people onstage

Philadelphia's Ukrainian diaspora puts a unique spin on holiday classic in solidarity with Ukraine

The Ukrainian community in Philadelphia is the second-largest in the United States. As members of the diaspora celebrated the holidays with a special Ukrainian version of “The Nutcracker,” they reflected on a year of worry and solidarity.

The World

The Voloshky School of Ukrainian Dance in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, staged "The Nutcracker" with a Ukrainian twist.

 

Courtesy of Andrew Nynka and The Ukrainian Weekly 

For Larysa Spisic, a Ukrainian American whose family is from Lviv, Ukraine, it’s been hard watching the war in Ukraine from afar.

“You definitely feel helpless at times because we are over here and we can give support and prayers and good wishes, but physically, we really cannot do much,” said Spisic, who lives in the Philadelphia area, which has the second-largest Ukrainian community in the United States.

Spisic, the director of the Voloshky School of Ukrainian Dance in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, wanted to find a way to showcase Ukrainian culture and raise money for the cause.

So, she decided to stage the holiday classic, “The Nutcracker” — with a Ukrainian twist, set in a small, Ukrainian village with Ukrainian folk dancing, decorations, dolls and food on prominent display throughout. The production had a two-show run on Dec. 23 at the Josephine Muller Auditorium in Jenkintown.

Because of Russia’s invasion, she said the classic ballet by Pyotr Tchaikovsky has a special impact. The famous composer was born in Russia, but his great-grandfather was from Ukraine’s central Poltava region, according to researchers.

people onstage

The Voloshky School of Ukrainian Dance in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, staged "The Nutcracker" with a Ukrainian twist.

Credit:

Courtesy of Andrew Nynka and The Ukrainian Weekly 

“Ukrainians feel very strongly that we do have some personal connection to him as well, and we wanted to embrace that,” Spisic said.

It’s just one way that the community has been resilient and strong throughout the 10 months of the invasion, said Ulana Dubas of Dresher, Pennsylvania.

Dubas’ family is also from Lviv and her husband’s family is from the Kharkiv region in eastern Ukraine, small parts of which are still occupied by Russian forces.

“We did a lot of drives for clothing and food, monetary donations that really brought the community together in many ways,” she said. “And that’s continuing now because it has to.”

Dubas’ 10-year-old daughter, Mila, was one of some 50 dancers from the Voloshky School of Ukrainian Dance. The school, now in its 50th year, is considered to be a staple of the Ukrainian American community in Philadelphia.

A handful of other Philadelphia organizations and guest dancers also chipped in and donated their time to help make the production happen, including community veterans of Ukrainian folk dance, the Metropolitan Ballet Company and one of Philadelphia Ballet’s Principal Ballerinas, Oksana Maslova.

performers onstage

The Voloshky School of Ukrainian Dance in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, staged "The Nutcracker" with a Ukrainian twist.

Credit:

Courtesy of Andrew Nynka and The Ukrainian Weekly 

This collaboration, the leaders of the production say, is a testament to the overall support Ukrainian Americans say they’ve received since Russia invaded Ukraine earlier this year.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.