Interview conducted by: Solomiya Ostapyk
Petro Neborskij, Artistic Director of the Svitanok Ukrainian Dance Ensemble (Ottawa), Honoured Artist of Ukraine.
An honoured artist of Ukraine, Petro Neborskij has served as the Artistic Director/Choreographer of Ottawa’s Svitanok Ukrainian Dance Ensemble for over 20 years. Petro performed for 22 years on the professional stage as a dancer with the Veryovka Song and Dance Ensemble of Ukraine, the final 10 years as a soloist.
Where did you work in Ukraine and how did it lead you to Canada?
Before I came to Canada 23 years ago, I had worked as a professional dancer in the world-renowned Veryovka Choir. I started there as a young, inexperienced performer, and I eventually became one of the Ensemble’s leading dancers. Having worked there for more than 20 years, I gained substantial dance experience that helps me now in my work as the Svitanok Ukrainian Dance Ensemble Artistic Director and choreographer. While working in Veryovka, I also studied at the Institute of Theatrical Arts in Kyiv. The subject of my diploma and consequential dissertation was the functional role of dance in Ukrainian dramatic theatre. My development as a choreographer has been and is based on my knowledge of the history and theory of Ukrainian dance and on my practical experience as a professional dancer.
After my retirement as a professional dancer, I was invited to work as a lecturer in the Dance Department of the Institute of Culture in Kyiv. That is where two of Svitanok’s founders – at the time they were studying there – found me. They invited me to come to Ottawa to conduct a dance workshop in the then-existing ensemble, called Dnipro. The following year I was invited to work as the Artistic Director of the newly-organized Svitanok Ensemble. This is now my 24th year of working in this position.
What is your philosophy towards Ukrainian dance?
It’s not easy to answer this profound question in a short interview…I could talk about it for hours, because it’s my favourite topic…however, here is my general opinion. Ukrainian dance has an unlimited artistic expressive capacity to describe rich, colourful national Ukrainian characters in a wide variety of emotional conditions and situations. Big meaningful ideas, important social concepts, and conflicts and stories can also be expressed through the artistic genre of Ukrainian dance. Those theatrical dance stories can convey not only carefree, playful and joyful emotional atmospheres, but those that are optimistically heroic, deeply dramatic, and even tragic.
What do you hope to achieve with your work in the next few years?
I plan to keep working on further enhancing Svitanok’s own dance style and its artistic distinctiveness. This means working on creating new choreography and maintaining and perfecting that which we have now.
I also hope to keep working on furthering the development of our dancers, focusing on enhancing their dance, technical, and acting skills. An important aspect of this job is to work with our new members and apprentices on bringing their skills up to Svitanok’s artistic standards. I will also continue to work on keeping our dances ready for both scheduled and possible performances.
As a choreographer, artistic director, and performer of Ukrainian dance, what do you consider to be the artistic state and role of this art form in Canada?
To answer this question one needs to have a great grasp of the situation. It might be a very interesting topic for a separate study based on thorough scientific research. However, from what I’ve observed through my years in Canada, I can say this: in general, the state of Ukrainian dance in Canada is at its highest point of artistic excellence. It’s not only being well preserved and maintained, but also constantly developed and theatrically enriched in a variety of artistic styles. It’s great that we have so many Ukrainian dance ensembles in Canada. And here is the point that I want to emphasize: I salute those ensembles and their artistic directors who create their own unique choreography, dance languages and vocabularies – their own dance styles and ensemble artistic identities.
As Ukrainian dance ensembles in Canada, we are rich artistically and aesthetically when we’re different and when there are many of us who strive to keep our distinctiveness. That is what we strive to do in Svitanok. We don’t copy any other ensemble, no matter how famous it is. We don’t repeat or recreate their dances – we have our own distinctive and unique dance style. We strive to create theatrical dance stories based on well-developed conflicts and dance characters that are not only playfully carefree, but who are individuals that dream and grieve, suffer, struggle, and overcome.