By Dick Oakes
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THIS IS HISTORICAL INFORMATION
A plaintive melody floats across the mountain air. A pesant girl runs from here to there seeking its source and finds a shepherd lad. Thus begins the Kolomyka. The clash of steel blades fills the air as lonely Kozaks dance the Zaporozky Herz to amuse themselves while on the battle march. In their homes, the Kozak women await the return of their soldiers and dance the Kozochok. A peacetime mood prevails -- brilliant colors of velveet skirts and ribbons enrich the landscape as men and women dance the Hopak together. The men, wishing to impress the women, display competetive gymnastic feats of strength and agility, while the women express their femeninity, grace, and charm. These are a few examples of the dances that were in the repertoire of the Ukrainian Spirit Dance Company that was founded in 1970 by Nancy Prokopiy and her son, Mike Mantero.
Nancy Prokopiy was a member of a prominent, artistic Ukrainian family. Her father, Mihailo, owned and operated a theatre and library in the Ukraine. At an early age, she was involved in many cultural activities. The Prokopiy family emigrated to Argentina following World War I and there Nancy completed her education, became a member of an acting theatre, married, and had two children, Gaston (Mike) and Nancy. The Ukrainian cultural spirit was ingrained within the family -- Mike and his sister, the younger Nancy, particularly excelled in dance and performed in many shows. Nancy organized and directed an Argentinian-Ukrainian dance group that appeared on the Argentine television and this group received the top prize in competition with Ukrainian groups from all over Argentina.
Wishing to join relatives who had settled in California, Nancy and the children emigrated to Los Angeles in 1965. Vasile Avramento, a noted Ukrainian folk dance instructor in this country, taught her additonal dance material. Mike appeared with the Pacific Ballet and other dance groups, on videotape, and on a pilot television show, while young Nancy appeared on other television shows. So, hoping to involve Los Angeles' Ukrainian children in their ethnic heritage, they decided to form a Ukrainian dance group in Los Angeles.
The group began with seven people, increased to fifteen, and within a few months, classes involved fifty dancers. The Ukrainian community recognized the group which then became known as the Ukrainian Spirit Dance Company.
On a 1974 Canadian tour that ended at the big festival in Dauphin, Manitoba, one member received the top award in competition with other Ukrainian dancers from Canada and the United States, and the whole company received a standing ovation before 63,000 spectators.
After this successful tour, director Nancy Prokoiy decided to continue the group, but on a professional basis of sorts. The company decreased in size as some of the members did not want to become professionals. The group then danced at the Hollywood Bowl, the Wilshire Ebell, and the Music Center, where they were also highly acclaimed. Dancing at the Press Club to the music of Yordan Trenov, they were the first performing group to receive a standing ovation with a write-up in "Variety."
The company consisted of two members of the original group, Associate Director Mike Mantero and Marushka Dach; Rade Gabralović and Ljubica Kikanović, who were formerly soloists with Yugoslavia's "Frula" company; six who were also members of the Gandy Dancers; and several others. The group prepared new material choreographed for and inspired by Ukrainian melodies played by Efrim Gorin, an accordionist who had arrived from the Ukraine.
International material was included in the repertoire, including that of Rade and ljubica. Performances included about 60 percent Ukrainian and 40 percent international dances. The Ukrainian Spirit Dance Company was engaged for appearances at the Phoenix Country Club, the Wilshire Country Club, Barnseall Gallery, Channel 2 Noonshow, the Wilshire Ebell, and the Music Center.
An August 1976 Canadian tour culminated in an exhibition at the Ukrainian International festivals in Dauphin, Winnipeg, and Edmonton, Canada.