The Showman and the Ukrainian Cause: Folk Dance, Film, and by Orest T. Martynowych

By Orest T. Martynowych

A quixotic determine, Vasile Avramenko (1895–1981) used folks tradition and smooth media in a life-long campaign to advertise Ukraine’s fight for independence to North American audiences. From his base in manhattan urban, he equipped a community of people dance colleges and produced musical spectacles to aid Ukrainian immigrants maintain their id. His feature-length Ukrainian language movies made within the Thirties with Hollywood director Edgar G. Ulmer, the “king of ethnic and B movies,” have been proven all through North the USA. Orest T. Martynowych’s The Showman and the Ukrainian Cause is an interesting portrait of ways tradition can develop into a political instrument in an immigrant community.

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49 For their benefit, as well as for all graduates, Avramenko, Pihuliak, and Kist compiled and then published in March a fifty-page illustrated volume, Ukrainski natsionalni tanky (Ukrainian National Dances), describing all of the dances taught by Avramenko. On top of everything, he had to prepare, coordinate, and perform at recitals scheduled for March, and then examine pupils, in all four communities. As a result, by February he was ill, suffering from fatigue, and extremely high strung. 50 40 DANCE MASTER Rumours about his personal life were also beginning to take a toll on Avramenko.

They dance with their feet, which, after all, seems a natural way to dance. But how they can dance. … This ballet festival was not a ceremony in which blasé youth looked on at the performance of grown-ups. … Everyone took part. … There was much vigour and no vulgarity. Suggestion was a million miles away. They danced as David might have danced before the Lord. Some of the best dancing was like the best Ukrainian singing, done by groups of men, or by girls singly or in pairs. 1 Such reviews marked a sharp departure in the popular Canadian perception of Ukrainians.

The city’s Ukrainian labourers and tradesmen had more disposable cash than prairie homesteaders, and southern Ontario was close to the American states with the highest concentrations of Ukrainian immigrants. Toronto also seemed to offer Avramenko the brightest prospects because Ukrainian factional disputes were relatively muted in the city. Unlike Winnipeg, with its 20,000 Ukrainian Canadians, Toronto was only beginning to divide into warring Catholic, Orthodox, pro-Soviet, and militant nationalist factions.

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