Perhaps the Seattle dance scene’s best-kept secret is its rich store of traditional dances from around the world. The 42nd Annual Northwest Folklife Festival showcased many of these world traditions, and on May 25, 2013, Seattle audiences got to revel in the splendor of dances from Croatia, Peru, Spain, and Mexico. Each group was unique in costume, music, and style, yet all exhibited unparalleled professionalism and technique.
The Vela Luka Croatian Dance Ensemble has performed at each and every Northwest Folklife Festival. In their performance, their long-standing connection to the past was bolstered by their commitment to the future: three generations of Croatian women shared the stage, including the grandmother who told the Vela Luka story, the mother who danced with ebullient energy, and the daughter who was only three years old. All were dressed in traditional Croatian attire–starched white dresses with puffy sleeves, bright red aprons with intricate embroidery, fur vests with complementary fabrics–and all represented the culture with poise and a sense of leadership. A talented group of musicians called Ruze Dalmatinke matched the energy of the dancers, many of whom exhibited an uncanny level of stamina. Their hard shoes beat intricate rhythms into the stage with well-timed jumps and do-si-dos.
|The men of Vela Luka Croatian Dance Ensemble
Photo by Christopher Plancich
The perfect follow-up was Tusuy Peru, Fabiola Serra’s new dance troupe based in Ellensburg. Serra is dedicated to passing on the traditions of her culture. Though she is the only Peruvian in the group, her dancers proved more than willing to take on the challenge with her, performing dances that showcased the breadth of Peruvian society. Serra’s sense of timing and effortlessness made it clear that she was a native of her culture, but she did not try to steal the spotlight from her students. Two dancers in particular really shone: Shawn Clerf’s dancing was poised and sophisticated, and his wife, Heather, quite pregnant at the time, undulated with grace and radiated with joy. Serra’s knowledge and enthusiasm for keeping her traditions alive is a gift to Eastern Washington.
Ana Montes and Flamenco Danzarte nearly lit the stage on fire with their sensual Spanish dancing. Each dancer wore a unique color scheme, replete with long skirts, gorgeous shawls, and huge flowers. They sat on wooden chairs, cheering on their fellow dancers with shouts of “olé” and “baila.” This setting made the huge room feel much more intimate, as if the audience were in a tiny tapas bar in Madrid. The highlight of their set was a sumptuous scarf solo performed by Montes. Her long black dress had alternating polka-dot fabric, set into several complicated layers of ruffles from the thigh down. Montes found every conceivable way of moving her fringed red scarf until it seemed to have a mind–and a heart–of its own. The intensity on her face drew every person in, making the dance feel intensely personal. At one point, Montes’ arms formed an arc, while the scarf draped over them and cascaded down her back. For a few moments, her body looked unreal, as if the scarf had transformed her into a dark flower or a soft, clay sculpture. Montes and her dancers showed why flamenco has influenced dance worldwide.
Photo by Seth Harris
From the deeply intimate and lunar mood of the flamenco, the audience was re-awakened with the burst of sunshine that is Bailadores de Bronce. This Mexican folkloric group was founded in 1972 at the University of Washington. The colors, the sounds, and the smiles on the dancers’ faces spread joy throughout the room. One highlight was a soloist in an awe-inspiring gown. Over a layer of sheer black fabric were handmade flowers embroidered in the brightest shades of yellow, turquoise, pink and red. Her dance was slow, full of unhurried, graceful spins. The slowness of this piece was offset by a fiery finale that featured many male and female dancers dressed as rancheros/as. Their blazers and stiff sombreros were perfectly tailored in shades of taupe. The hard heels on their shoes dug brave polyrhythms into upbeat music full of deep vibrato singing and complicated guitar riffs. Though most dancers’ faces were dripping in sweat by the end of this extremely energetic set, their exuberance for the dance shone through. There was a sense of cultural and personal pride on the face of each dancer.
It would be such a joy to see more people, dancers and non-dancers alike, tap into the rich resources of Seattle’s folk dance community. There is not enough exposure for cultural groups like these in the mainstream dance scene, and these talented, professional artists deserve the support of the whole dance community. All of these groups offer ways to get involved in their mission to carry on their traditions, including many classes. Please visit their web sites for more information.
Vela Luka Croatian Dance Ensemble: www.velaluka.org
Tusuy Peru: www.tusuyperu.net
Ana Montes and Flamenco Danzarte: www.anamontes.com
Bailadores de Bronce: www.bailadoresdebronce.org