newspaper and talks on a cell phone.  The traditional regional costumes are the ones handed down from the past, or should be. They are a special national treasure.    What a shame that some people are abandoning their precious "old" valuables, and are adopting what is popular and in style at the moment.   I recently saw photographs from a Hutsul village where all the women were wearing vests and shirts in designs, colors, and combinations that were completely foreign to any Hutsul tradition.   Because it's in style?  The Ukrainian global village?

With stage costumes for dance ensembles, the designers or costume committees want their group to be different, to stand out.   Well, some of them do, but for the wrong reasons.  Someone has to know where Volyn ends and Poland begins, or Zakarpattia and Slovakia and/or Hungary do.  Serious research needs to be done, and reliable, knowledgeable people need to be asked.  It is a shame to spend all those hard-earned funds, and be stuck with a costume that is just not right – and not really know any better.  

Then there was the influence of the Soviet-era Ukraine dance groups – Virsky and Veryovka, who at one time had some awful stage folk costumes.  The ensembles in North America accepted these as authentic, and were inspired by some of these.  The Hutsuls wearing boots started there.  Can you imagine any Hutsul climbing the mountain trails in boots?   How quickly would he slide down the path, all the way down on those leather soles?  I suppose it was easier for costume changes backstage, but it certainly deprived the Hutsul costume of an integral part. The postoly, the leather moccasins with the turned-up toes, were perfect for climbing the mountains – the toes wouldn't catch in the roots along the trail.   Nowadays, it is too bad that few Ukrainian groups anywhere wear postoly.

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