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Canadian dance groups prepare for international tour

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(Jordan Nepon Photography)

Winnipeg’s award-winning Sarah Sommer Chai Folk Ensemble and the equally illustrious Rusalka Ukrainian Dance Ensemble have been performing together off and on for almost 20 years. In July, the two groups will be getting together for their first joint international tour.

Chai and Rusalka will first be performing their collaborative “Hora Hopak” – combining the hora and the traditional Ukrainian Hopak dance – in the Ukraine, followed by the annual Karmiel Dance Festival in Israel.

The choreography for the Hora Hopak was originally created for the two troupes’ first collaboration in 1999, when they performed at the Centennial Concert Hall in Winnipeg, notes Reeva Nepon, the administrative director for the Chai Folk Arts Council and the Sarah Sommer Chai Folk Ensemble.

Four years ago, they were invited to perform the Hora Hopak for the official opening of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. The following year, they performed the dance for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ annual conference and trade show in Winnipeg.

“We have also danced the Hora Hopak twice with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra,” Nepon says.

The Rusalka Ukrainian Dance Ensemble first proposed the joint tour a couple of years ago. “We postponed the tour to this year to give us more time to raise the money for the tour,” Nepon says. “We had to raise a lot of money for the tour.”

She notes that, between them, the two dance troupes will be bringing 60 dancers, singers and musicians with them to Ukraine and Israel.

This will be the nearly 55-year-old Chai Ensemble’s third series of performances in Israel. They appeared twice previously at the Karmiel Festival in 1998 and 2014.

Nepon says that the groups will also be performing three shows together in Winnipeg, on Sept. 8 and 9.

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The Chai Folk Ensemble was started by the late Sarah Sommer in 1964 and has grown into an internationally acclaimed dance troupe that comprises some 30-40 singers, dancers and musicians ranging in age from teenagers to adults in their early 40s. The Winnipeg-based dance company has performed throughout Canada, the United States, Mexico and Israel.

In 2016, Dance Manitoba recognized the Chai Folk Ensemble, Canada’s preeminent Israeli dance troupe, with the dance organization’s Special Achievement Award. The Chai Folk Ensemble was the first dance group to receive the award (it had previously only been given to individual dancers). The award was given for “Outstanding achievements and exceptional artistic accomplishments to the art of dance within our community.”

The Rusalka Ukrainian Dance Ensemble was founded in 1962. Over the years, the group has embarked on tours of North and South America, Europe, Asia and Australia. The dancers have performed for heads of state, religious figures and royalty, and it is among the most widely recognized Ukrainian dance groups in the world.