From Ukraine with Love

Article excerpt

On Easter mornings in the Ukraine, young girls perform a centuries-old dance--the hahilky--to usher in the spring. Performed on consecrated ground like churchyards and cemeteries, the steps celebrate newly reawakened nature, imitating the planting and growth of trees and crops to court the grace of benevolent spirits. Tetyana Martyanova (Tania) and Kateryna Derechyna (Katya) grew up dancing in the Ukraine. "When I was little I liked watching nature, to see how it moves," muses Tania through an interpreter. "That really inspires me, and I wanted to emulate that." Now, a continent and an ocean away front their Black Sea home, the two friends are dancing on professional stages and charming American audiences with their performances.

Their odyssey together began in Odessa, Ukraine, where they started their ballet training at age 8 at the Odessa Choreographic Institute. In 2000, they competed in the Youth America Grand Prix competitions in New York (see YAGP story, page 48), winning scholarships to The Harid Conservatory in Florida. There they were noticed by the artistic director of South Carolina's Columbia Classical Ballet, Radenko Pavlovich, and offered jobs with his company on the spot. Now, at ages 19 and 20, they are both living a dream. "I never thought that I would have an opportunity to dance in America," Katya says.

Their introduction to the United States began as a tantalizing but inchoate suggestion of opportunity. During the girls' final year at the Odessa Choreographic Institute, an alumna named Olga Krissen visited the school from her present home in Philadelphia. She saw Tania and Katya perform in their winter recital and was so impressed that she encouraged the girls to submit a video to the YAGP, where there was a possibility that they would be invited to dance in New York and be seen by faculty from top ballet schools.

"For a couple of months we didn't hear anything about our tapes. We really didn't know what to do. We were ready to give up. Then Olga wrote a letter saying that we had been accepted into the finals!" says Tania.

So, at just 15 and 16 years old, the two friends left for New York. "Coming to the city, was like a fairy tale," recalls Katya. The girls came to New York with their love of dance, but little else. Upon arrival, however, they discovered that their living arrangements had fallen through.

Enter fairy godmother Larissa Saveliev, artistic director of the YAGP competitions. "Somebody was supposed to help them, and they come to New York and find out that this person is not here," she explains. …