Review: Company communicates Ukrainian culture with athleticism, humor, joy

Although Ukraine has only been an independent state for about 13 years, its history dates back to the ninth century. The 85 members of the Virsky Ukrainian National Dance Company paid tribute to their homeland and that rich history with energetic, ballet-infused folk dancing and brightly colored costumes Friday night at the Lied Center.

The troupe, now under the artistic direction of Myroslav Vantukh, welcomed the audience with a symbolic offering of bread and salt on an embroidered towel before breaking into one of many short narrative chapters showcasing local customs, dress and culture. Supported by a lively orchestra -- the music alone could have told a similar story of tradition and culture -- small groups of dancers incorporated props such as spears, tambourines and yards of yarn to tell the story of Ukraine.

The troupe's men displayed both athleticism and grace with their Cossack-style kick dancing and acrobatics as warriors and sailors. At times, there were a dozen or more men squatting and kicking with improbable precision. As for the women, they were showcased as gypsies, weavers and wishful youths.

Almost as eye-catching as the lightening-fast legwork were the detailed costumes that changed according to the regional home of the dance being performed. Varying from satin parachute pants for the Cossack-style dances to belly-baring gypsy costumes that sparkled with gold coins, the number of costume changes was remarkable. The 14 dances each featured at least a dozen dancers who never wore the same outfit twice.

Between the one-handed back handsprings and impossibly long spins, the dancers were able to convey a sense of their country's history with humor, optimism and uninhibited joy.

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