The Lehenda Ukrainian Dance Company has dazzled audiences across Australia with burning passion, raw talent, and with the beaming pride of their heritage. This summer, the Melbourne-based company will bring its talents to the American heartland, performing on Thursday, July 2nd at the Chicagoland North Shore Center for The Performing Arts.
Lehenda’s 2015 International Tour will showcase its new dance production, “Kazka: a fairytale of love, lost … and a mysterious blue fox.” Performed by the 39-member cast, Kazka will bring to light the unique intricacies of Ukrainian history, dance, and folklore. Choreographed by the Merited (Performing) Artist of Ukraine, Melanie Moravski Dechnicz, the show combines contemporary dance elements with the deeply historical legend of Ukrainian traditional dance. The Ukrainian President awarded Dechnicz with the title of Merited Artist of Ukraine in 2009.
“Kazka is a project that I have been working on with a group of artists for many years now,” Dechnicz said. “It’s been such a long time in the making that touring it nationally wasn’t even a question. It has been 10 years since a full-length dance show has toured Australia so it was definitely time for this tour.”
While Ukrainian dance in cities like Chicago plays a critical role in the Diaspora, in Australia, Dechnicz said, Ukrainian dance is not nearly as widely recognized. “Lehenda’s goal is to share the amazing dance culture of Ukraine. We have a large number of non-Ukrainian dancers in the school and the company, and we enjoy spreading the knowledge of our heritage to them.”
Unlike many other Ukrainian Dance Ensembles, Lehenda shoulders the responsibility of teaching its dancers and audiences all aspects of Ukrainian culture. According to Dechnicz, the company focuses on teaching not just choreography, but also facts about the various regions of Ukraine, including each region’s folklore, literature, and fairytales.
Lehenda also features a School of Dance where children as young as 3 years old can be found participating. Children are trained once a week in three separate lessons that focus on class work, Ukrainian technique, repertoire, and strength and conditioning. Class work largely centers around Classical Barre and center work. Boys and girls are split into separate groups for Ukrainian Technique, while repertoire involves the joy of performance. Finally, the strength and conditioning program plays a critical role in keeping up the well being of the school’s dancers.
The Strength and Conditioning Program was designed specifically for Ukrainian Dancing by the resident Physiotherapist Stephanie Novak. The program incorporates the principles used by the medical staff of the Australian Ballet School.
“We are a Ukrainian Dance School and we teach Ukrainian Dance, so everything we do in the school and company is to display Ukrainian dance at the highest level we can,” Dechnicz said. “So the ballet elements, contemporary elements, and acrobatics we implement into our program is all to aid this.”
Having just opened the dance company in February 2014, artistic director Melanie Moravski Dechnicz has worked quickly to establish the renowned reputation of Lehenda.
“Having left a voluntary role at a community dance group in November of 2015, I couldn’t imagine working in any other field so I left my day job and opened Lehenda,” Dechnicz said.
Dechnicz’s own history with dance has been a long and impressive journey. A graduate with a Bachelor of Performing Arts degree, Dechnicz has studied with a variety of Ukrainian dance choreographers, and even danced with Virsky, the most prestigious dance company in Ukraine. Currently, a Ukrainian Character Teacher and Choreographer, Dechnicz teaches at the Australian Conservatoire of Ballet. Her former experience includes leading the Verchovyna Ukrainian Dance Ensemble and School to being the largest semi-professional Dance Company in Australia in only 9 years. Kazka is Dechnicz’s first full-length work.
“The dancers are all very keen to travel with this show,” Dechnicz said. “Originally, we wanted to take the show to Ukraine, but while in the planning stages it didn’t feel like the right time for that so we chose North America, and we couldn’t be more excited.”
From the Land Down Under, Lehenda Ukraine Dance Company will bring a true Kazka to Chicago’s Ukrainian Diaspora this summer
By Olga Tymouch
Photos: Dina Studio Photography