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Vasyl Kyrylovych Avramenko (Ukrainian: Василь Кирилович Авраменко; sometimes transcribed as Vasile) (1895–1981) was a Ukrainian actor, dancer, choreographer, balletmaster, director, and film producer, credited with spreading Ukrainian folk dance across the world. For his unparalleled missionary zeal and his love of Ukrainian culture, he is considered by many to be the "Father of Ukrainian Dance".
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Vasyl Avramenko was born on March 22, 1895 in Stebliv, a townlet located on the Ros' River approximately 100 km south of Kiev, in present-day Ukraine during the imperial reign of Russia. Orphaned at a young age, he was forced to wander homeless as an adolescent, until he eventually headed east, crossing the vast expanse of Russia towards Siberia, and reunited with his older brothers in Vladivostok, on the coast of the Sea of Japan. There, Vasyl's eldest brother taught him how to read and write, which enabled Vasyl to gain employment at the naval base. This position allowed Avramenko to visit several major Asian ports as a crewman aboard Russian naval vessels; such worldly exposure encouraged in him a greater love of learning, and he returned to study with his brother whenever possible, eventually earning the qualifications to become a primary school teacher. It was during this time that Vasyl Avramenko saw a production of Ivan Kotliarevsky's operetta Natalka Poltavka in Vladivostok, which Avramenko later recounted as having been the first experience of viewing his fellow Ukrainians on stage.
Avramenko's wandering soul soon encouraged him to leave Vladivostok. As he was travelling south towards China, World War I broke out and he was pressed into service for the Empire. After receiving basic training, he was sent off to fight at the Russian front.
After the war, Avramenko returned to his homeland where he was surrounded by a revived sense of Ukrainian nationalism, with many clamoring for an independent Ukraine. Wanting to learn more about his Ukrainian culture, in 1918 he enrolled at the Kiev Conservatory. There, he would find his calling in the classroom of Vasyl Verkhovynets, a musicologist and ethnologist who had adapted Ukrainian folk dances for the stage. Verkhovynets' theories of Ukrainian dance, which he based on his theatrical training and his extensive research of the village dances of Central Ukraine, would inspire Avramenko to live the life of an artist: after graduating from the Institute, he began performing with Joseph Stadnyk's performers in Stanyslaviv (present-day Ivano-Frankivsk), and later joined Verkhovynets as a member of the famed theatrical troupe of Mykola Sadovsky in the city of Kamianets-Podilskyi. During this time, Avramenko took copious notes compiling a vocabulary of Ukrainian dances and dance steps, which he would later develop into his life's work. In his book, Ukrainian National Dances, Music, and Costumes, Avramenko acknowledged the work of Verkhovynets' and the Ukrainian theater in preserving and elevating the legacy of dance in Ukraine.
Demonstrating his characteristic zeal, Avramenko began his first "School of Ukrainian Dance and Ballet" on January 25, 1921, in a Polish internment camp near Kalisz for veterans of the defunct Ukrainian People's Republic. He began with 100 students (everyone from the guards to small children), teaching them the basic steps of Ukrainian dance, eventually teaching whole dances, and finally putting on a celebrated performance on May 24 of that year.
Avramenko soon became so successful and popular that he set out on tour with a group of his students through present-day western Ukraine, often presenting demonstrations and workshops in the towns he visited, encouraging others to perform his dances and pass them on to others. The tour passed through Lviv several times between 1922 and 1924, while also visiting Rivne, Lutsk, Kremianets, Oleksandriia, Mezhirich, Kholm, Brest-Litovsk, Stryi, Stanyslaviv, Kolomyia, Przemyśl, Deliatyn, Ternopil, and Drohobych in that time.
Eventually, for reasons as yet unknown, Avramenko would turn away from his Ukrainian homeland, and set out to visit Ukrainian enclaves in the rest of Poland, and further off to Podebrady and Prague in Czechoslovakia as well as Delmenhorst in Germany. In 1925, with the help of Captain John S. Atkinson, then the director of the Canadian Bureau for the Advancement of Music, Vasyl Avramenko, the patriot of the former Ukrainian People's Republic and therefore a "man without a country", was nonetheless granted permission to enter Canada.
Spreading Ukrainian dance
Avramenko traveled from town to town, teaching the same dance to villagers. His first tours in Canada began in 1926, and ended in 1952. When he was finished teaching in a town, he would assign a leader to continue teaching to the villagers. One of these leaders was Chester Kuc, who founded the Cheremosh Ukrainian Dance Company. He taught these dances in North America, as well as in South America and Australia. During his lifetime, he created many Ukrainian dance studios, including one in New York where he lived until his death in 1981. He staged performances across Canada and USA, including the Chicago World's Fair of 1933 and a performance at the White House. He also produced numerous Ukrainian language films.
- Natalka Poltavka (1937) at the Internet Movie Database
- Halich, Wasyl (1970). Ukrainians in the United States. Ayer Publishing. p. 90. ISBN 0-405-00552-0.
- Nahachewsky, Andriy. "Avramenko and the Paradigm of National Culture" in Journal of Ukrainian Studies 28, No.2 (Winter 2003). Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies. ISSN 0228-1635.
- Martynowych, Orest T. "'All That Jazz!' The Avramenko Phenomenon in Canada, 1925-1929" in Journal of Ukrainian Studies 28, No.2 (Winter 2003). Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies. ISSN 0228-1635.
- Shatulsky, Myron (1980). The Ukrainian Folk Dance, Kobzar Publishing Co. Ltd. ISBN 0-9692078-5-9.
- Zerebecky, Bohdan (1985). Ukrainian Dance Resource Booklets, Series I-IV, Ukrainian Canadian Committee, Saskatchewan Provincial Council.
- Avramenko, Vasyl (1947). Ukrainian National Dances, Music, and Costumes (Українські Haцioнaльнi Танки, Музика, і Cтрій), National Publishers, Ltd.
- Pihuliak, Ivan (1979). Wasyl Avramenko and the Rebirth of Ukrainian National Dancing, Part 1 (Василь Авраменко та Відродження Українського Танку, Частина Перша), published by the author.
- Immigration History Research Center, University of Minnesota
- Zoloto's Tribute to Avramenko
- Avramenko Fund
- Cheremosh's history
- Short bio
- Vasyl Avramenko at the Internet Movie Database