Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ethnic Dance Ensembles Kick Up a Storm

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ethnic Dance Ensembles Kick Up a Storm

Article excerpt

Ethnic dance has two sides.

The internationally renowned Kuban Cossacks Russian Dance Ensemble sees its purpose as preserving traditional Russian culture.

The award-winning Trinity Irish Dance Company, on the other hand, though it retains its Celtic roots intact, is stretching the limits of dance and experimenting with performance art. Both performed last weekend at the Vail International Dance Festival, kicking up a storm.

With the grace of ballet dancers and the stamina of acrobats, Kuban evokes the military splendor of the Cossacks, who traditionally guarded the nation in border outposts. Their warlike tribal customs are still reflected in amazing sword dances, fantastic spins and leaps, and dagger-tossing.

"Russian culture is poly-ethnic - there are many influences," says artistic director Victor Zakharchenko. "One of the border outposts was in the Kuban River region. Our Kuban culture exists in villages and settlements to this day...."

The company maintains a school for 1,000 children in Krashodar City. "They work very hard, study ballet as well as folk dance. But the real work is in rehearsal," he says.

Like the Russian company, the dancers of Trinity begin their lessons at five or six years old.

Elaborately embroidered costumes, bright as tropical birds, matching white, calf-length socks, and soft, laced black shoes make Irish step dancers stick out in a crowd. But it's the "rubber ankles," the highly structured intricacy of the steps, and the amazing perfection of synchronous movement that engage the viewer's imagination - all those women moving as if tied by wires. That and the straight-arrow torso, arms firmly placed at the sides, which emphasizes effectively the movement of the feet.

Many Americans have seen "Riverdance" on TV or in the theater, and that commercialized, high-tech entertainment has given Irish step- dancing a boost. But the real art of the dance may lie elsewhere - in a company like Trinity that has made a genuine effort to place itself in the high art, rather than commercial, venues.

Artistic director Mark Howard studied Irish step dancing at the same school that produced Michael Flatley's "Lord of the Dance. …

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