There appears to be a common theatrical standard set by professional folk companies touring the United States: At the very least, they present performances of astounding precision, boundless energy, with no apparent weak links between and within the music and dance ensembles. Offering their particular ethnic style for a Sunday matinee in Kleinhans Music Hall, the Hungarian State Folk Ensemble was no exception.
As if wound up tight and unleashed on the stage with undiminishing stamina, dancers and choral members and musicians shared in the presention of authentic Hungarian traditional dance and music, under the artistic direction of choreographer Sandor Timar, with Laszlo Berki conducting the 15-piece orchestra and choral conductor Andras Feheras.
As you might expect, bright and ornately embroidered peasant costuming accented with black velvet and black leather boots might suffice as a generic description. More richly textured was the volume of small steps and wild and intricate Gypsy-like rhythms of the music that colored the performance of the Budapest ensemble.
Suiting almost any mood, the quick 1-2-3-hold pattern was used in infinite variation of steps, and to more ethereal effect in the air, mixing heavy and light movements. The men would often syncopate the rhythms of the dance with clapping and/or body and boot slapping. Women held themselves in delicate reserve compared to the men, their feet maintaining neat, small, regular rhythms.
The audience was spellbound with the "Bottle Dance of Tolna" performed by the 16 women of the company. Challenging the carriage of even a ballerina, the women balanced full wine bottles atop their heads. Hence the small, neat footwork. But the choreography successfully dared to increase the stakes, as the dancers dipped under each others' outstretched arms.
In addition to the traditional music, classical works by composers such as Bela Bartok, Zoltan Kodaly and Franz Liszt were performed as arranged for four-part choral harmony and an orchestra that featured the Hungarian cembalom, a hammered dulcimer-type instrument, along with two clarinets and 11 string instruments.
The choral number "Wide Is the Danube" was well balanced, and although sung in Hungarian, enunciation was clear and distinct, even as the song sped up. "Gypsies Eat Curd" was obviously a repetitive tongue twister, but was impeccably executed.
Capturing the character, above all in Liszt's "Hungarian Rhapsody No.2," the orchestra musicians mastered the piece's dark, sweet and exotic flavor, and then animated its character with individual improvisations performed with passion and genuine Gypsy spirit.
The Hungarian State Folk Ensemble
Casual Classics III series, program of Hungarian folk music with 100 singers and dancers.
Sunday at Kleinhans Music Hall.