[ATTENDED: February 21, 2014] Krasnoyarsk National Dance Company
Almost a year ago, Sarah and I went to see a Śląsk, the national Polish folk song and dance troupe at McCarter Theater. It was fantastic. Now, nearly a year later we went to see the Krasnoyarsk National Dance Company of Siberian. And it was also fantastic. Although there were some similarities between the two shows, overall it was quite a different experience.
There were essentially three types of dance in the fourteen pieces. The first type was a frenetic dance in which the men displayed amazing, amazing feats of jumping, and what most people think of as the typical Russian dance (squatting and kicking both legs out). The second type was a slow romantic song in which women glided around the stage with giant smiles but otherwise virtually immobile. The third was a sort of comic skit that told a story–these (and nearly all of the dances) were romantic posturing type of stories. And they were each wonderful in their own way.
The dances did not follow the order of the program–which I can really only tell because there were some dances which were easily defined so it was easy to know if they were in order. Other descriptions were quite vague, so it wasn’t always clear which dances these were. But that’s okay because they were equally mesmerizing.
The music was prerecorded (there was one dance with vocals which I am fairly certain was lip synched, but it was very hard to tell). But that was irrelevant because we were there to watch, not listen.
The fast songs were incredibly frenetic and, frankly, exhausting. I couldn’t imagine dancing to this kind of music all of the time. But it explains why everyone was in such good shape–just to move that fast was amazing. In the faster dances, in addition to the men doing feats of impressive show-offiness (amazingly high jumps, cartwheel type spins, flips and heel clicks–there must be official names for these moves, right?), there were often women in the dances as well. Sometimes the men seemed to be dancing with the women, other times they seemed to be trying to impress the women. And at the best of times, the women did amazingly fast spins while the men encouraged them.
There was also a dance which displayed a marriage ceremony. There was something amazing about the way the women danced, linking arms or using fabric to create archways. It was stunning.
In Śląsk, the women spin, and their dresses billowed out in a gorgeous way. In this dance the dresses did not billow beautifully, (although they did billow) the focus was more on the dancers themselves. I have never seen anyone spin that quickly for that long (they may have been faster than figure skaters). They whipped their heads around super quickly, all the while smiling happily, I simply don’t know how they weren’t nauseous.
The slower dances were also beautiful but were somewhat perplexing. The women were in artfully designed dresses which reached almost to the floor (you could see some feet just barely, but if you were in the balcony you probably couldn’t). The women walked on tiptoe (in high-heeled boots) very calmly and slowly–which made them look like dolls gliding over the stage. Their arms moved very slowly (often straight out at their sides) as they formed circles or other shapes or interwoven with each other and seemed utterly otherworldly. These dances were called Round Dances.
The third group was what amounted to skits. There was a cute dance with four couples (with each man and woman wearing the exact same color scheme) sitting on a bench. The men slowly approached the women to ask them to dance (with very funny things happening on the bench while the couple in front danced. In another dance, a man with an accordion played a melody while his compatriot wooed a woman (the accordionist I believe was not actually playing, but he looked quite convincing). In another, two men vied for the same woman, first with flowers, then with strutting. In the classic case of mine is bigger than yours, the shorter man who brought the bigger flowers won the woman away from the cocky man.
Perhaps the best and funniest of these skits was what the programs calls “Facetious Comic Dance “At the Poultry Farm.”” Men wore cockscomb and strutted around like roosters. They did very convincing chicken motions, including pecking at each other to show off for the hen. There were backing dancers dressed like roosters and hens (not in feathered costumes but in clothes that looked very much like chicken plumage). Later women dressed lie chicks came out to complete the scene. It was very weird and very enjoyable. The program informs us that “Ability to laugh at themselves is one of the characteristic qualities of the Russian people.”
One of the men’s dances included swords. They stomped around and fought with the swords. They must have put flint on the swords because when they struck, sparks would shoot out into the air.
While all of the dancers were wonderful, we have to single out the man who had a beautiful feathered blond mullet with (like the other men) a ton of makeup). He stood out from the rest of the group, but he absolutely earned that haircut because he was astonishing–and his appearance always guaranteed a good show.
The show concluded with an amazing scene where the men spun the women. It’s in the video clip below, and it is virtually impossible to describe–the women appeared to be squatting on tip toe as the men rapidly spun them around and around by some kind of item in their hands. It was beautiful and logic defying.
As with Śląsk, I’m not sure if these are actual folk dances of Siberia (but why would they lie?). Yet I can’t imagine that the folk gathered around and did these things–it seems like these are maybe choreographed and exaggerated version of the folk dances. Or maybe not, maybe men really do leap about kicking into the air to impress the women. The reality doesn’t really matter because the show was fantastic.
Oh and since the Olympics are on and the opening and closing ceremonies featured women in incredible headpieces, we were delighted to see similar costumes in the dance. See right.
I simply cannot wait to see who McCarter brings next year.
Here’s a clip reel of some of the dances, for an idea of what the experience was like.
For ease of searching I include: Slask.