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From the Carpathians to campus

Center Stage brings Ukrainian folk group Kurbasy to Meany Hall

Kurbasy photo

The musicians who make up Kurbasy, a Ukrainian avant-garde folk group.

The UW’s Meany Center for the Performing Arts will be hosting the Ukrainian avant-garde folk group, Kurbasy, on Nov. 16.

The group, hailing from the Ukrainian city of Lviv along the Carpathian mountain range, was founded in 2008 by “actress-singers” Maria Oneshchak, Myroslava Rachynska, and Natalia Rybka-Parkhomenko. While the trio takes on traditional Ukrainian folklore in song form and employs traditional harmonies of the region, they have pushed the art form into the 21st century, working with digital artists to add visually stimulating projections to the performance.

Meany Hall is one of many stops Kurbasy has made over their month-long first-time tour of the United States.

The tour has been curated through Center Stage, a government-based cultural exchange initiative of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs produced by the New England Foundation for the Arts.

Currently in its fourth season, Center Stage brings artists from various parts of the world to the U.S. so as to develop cross-cultural understanding. The five groups touring this season hail from Egypt and Ukraine.

Michelle Witt, executive and artistic director of the Meany Center, was one of the delegates (all U.S.-based artistic directors) sent to Ukraine during the spring of 2017 to scout out artists for the program.

“We saw this Kurbasy at a cultural sort of a community center and were just really blown away by the quality of the music, by the visuals … the history of the music, and the folk tradition of Ukraine,” Witt recalled. “We just really fell in love with the group.”

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Witt explained that, while it was never explained why the program had chosen to feature artists from Egypt and Ukraine — two countries known for their political instability and recent revolutions (the 2011 Egyptian Revolution as part of the Arab Spring and the 2014 Euromaidan Revolutions in Ukraine) — she noted several similarities between the two nations which might have been at play in the decision-making process.

“They’re both areas that have large youth populations that have been very politically active, that have really made a huge difference in the regimes in their countries,” Witt said. “Things can go in a number of different directions, so the more ties that we can build to the U.S. and strengthen cultural connections, the more we can create a bridge to those countries and hopefully to helping in whatever way we can.”

While Kurbasy is not in-and-of-itself political in nature, the group’s emphasis on Ukrainian folk traditions is aligned with much of the current political sentiment in Ukraine, a country historically shuffled between Eastern and Western Europe with few opportunities to forge its own cultural identity.

“Diving down into its folk roots has been one way that young Ukrainians have been able to express their unique identity,” Witt added. “If you look at images from the Maidan Revolution, there are many young people who dressed in the same kind of folk dress as a way of expressing the uniqueness of the country.”

To witness this creative expression of Ukraine’s uniqueness, pick up tickets for Kurbasy’s performance at 8 p.m. this Friday in Meany Hall.


Reach writer Sophie Aanerud at Twitter: @thesraanerud

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