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Ballroom dance show blends spectacle, Ukraine history

Bill DeYoung



KOLO comes to St. Petersburg's Mahaffey Theater Dec. 29. All photos provided.

Coming to the Mahaffey Theater Dec. 29, KOLO is a 75-minute concert performance by world champion ballroom dancers – but it’s also an immersive experience, with the dancers leaping and gliding in front of a massive, custom-created video backdrop – 60 feet wide and 14 feet high.

A Ukrainian word meaning circle, “kolo” was an important concept for ballroom dancers Iaroslav and Liliia Bieliei, both natives of Kyiv, Ukraine now living in California. They’re US National Champions, US Open Champions and World Show Dance Vice-Champions, although they don’t perform in KOLO.

They are the creators and the producers.

Iaroslav and Liliia Bieliei

“It is in no way an historical lesson,” Liliia tells the Catalyst. “However, it represents the cycle of Ukrainian history – you can look at it in terms of centuries, you can look at it in terms of the last couple of decades – and you can also translate the cycle to any cycle of human life, everyday life, family, relationships. It’s a universal cycle that could be applied to pretty much anything in life.”

Set to original music, the enormous LED backdrop includes lighting and effects to conjure differing moods, with images and video of the Ukrainian people, along with classical and modern artwork and embroideries. “We call it neo-folk,” she explains. “It is all going to look very modern, very dynamic with the effects to make it come alive.”

The dancers, many of whom are Ukraine natives, are among the most-lauded in the world. The audience will experience a variety of professional ballroom expressions: International Standard, Latin American, American Smooth and Exhibition.

“We see ballroom dancing as a component that is very international,” Iaroslav says. “It spread across the world, including Ukraine and the United States. At least 80 percent of countries worldwide, that we know.

“It’s quite entertaining by itself, but it opens the door to the culture, and the music, represented by the visual art. Dancing is a cultural bridge for us.”

The producers insist that KOLO comes from a place of both national pride and a desire to entertain.

“Our show is non-political,” he adds. “It has nothing to do with this unfortunate war that is going on right now. The war was just a trigger for us to start making this show. I hate to say it, but we got inspired by that, in a way.

“We are proud of Ukrainian people, as a nation, that have very strong values. As we watch the war, from the United States, we see how many people are surprised by the strength of their spirit.”

Concludes Liliia: “We always felt like we owe a great deal of gratitude to our mother country. And even being immigrants to the United States, we have been always very close to our Ukrainian friends and family. Traveling the world, we have noticed that many people internationally and also here in U.S. are not only unaware of one of the biggest European countries, but also perceive its culture as some sort of mystery.

“A part of the problem, of course, is that there haven’t been enough outlets coming from Ukraine to talk about it. But we felt strongly compelled when the war started to tell everybody our vision of Ukrainian culture. To make it inclusive, simple and entertaining.”

Tickets at the Mahaffey Theater website

KOLO home page



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