Why She's a Top 40: For setting the pace for the Ukrainian Shumka Dancers as they break boundaries to preserve and enliven Ukrainian culture
The English translation for the word "shumka" is "whirlwind." Not only does it describe the breakneck speed at which this traditional Ukrainian dance is performed, it also describes Suzanna Brytan.
As development director for the Ukrainian Shumka Dancers, Brytan works to ensure Ukrainian culture is not only enhanced, but that it has opportunities to thrive in Edmonton and around the world. "I'm grateful that my parents were from a [Ukrainian] culture," she says. Her family background inspired her previous work at the Grant MacEwan Ukrainian Resource and Development Centre, as well as HomeStay Alberta, a business she created to pair overseas students of all backgrounds with local families. In the past nine years, she has helped pair more than 600 families from 21 countries.
Brytan laughs with pleasure about the vibrancy of Ukrainian culture in Edmonton. When she first moved here from Toronto, she was surprised, shocked and pleased to find perogies in every grocery store. "In Edmonton, Ukrainian culture is on display for all to see." Nowhere is it on display more than when it's soaring across the stage with the Shumka dancers. "One of Shumka's ideals is to preserve culture, but to also let it grow and evolve. It's less about redoing and more about evolution. We are not putting this type of dance on the shelf and dusting it off when we need it."
Shumka celebrated its 50th year in 2009, but it was Brytan's vision, together with that of her production and artistic teams, that got the city and countries around the world to finally take notice. This past March, Shumka officially became a resident company at the Jubilee Auditorium, an honour shared only by the Edmonton Opera and Alberta Ballet. "Shumka has really given Edmonton a light on the world stage," Brytan says. "And it also gives artists, musicians and costume designers the opportunity to work in their fields. We get to give the world something of what we generate here."
Brytan works tirelessly to take Shumka to the next step, and that step is likely to be dizzyingly spectacular. Under her direction, the company has performed alongside the Barenaked Ladies, Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer and Andrea Bocelli, to name a few, and has performed for Queen Elizabeth II. With Brytan's tenacity to maintain Shumka's momentum, perhaps perogies will become a common addition to grocery stores outside of Edmonton, too.