It s a rare occasion when the Cairo Opera House can host a performance that does its lush atmosphere justice. This week, the Slovak National Folklore Ballet does that and more with their performance of “Lúcnica, a spellbinding collection of folkloric dances from different regions of Slovakia.
From the moment “Lúcnica begins until the final curtain is drawn, the audience is captivated by a spirited, imagistic and extremely well choreographed performance.
The show begins with a virtuosic pairing of two sets of twins: two handsome boys in flowered patterns and fur hats and two girls in an embroidered costume with colorful threads, white peasant blouses and charming headscarves. With a simple backdrop, the costumes add one of the most sublime layers of the performance.
All at once, the costumes envelope the dancers and conjure the cozy chilliness of winter or the fresh arrival of spring. Vibrant skirts add swish and texture to the girls’ movements, and in many cases, the men’s costumes bespeak the mood of their scenes.
The first scene, called “The Tossing Dance, is self-explanatory: the boys take the girls in adorable lifts, through which the genuinely smiling young women perch as gracefully as birds on a branch on the boys’ hips and shoulders. This set the stage for the scene that establishes the company’s excellence.
In “The Carnival Stick Dance, the boys click and move sticks in intricate rhythms and geometric formations. Holding their sticks, the men create moving squares in the air and on the ground and then leap through them.
For the most part, scenes are divided into sequences featuring the company’s girls, the company’s boys, and couples dances.
“Spring Arrives features the 20 young women holding flowered boughs in an innocent and lovely ritual dance. A princess of sorts enters the scene from high on the shoulders of the men holding the large, leafy branch of a tree. The girls dance in poetic circles around her. At one point she walks gracefully atop their clasped hands; descending a beautiful moving staircase. In the end, her tree is adorned with the colorful painted eggs of their region.
A sequence entitled “Shepard’s’ Night is the most theatrical and haunting piece of the performance. Boys wearing beautiful woolen hats and fur capes shake thick rattling sticks in a dance resembling a fight scene. The boys roll, jump and charmingly roar in Slovakian.
All in all, it is the boys’ dances that are more virtuosic, energetic and exciting. They enjoy remarkable prowess; and as is the case for a lot of folkloric dance, it is the men who do the leaping, splits in the air. Like certain birds in nature, they are the more showy and attractive. The dances of the women are more closer to earth; delicately calm and subtly invigorating.
From scene to scene, every gesture is performed at once gaily, casually and with great sophistication. The rhythmic stomping of the group is infallible: with 20 to 40 dancers on stage at one time, each moving exactly as the next, without compromising any of the dance’s warmth and jubilation.
The ballet, under the direction of Stephan Nosal, has been performed for 60 years. By now, the company has mastered the ability to teach and execute detailed and powerful combinations. What remains a mystery is how they manage to accomplish this with such stunning freshness.
The work feels organic, as if the dancers are performing from their very souls. Perhaps they are: despite the peaceful division between Slovakia and the Czech Republic in 1993, decades of change and restructuring have taken away many of traditions of theirs. Perhaps such a performance functions a tool to preserve their folkloric culture and identity.
On several occasions, the dancing gives way to strictly musical interludes by the very talented orchestra that accompanies the dancers on stage. Mixing violins, hammer dulicmer, flute and folk instruments, the 10-musician group provides a rest from the visual stimulation, allowing an opportunity to notice the complex soundscape that directs the lively dances.
Near the end of the show, the “Stick Dance finds its counterpart in a scene about the spinning of cloth. The scene is performed by the girls, with one long ribbon they weave round their hands, over their heads and around their waists. Work such as this requires the utmost attention of every performer – down to the movements in each second; each is utterly reliant on the other.
The Slovak National Folklore Ballet is one of the most competitive dance companies in their country; the dancers perform not only with genuine delight but with the dexterity and timing of top level professionals. What is most rare, in the world of commercial ballet, is that you feel that the dancers are performing because they have something dazzling inside that they are generous enough to share; they do so with the whole of their beings.
Catch “Lúcnica tonight, 8 pm, at the Cairo Opera House and on Feb. 22 at the Alexandria Opera House.