After our departure from Ivano-Frankivsk we were scheduled for a quick stop in the village of Nebyliv where there is a monument commemorating the very first Ukrainian pioneers to emigrate to Canada - but first, we had to make it there alive. Traveling along the winding, pothole-ridden roads (think Edmonton potholes, in a huge bus - but 1000x worse) proved to be a bit of a problem and many people quickly began to suffer from motion sickness (I'm sure the multiple vodka shots the night before didn't help). Dr. Donna was frantically handing out baggies and Gravol on the dancer bus until finally we needed to pull over for a "break". After some fresh air and freshly emptied tummies we were back on the road and after some time arrived in the village where we were warmly greeted by the mayor and many other locals. We took some great group shots, and the choir sang a very emotional rendition of Чуєш Брате Мій which held a special significance as the lyrics loosely parallel the idea of leaving your homeland to find a new life. Many other locals were drawn over by the sound of the choir and the sight of such a large group of people in their small village. We even met a woman who claimed to be related to the very first Ukrainian pioneer to seek a better life in Canada (far right in the photo). After a few more hours we were excited to arrive in Lviv where we would be feature performers in the first ever International Ukrainian Dance and Culture Festival. We ate a late lunch at Hotel Lviv, which would be our home for the next few days, and then headed to the Yunist Studio/Theatre to view the opening ceremony of the festival, which included a performance by the host dance ensemble, Yunist - what a show. The next morning led us back to the theatre where the choir had a workshop with the amazing Ruslana, the biggest pop star and human rights activist in Ukraine. Many happy choir members raved about the workshop, some even said it was life-changing. While the choir enjoyed their workshop, the dancers had a workshop with Yunist. This workshop was not just for Viter dancers, but involved ALL dancers participating in the festival. It was a great experience to learn, dance and sweat (and boy, did we sweat) with dancers from Vancouver, Athabasca, Manchester and Beunos Aries. That afternoon we had our first performance of the festival. It was an incredible setting for a show, a stage set up in the middle of Rynok Square, surrounded by a sea of people excited to see what this new festival was all about. Our "change rooms" however, were a different story - there weren't any! We set up our costumes on the street behind the stage, which in itself drew quite a crowd. There were many photos taken of people changing and getting ready, and warm up for dancers felt more like a game of street hockey when someone would yell "CAR" and we would need to step to the side. The show itself was very well received, and it was our first chance to watch the other groups from Australia and England perform - everyone did a great job. The festival had organized a private zabava for all performers for that evening at a local club. We walked in to see tables full of fancy h'ordeurves and drinks. The bands Bourdon and Tyt I Tam played the night away and we even had a private performance by Ruslana - what a great energy in the building that night! We mixed and we mingled with Yunist, Manchester, Australia and Canada long into the night and left feeling as though we had all made many new friends....and we would probably win the prize for world's best kolomeyka!
The next morning we were scheduled to walk in a procession with all festival participants, but due to some wet, rainy weather, this was cancelled and our outdoor performance that evening got relocated to the Yunist theatre. All performers put on yet another great show, and it was so fun to be backstage with all of the other groups to cheer on our new friends from all over the world. The following morning dancers had a rehearsal bright and early at the hotel, as some dances needed to be reset due to a nagging ankle injury suffered by Deeyana Baydala. After rehearsal, most people hit up the local market before choir and dancers headed out for a group lunch at Da Vinci restaurant. After lunch we had some time to pack costumes and get hair and makeup ready for our much anticipated performance at the Lviv Theatre of Opera and Ballet. We had a quick tech rehearsal and learned a small finale that was performed by all groups at the gala concert, which featured the festival's top picks for dances and songs. We found some time to take an absolutely stunning group photo outside the Opera House before walking in the procession with festival participants to the Taras Shevchenko monument where each group layed flowers and the Viter choir gave another emotional performance of one of Shevchenko's songs. Once the procession was over (and it was starting to rain), we all ran back to the theatre to warm up for the big show - which already had a lineup of audience members outside. And then it was showtime. What an emotional experience for dancers and choir alike. Just imagine, Viter kicking off the concert with Pryvit and the curtain opening to reveal the most beautiful and royal looking theatre ever, only to see that the main floor was FULL...first balcony, FULL....second balcony, FULL.....THIRD balcony - FULL!!! All groups performed incredibly, but Viter was outstanding!! What an honour for us to have the opportunity to perform in such a grand and highly respected venue. There were members of the choir who performed here 26 years ago with Shumka, so to be back performing here again was extra special for them. Dancers also had an extra treat that night -Artistic Director, Tasha, joined us on stage for part of Hopak!! It took some convincing by the dancers, but since Deeyana opted to rest her ankle for this performance, we told Tasha to come on stage for Deeyana's solo. Of course, she danced amazingly and looked just like "one of us" in her Hopak costume, which fit her perfectly. The close of the show brought many more tears, hugs, photos and we even popped a few bottles of champagne on stage with the other participants. I'm sure there are already loads of pictures on Facebook, but the photos don't do justice to the experience that we were all so fortunate to have had. It was a surreal feeling to be on one stage with Ukrainian dancers and singers from all over the world, having just danced and sang our hearts out together- truly something special.
After the show it was a mad rush back to the hotel where people changed, freshened up and we all met to have another champagne toast - this time in celebration of dancer, Kalyna Gunderman's, sweet 16th birthday - I am sure this is a birthday she will never forget!
From there most people walked to a club where we were given one last evening to socialize with our new worldly friends before all parting ways in the morning. It was a late night for most and a very early morning for all as we loaded the buses at 7:15, ate a quick breakfast at Hotel Lviv and said a reluctant goodbye to this beautiful city that treated us so well and made such a lasting impression on each of us. There is definitely a specific energy and vibe to Lviv that is different from other cities, and although it's difficult to say goodbye to such a place, the pain was slightly eased knowing that we were heading up into the Carpathian Mountains for a new adventure.