Russian group / Ukrainian dance = delicate two-step for organizers on Morristown Green, July 21

Barynya is a Russian troupe with a repertoire that includes Ukrainian dance, Morris Arts explains.
Barynya is a Russian troupe with a repertoire that includes Ukrainian dance, Morris Arts explains.
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Video: Barynya performs on the Today Show

By Kevin Coughlin

Booking performers in Morristown used to require artistic savvy. Now, degrees in international relations seem essential, too.

Back in January, a 20th anniversary concert by Russian conductor Valery Gergiev drew Ukrainian-American protesters  to the Mayo Performing Arts Center.

Barynya is a Russian troupe with a repertoire that includes Ukrainian dance, Morris Arts explains.
Barynya is a Russian troupe with a repertoire that includes Ukrainian dance, Morris Arts explains.

And it’s taken some deft adjustments by MPAC and Morris Arts to avert threatened demonstrations Tuesday against Barynya.

The Russian music and dance ensemble is scheduled to present a Ukrainian dance program in a free lunchtime concert on the historic Morristown Green, for a summer series titled Music Beyond Borders.

Angered by what they perceive as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s disregard for their ancestral borders, Ukrainians in Morris County objected to promotions for the July 21, 2015, dance performance that implied to them that Barynya was a Ukrainian troupe.

“After seeing that Russia had forcefully taken Crimea and is trying to take over parts of eastern Ukraine, we do not want to leave an impression that Ukrainian music and culture is the same as Russia’s,” said Michael Koziupa, president of the Morris County branch of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America.

Koziupa said he informed the Mayo Center, co-organizer of the show, and sponsor Novartis that his members “were ready to demonstrate unless we were assured that this distinction was made in the advertisement and during the performance.”

MPAC and Morris Arts this month changed their online promotions and e-blasts. References to Ukraine are gone from the Mayo Center website, which now heralds an afternoon of  “Russian music and dance”:

Barynya presents Cossack, Jewish, Gypsy, and Russian traditional dancing, music, songs, and virtuoso performances on musical instruments including the balalaika, and garmoshka (folk button accordion).

The Morris Arts site now announces “Ukrainian Music and Dance presented by the Russian group, Barynya”:

With vibrantly colored costumes based on traditional village dress, Barynya’s dancers draw from Ukraine’s diverse regional traditions and from neighboring cultures such as Poland and Romania, accompanied by live music on instruments such as the balalaika and the garmoshka (folk button accordion). Dancers from Barynya have performed at such venues as Carnegie Hall, the Smithsonian Institute, and the United Nations.

 

“Sensitivities are just that, and we try to be mindful of that,” said Dr. Lynn Siebert, director of communications for Morris Arts.

Wishing to showcase Ukrainian culture in this summer’s series, the arts nonprofit approached several native Ukrainian ensembles but all had scheduling conflicts, Siebert said.

Barynya performed on the Green in 2012 and also has appeared at First Night Morris County. The group does have Ukrainian members, and it has presented Ukrainian dance pieces across eastern Europe, she said.

“As long as we’re clear that the group is Russian, but it has Ukrainian dancers and performs Ukrainian dance,” everyone should be satisfied, Siebert said.

“A core to our mission is to bring the best of music, dance and the performing arts to Morristown, and hope that the performing arts can be a bridge to bring people young and old, of different cultural backgrounds, socioeconomic conditions, political beliefs and more together to enjoy the arts,” added Ed Kirchdoerffer, general manager at the May Center.

Over its six seasons, Music Beyond Borders has encountered nothing more controversial than a name change, when Morris Arts discovered another organization already was using Music Without Borders.

Siebert noted that, unlike Maestro Gergiev, who is based in Russia and has been criticized for  supporting Putin’s policies, Barynya is based in New York.

“These performers do not have an affiliation with Vladimir Putin,” Siebert said.

Tuesday’s hour-long performance starts at 12:30 pm; if it rains, the show moves into the Morristown United Methodist Church. Music Beyond Borders concludes on Aug. 4 with Korean Traditional Dance of Choomnori.

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