Two performances are a treat for lovers of Hungarian culture


Peggy Latkovich
Special to The Plain Dealer

Northeast Ohio's Hungarian community had plenty to celebrate last weekend. Performances in Cleveland and Medina showcased the country's rich music and colorful dance.

The Gazsa Folk En semble took the stage on Saturday night at Cleveland's Winchester Tavern. The sold-out performance was the second in this year's World Music at Inside series. The Budapest- based group plays a hearty mix of music from the Carpathian basin, an area that is home to not only Hungarians, but also Romanians, Slovaks, Croats, Gypsies and other groups.

The group leader, Istvan Papp (whose nickname is Gazsa, hence the group's name), hails from Transylvania but moved to Budapest in 1991. He started the band the following year. The eight-member ensemble consists of two violinists, a bracsa (viola) player, a cimbalom (hammered dulcimer) player, a bassist, a wind player and two dancers.

Group members showed their ability to shift complex rhythms on a dime with their opening selection, a verbunk, a man's dance, followed by a Csárdás, a popular couples dance. Peter Mako played intricate lines on tarogato, an instrument that is similar to a soprano sax but has a warmer, more muted tone.

In a medley of Transylvanian songs of lament, the strings set up a slow, throbbing rhythm while cimbalom player Daniel Szabo stepped to the mike to sing. His light baritone voice had just the right amount of simple pathos.

Dancers Tamas Babus and Barbara Baranyai entered in brightly embroidered costumes as the pace picked up. In a locked embrace, they performed a lively, spinning Csárdás.

Babus performed several high-kicking, stomping solo dances. Later in the evening, Mako demonstrated two versions of the overtone flute, which is capable of playing a high, tweety sound and a low, buzzy sound at the same time.

It was a colorful, varied performance, with multiple costume changes, dynamic boot-slapping, spur-jingling, stick-twirling dances and infectious, piquant music. Mako's ancient-sounding bagpipe solo, which one of the violinists echoed, was a highlight. For the most part, however, the musicians emphasized their fine sense of ensemble rather than showcasing individual players.

Another group with a fine sense of ensemble is Northeast Ohio's Csárdás Dance Company, which blends the old and the new in its performances of traditional Hungarian dance. The troupe's energetic performance at Medina's Grace Drake Center for the Arts on Sunday afternoon was a crowd-pleaser.

The ensemble of 12 adults and seven children presented a spirited set of dances from all over Hungary. Each dance segued smoothly into the next, with adult dancers taking the children's places and vice versa.

The dances were tightly choreographed to the recorded music, but not so tightly as to sacrifice a sense of fun.

A highlight was the bottle dance performed by the children's ensemble. The girls entered in pastoral costumes, each holding a bottle of liquid. They placed the bottles on the stage and performed intricate dance steps over them. They then placed the bottles on their heads and continued to dance, never spilling a drop.

Later in the performance, a lone male dancer performed an athletic shepherd's stick dance, twirling the stick like a baton, jumping over it while holding it in midair and passing it quickly under and around his legs. The penultimate dance was choreographed to a recording of the Nox Ensemble, a Hungarian group that puts traditional music against a techno backdrop.

The children started with a vigorous circle dance, and then the adults took over. Though the steps were traditional, the group added some nonfolk elements, such as a balletic lift and group lunges. The less-ornate costumes, consisting of solid-color skirts for the women and simple black-and-white shirts and pants for the men, further emphasized the piece's modernity.

The group was back in lavishly embroidered traditional costumes for the finale, a lively medley of dances enhanced by the jingling of the men's spurs.

Latkovich is a free-lance writer in South Euclid.

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? 2004 The Plain Dealer. Used with permission.

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Csárdás Dance Company
P.O. Box 770641
Cleveland, OH 44107
Tel: 440-668-6500