"Turangawaewae" - Standing Place


Where I Began to Consider My Ukrainian Ancestry in New Ways

photo credits for Turangawaewae pictures: unknown, believed to be Yvonne Portra.

"Baba Babee Skazala" may have had its genesis when I was born (more on that in a later blog post), but I think it was really birthed as I came of age. Two and a half years ago, at the University of California, Berkeley, I auditioned for and enrolled in Berkeley Dance Project 2014. I could only dance in one piece because of my skating schedule - the piece was "Turangawaewae," choreographed by Jack Gray. This was perhaps providential.

I cannot improve upon the class description for this piece, nor the process that led to it, so I will provide that description here, with attribution: 

"Turangawaewae is the Maori word for Standing Place. It is a cultural concept of belonging and power. It means literally that your genealogy affiliates somewhere that connects you to the land where your ancestors lived, breathed, fought, loved, ate, hunted, dreamt and placed their stories of triumph and failure into the mountains, rivers and ocean. Even though we now find ourselves in the new generations of mixed descent, being raised away from where our blood and DNA comes from – the concept of Standing Place is important. It means that regardless of these things you have a right. The human right to belong to land. Not the land that you have bought from the Bank. But the Mother. The Earth. The country and nation that keeps your secrets and lineage close to her heart. Through blood and tears, oceans and desert, mountains to plains. The beauty of our earth is that we see the rise and lowering of the sun every day. The enlightenment of the moon and the passage way of the stars and galaxies that helped our ancestors navigate their futures across continents.

In 2014 we will dance this dance for us. The sacred ceremony of our peoples upon a land so distressed by the forgotten memory of the ancestors who once took care of it. We met each other, face to face, breath to breath and shared our stories. Shared the few words we knew of our languages, now decimated by English. We learnt to move our expression and we learnt to be together. Sharing times of intimacy. What lifts us, what lifts each other – we will discover and we will put our hearts and minds towards. The changing times and dimensions are here and we acknowledge this all through the honesty and truth of our REAL selves and our DANCE.

Mauriora tatou katoa – Life force to you all."

At first blush, one might wonder what a Maori concept has to do with Ukraine or being Ukrainian, but this description of Turangawaewae will, I think, resonate with many Ukrainians and the diaspora and refugees of many other peoples.

We were asked to contribute to the blog for the course. EuroMaidan was gripping my attention. Russia invaded Crimea. I started thinking. My blog entries are quoted here:

"I started thinking...where is my Standing Place?"

One Thought on "Matej"

I am Ukraine
Berkeley is Russia.

Matej's Spring Break - Welcome Back All  (you will have to visit this link to see me during one of my first trips to Ukraine, about age 3, and dancing at Soyuzivka, about age 7 :) )

"As spring break comes to a close, I wanted to share with everyone how amazing my break was. Unfortunately, I do not have any pictures, but I have my stories. I cannot wait to share these stories with all of you in person soon.

I wanted to share a little more about my family and where we come from – as well as my upbringing as a youngster. My interest in learning more of my family and ancestors has grown substantially with the influence of this dance project and Jack Gray’s insight, but also because of the recent events that have been happening in Ukraine. As some of you know already, I consider myself Ukrainian. My father’s side of the family is the Ukrainian side. His family is part of the diaspora, forced to flee their home during World War 2. The country’s history is one of struggle for national identity, as the name even means “borderlands,” and the land has been fought over for centuries.  Through it all, Ukrainians have maintained a sense of identity that has not been extinguished – even through the “Holodomor,” the forced famine created by Stalin that killed millions of Ukrainians. Today, Ukrainians are again fighting for their country, as seen in the news.

In dedication to these current events, a friend and I did a little video for a video contest that was dedicated to those in Ukraine from us ->  

[By the way, readers, that friend was Evan Yee, a childhood friend from Verona, NJ, cinematographer extraordinaire & collaborator on "Baba Babee Skazala"!]


It’s somewhat funny how I started dancing as part of that ethnic heritage and that I continue to dance today.

Unlike my father’s side of the family, my mother really contrasts with looking at her heritage, as someone who was adopted, and has no access to actual family background.  So, her and then me, in a sense – adopt the English background of her adoptive parents. But, since we have no way of knowing what the background really is, she always feels that she has to go deeper to “find her center” and she has said that, “I have always felt that somehow that place is not a physical place – maybe because I don’t really have one to go back to.”

There is a combination of physical standing place in my Ukrainian heritage and the “deeper” place that is embedded in me and I would like to show you all. Maybe that is the passion that I am often associated with."

I hope you enjoy this clip of "Turangawaewae," and join us on the journey of developing "Baba Babee Skazala"

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