Review: Polish dance troupe Slask does proud to nation's folk heritage
SCHENECTADY On Sunday afternoon, the pageantry of Poland shook the chandeliers at Proctors.
That’s where the 80-member strong, Slask Polish Song and Dance Ensemble filled ears and dazzled eyes with its highly choreographed renderings of its majestic folk arts. On its 60th anniversary tour, this troupe of singers and dancers led by a dynamic orchestra took the audience on a grand excursion through the fields, forests and mountain of Poland. Those who came were gratified and moved by Slask’s devotion to preserve these threatened but vibrant traditions.
The curtain opened with the lively Silesian trojak, in which one man must partner with two ladies. As he moved between them, giving equal attention, the voices of the 24-member choir, standing behind them, reverberated throughout the house. These strong voices were presented in perfect harmony and pitch, balanced as precisely as the symmetrical choreography.
And oh, what dancers. In more than two dozen numbers, from the polka to the mazurka, the dancers did not miss a step. They revolved around the stage, kicking and jumping, in endlessly moving patterns of lines and circles. These highly trained artists had the stamina or technique that could rival any top classical dancer.
In addition, their strength was indisputable. The men often lifted the women directly above their heads. When they twirled them about, the women tucked their legs under their skirts, which catapulted them up and around the heads of their partners. The men often hoisted and flipped each other too, in feats of daring that the audience adored. Of course, the men won whoops in the krakowiak, a very fast, syncopated style in which the men showed off their deep-kneed pounces. Their display of manliness was furthered by props galore, including axes, capes and long poles.
The women were divine as they epitomized grace and propriety. In the mazurka, the opening to the second act, they were escorted in delicate symmetry as the maidens of a royal court. They complemented the men with their light and sure-footedness that was the picture of bliss.
All of this idealized visual and choral beauty was supported by the outstanding musicians in the pit. Their lofty sounds soared.
Enhancing it all was an array of costumes that was jaw-dropping. There were more than 1,000 expertly hand-painted and richly embroidered outfits; and there were more than tops, slacks and skirts. The dancers wore hats, floral wreathes, kerchiefs, vests, shawls, jackets, slips and aprons — many festooned with ribbons, peacock feathers, furs and jewels.
It was an inspired parade of song and dances, which should be credited to its founding artistic director, the late Stanislaw Hadyna. Nearly all the music was arranged by him, while much of the choreography was created by Elwira Kaminska. Their artistic partnership must be the pride of Poland. They kept the colorful folk culture alive. For that, the world should be grateful.