J, our director, always greets me with a huge smile and uses my full name: "Hi, Alison Jenkins! It's so great to see you." I've known him for about 15 years; he and my mom are friends and we've worked together before but not for a long time. He has a manic laugh and when things are crazy (which is often, given that this is a show with so many elements and many non-professional cast members) he will turn to someone and say "Can you believe we get paid to do this?" It's partly his way of letting off steam but there is also an endearing truth to it. He is truly happy to be doing this show, which would leave many other directors pulling out their hair.
One day we are working with Mila, a busty Ukrainian woman with little english and a big personality. She sings, I follow her with my accordion while she flirts with the men in the cast. She is having difficulty grasping J's direction, even with the help of Helen, who is translating for her, but when J tells her to approach Steve, who is tall and very handsome, she gives a firm thumbs-up and says "Understand!" "Tell her to flirt more with the audience. Or I'll break her neck," says J, but he's smiling as he says it.
Evening, and I crochet a scarf while the Ukrainian dancers warm up. There are adorable 6 year-olds capering and twirling; teen girls with perfect bodies (although they wouldn't think so); young men and women who can spin and kick in the show-off style of slavic dancers everywhere with their red leather boots flashing. They exercise their brains and bodies, we musicians exercise our brains and fingers, racing through the Kolymykas and Hopaks, always getting faster and faster towards the end, as dances should.
This show is a celebration of a place: the Ukrainian Hall itself, which is where we're performing and rehearsing. So although the acoustics are the worst I've ever experienced- speech and music becomes a mushy wash of sound, and extraneous chatter is impossible to tune out or ignore- there could be no better place to be given that this is a hall with 85 years of history, which we are trying to condense into a 2-hour show. Labour unrest, immigration, racism, marriages, parties and perogy-pinching, all smushed together in 2 hours of... whatever this show will turn out to be. And although I'm not Slavic at all, I wouldn't miss it for the world.