Monday, March 25, 2013

No Need for Interpreters--They Danced, Slask!

Niezwykle niesamowite!  Nie byliśmy gotowi do opuszczenia.  

Extremely awesome! We were not ready to leave.

by MartinThomas and Helene Vidovich

comments by Mary Thomas

Gladys Bailin, Martin’s dance instructor, used to tell him, "Stand up straight and look like a man.” Someone must have passed that bit of advice on to the Polish men.

In the first stop on their US tour, the performance of Slask, by the Song & Dance Ensemble of Poland, was quite amazing. 60 years ago, Stanislaw Hadyna started a company that would research and preserve Polish folk music, dance and costuming. One can only imagine the additional effect if we had been able to understand the lyrics. Based on our reactions to the other performance elements, one is tempted to learn Polish. There were over 1500 costumes for a troupe of 80. That is more than an average of 18 changes each. Some of the members were in the orchestra and/or performed on stage and some were mainly singers. Others sang while they danced and many were quite versatile in song and dance and appeared in a variety of the 29 selections. The show was sculpted from the musical overture, to the entrance of the dancers, and on, as the skirts flashed layers of colors when the women would spin, turn or twirl.

There were many "wow" moments from the use of costuming alone. Much of the clothing and head-dress or hats had several aspects and seemed to signify different cultural regions. The outside of the outfits might be ornate, have a layer of lace or embroidery, with the underside revealing a vivid red, lush lavender or robin egg blue. And then, there were the exquisite multi-layers of petticoats. The broad circling movements of the women manipulated aspects of their costumes that revealed the deep hues or stripes of different colors and patterns. Socks were sometimes added as contrasting layers.

A single decorative banner was displayed center-rear stage throughout the performance. The dancers would alternate facial expressions independently or en masse; they did not need the use of any sets or scrim to attract our attention. The view from the audience kept evolving, ebbing and flowing both in the scene and as a show. We knew it was the finale before the intermission and then again at the end.

As with most great music done with such efficiency, one is usually surprised how few parts there are. We were shocked at intermission when we looked in the orchestra pit and saw a minimal number of chairs and music stands. It sounded like a full orchestra. Also during intermission, we wondered how they could continue so exuberantly through another half -- especially in costuming. When the troupe came out in formal wear it made us smile and think, "that's how." Most of the songs were uplifting and enjoyable. The music was joyous, yet serious. Occasionally, the troupe would feature a soloist or duets that were sometimes done in a minor key, dark and dramatic. Red lights and shadows readied our hearts. It was a wonderful contrast.

The traditional tunes convey a sense of the traditions from the green pastures of Beskids Mountains and steep peaks of Tatras Mountains. Over the years, Śląsk have visited 44 countries on five continents and performed over seven thousand concerts to an audience of over 25 million. They performed for Pope John Paul II who was a patron of the troupe, and performed for him in the Vatican.

There was some extremely fast foot-stepping. The men had it tough on their knees dancing so low to the floor, kicking out and bending to-and-fro. One man even jumped using his own arm as the “rope!” You had to see it. The evening was similar to a day at an amusement park — lively, invigorating, lush with color, sights and sounds. We were not ready to leave when it was over. As Mary Thomas said, "Poland sent us their very best!"

Not professional reviewers just everyday Pittsburghers availing themselves of Pittsburgh Cultural and Dance Events by as Mark Freeman says,  "Being a Tourist in their Hometown."

Helene Vidovich, Freelance Cultural Reporter
Martin Thomas, Videographer ~ Troubadour

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