WORLD FOLKFEST, Symphony Hall, Aug. 12, 8 p.m.; Aug. 13, 2 & 8 p.m.; Springville High School, Aug. 15, 18-20, 7:30 p.m.; Marriott Center, BYU, Provo, Aug. 17, 7:30 p.m.
Last weekend it was the U.S. Olympic Gymnastic Trials. This it's the 1988 World Folkfest, which poured into Symphony Hall Friday with even more color and, in some cases, comparable grace and agility.That was certainly true of the Beijing Folk Troupe from the People's Republic of China, here on its first U.S. tour. Whether the lone woman interpreting a Mongolian folk dance with exactitude down to the tiniest shimmer or the airborne leaps of the men in the finale, this is a group you won't want to miss.
However, for sheer athletic prowess the same might be said of the USSR's entry, the Georgian troupe Ritza, whose men in particular dazzled eye and ear with their blazingly choreographed Caucasian sword dance. At times their flashing blades even emitted sparks, as did their energetic toe dancing in the encore.
For the record, everybody has colorful costumes, some of them bordering on museum pieces (e.g., the high-bibbed bonnets of the French group Roudelet Filibren from Marseilles). And although the music is no less traditional - for the most part performed on native instruments - there were times when I could have done with a cooler hand on the volume control. Or are the musicians and singers of Kek Duna (Hungarian for "Blue Danube") really as grating as a fingernail on a blackboard?
All the same it was nice to see and hear the czardas leaned into properly. And I don't know that the music could have been bettered in the south Indian temple dance the six female dancers of Askara, out of Bombay, provided. (The candlelight didn't hurt either.)
From Poland we had the Krakowiak, the men in purple and red and the women with streamers in their hair. The palm here, though, went to the "mounted" dancer in the piece depicting the Mongol invasion, whose horse (part of his costume) generated as much applause as the rest of the group put together.
The prize for the most intricate dance may have gone to the University of the East Dance Troupe from the Philippines, in which the pounding bamboo poles went beyond their rhythmic function and became rapidly shifting obstacles the dancers had to work through - again, without missing a step. But in its way no less remarkable was the precision clapping of the Indonesian troupe, Krida Budaya, whose cross-body maneuvers from a kneeling position evolved into an alternating up-and-down pattern that on its own deserved a cheer.
Before then it had been Bangkok's Classical Dance and Music Group, the youngest of this year's 16 companies, depicting the 13th century Thai epic of Rama in a stylized fashion, and ornately jeweled masks and headdresses, that for most Americans will probably recall "The Small House of Uncle Thomas." Then the Ostjydske Folk Dancers of Denmark, whose high silk hats and red stocking caps were as distinctive as the rustic charm they brought to the polka.
Against that came the high energy of the Turks, in which the Tartar influences were evident), the bouncing short steps of the Sardinians and the Greek-flavored dances of the Cypriots, whose juggling trick with a pair of water glasses came close to stopping the show.
But I wouldn't want to overlook our own Rocky Mountain Dancers, this year's host company, whose rambunctious Appalachian clog not only got the blood moving but rivaled even the Chinese for speed and synchronization. In any event, it's something to see. And as the show moves to Springville and Provo next week, will be different every night.