The folk music and dance of Hungry lit up the Mainstage Theatre at UB’s Center for the Arts on Tuesday night as Budapest’s Hungarian State Folk Ensemble presented Hungarian Rhapsody, a delightful gypsy-themed journey through centuries of traditional Hungarian song and dance.
From the outset, one got the feeling of being transported to an authentic Hungarian village festival where the village folk – all of them excellent musicians, singers and dancers – performed traditional dances handed down for generations.
The ensemble, founded in 1951, is a multi-generational troupe of 25-plus dancers, an ensemble of six divinely talented musicians along with singer Agnes Enyedi, who acted as a thread weaving through the program; her dulcet voice singing a range of songs that often incited the dancers’ performances while eliciting applause from the audience.
The program in two acts began with the troupe in dances originating from northeastern Hungary.
In traditional costumes – men in hats, pants and long-sleeve shirts, and women in head scarves and long skirts that took on a bell shape when they twirled – the dancers moved quickly through familiar folk dance phrases that saw the men clapping and rigorously slapping their thighs and boots while the women spun and swayed, “whooping” their approval.
The dancing, like many folk dance forms, had similarities to Irish jigs and reels, Russian dances and others, and the remainder of the program featured dances that stemmed from that same movement language introduced at the start of the show along with several musical interludes.
The program’s first act ran through a series of Hungarian regional dances from the Renaissance period forward.
The dances included several czardas (couples) dances as well as all-male and all-female numbers with the dancers pulling double duty as singers and even sometimes as musicians for many of the numbers.
Highlighting the first act was the work “Girls From Moldva,” in which eight women sang while clasping one anothers’ waists and rapidly circling, stomping and shuffling their feet in a blur of movement; “Rhythmic Variations”, a rapid-fire solo by male dancer Mate Modos in spurs, who danced to the sounds of a jew’s harp wildly kicking up his legs, tap dancing and intensely clapping and slapping at his body.
A rip-roaring, high-spirited dance for the entire ensemble concluded the act.
The program’s second act brought more of the same with a succession of wonderfully choreographed and patterned dances that took full advantage of the dancers’ excellent timing and musicality.
Several of the dances featured the cast gathered round in an intimate setting singing while a few dancers took turns performing in solos, duets and trios.
Most memorable was a section called “Dreaming” in which Enyedi sang a song tinged with yearning accompanied by a hammered dulcimer player and five couples dancing slowly in the background.
Also of note was the all-female work “Gossip” and the men’s dance “Test of Skills,” in which the dancers showed off their skills using bottles, brooms and sticks that they spun like batons.
Great music and great dancing by one of the most polished traditional folk dance troupes I have seen, the Hungarian State Folk Ensemble oozed fun and proved they were the very definition of entertaining.