Natalya Hontar and Mykhailo Sharkov are vastly experienced as Snihuronka and Did Moroz – 12 years and eight years respectively. It’s a hobby similar to Hontar’s occupation but in stark contrast to Sharkov’s day job, she says. “I am Deputy Director for education in the Obolon Children and Youth Creativity Centre, while Mykhailo is a software engineer. But he used to work as an MC at corporate parties, often as Did Moroz, whereas I became Snihuronka by chance. Once, I had to replace an actress playing the sultry snow maiden. No sooner had I realised what was happening then somebody put a costume on me and pushed me towards a hall holding about 90 six-year-old kids!”
The pair have worked together long enough to become a tight-knit unit, arranging New Year holiday events for children (schools, kindergartens, home events) through their private firm. They are managers, scriptwriters, designers, actors, directors, and more. “I personally tailor-make our costumes,” Hontar says.
Sharkov says as well as costumes, theatrical make-up is key to achieving “the look”: add a high-quality long plait (for Snihuronka) and false beard and wig (for Did Moroz) and the pair are ready. “Nothing can escape children’s sharp eyes – if something goes wrong, they will see it immediately, and the magic is ruined. Children are always eager to pull my false beard. I have to fasten it very tightly, in order not to let kids tear it off,” he says smiling.
As Hontar tells it, keeping their act fresh with new material is also important. “We cannot present the same programme to the same audience year-on-year – children grow, Did Moroz and Snihuronka have to be modern,” she explains, “and some old traditions seem old-hat to today’s sophisticated youngsters.”
Not Repeating History
Hontar and Sharkov approach the roles as consummate professionals, unlike the former Soviet generation of Did Morozs and Snihuronkas of their own childhood; they never drink or smoke when working with children. “It is an absolute taboo. The smell of smoke or alcohol may repel kids,” Sharkov says. “Even when I work for adults I just pretend to drink – my glass contains juice or water.”
The pair say communicating with children is about winning their attention, without scaring them. Distance, voice, gestures play a significant role here. The order of appearance also counts and the pair has their game play mapped out. Snihuronka – a gentle beautiful girl with a soft voice – goes on stage first to establish preliminary contact with kids, preparing them to meet Did Moroz, a big old man with a thunderous voice, a magic stick in his hand and a sack filled with gifts. Without him, nobody can illuminate the Christmas tree, which is a deeply-rooted tradition.
Peak season for Hontar and Sharkov starts around 20 December and runs to mid-January. They never celebrate the official days at home with family and friends as themselves; instead they celebrate New Year and Christmas multiple times as Did Moroz and Snihuronka.
Sometimes they take part in up to seven matinees per day, Sharkov says: “Yes, physically we can get very tired. But when we see the smiling faces of children, their watching eyes, energy fills us again. Kids are very inspiring.”
Apart from the show, Did Moroz and Snihuronka must be ready to answer a variety of tricky questions asked by curious children. “Where are your reindeers? Where do you park your sleigh? Why is there no snow yet?” And so on, Sharkov says. “Children are a very demanding audience. You have to act seriously – even more seriously than for adults, otherwise they’ll be disappointed with you.”
Turf Warfare With Santa
Even with the growing fame of Santa Claus, Did Moroz and Snihuronka top the list of New Year characters in this part of the world. It is not a question of believing in them or not – it is a question of tradition. Both children and adults cannot imagine celebrating the New Year without the legendary pair, Hontar says. “Every show is like a clean slate for us. We get emotionally involved in it.” Sharkov echoes that sentiment: “I am happy that I make children happy. This is what attracts me most to my job.”
While performing, Did Moroz and Snihuronka can do everything but two things – never get sick nor lose their voices, because Santa is waiting in the wings...
by Anna Azarova