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      PLAIN DEALER DANCE CRITIC
    By WILMA SALISBURY
    Posted on: 16th January, 2004, By: Webmaster

    The national dance of Hungary would never be mistaken for a sexy Argentine tango. Yet, the Budapest Ensemble made a case for calling its touring show "Csárdás: Tango of the East."

    The rousing folk production, which was presented by Belkin Productions last night at Lakewood Civic Auditorium, spotlights various forms of the Csárdás as dances of courting, romance, competition, domination and celebration. Directed and choreographed by artistic director Zoltán Zsuráfszki, the dances are the real thing. Collected in Hungarian villages and performed without slick theatricalization, the authentic movements are earthy, raw and at times so spontaneous that the dancers seem to be making up the steps on the spot. Each sequence is clearly structured, though, and the music is the motivator.

    Performed on fiddles, clarinet, accordion, bass, cimbalom, percussion and a colorful array of raucous-sounding folk instruments, the music sets the dancers stamping, stepping, singing and whirling at ever-accelerating tempos.

    To give the collection of folk dances a contemporary context, Zsuráfszki set the performance in a Táncház, a Hungarian social club where the Csárdás is performed. Wearing street clothes, the dancers look like ordinary people partying to live music. The fun stops abruptly when Zsuráfszki, the club. s dancemaster, opens an antique chest and distributes costumes to the dancers, transforming them into characters in a folk tale.

    > The story begins as the women strip to their old-fashioned underwear, perform an ancient dew-gathering ceremony and take on village identities by ritually dressing themselves in traditional costumes. The men get to change their clothes offstage. When they return in black leather boots, they perform competitive boot-slapping dances to show off their strength and agility. The winner gets to court the girl chosen to be a bride.

    In one of the few slow and quiet dances in the two-hour show, they perform an elegant turning dance in a pool of light. When they are joined by other couples, the winner. s rival steals the girl while her boyfriend is showing off his impressive technique. After listening to the Hungarian blues, played by a gypsy fiddler, he takes off on a journey to find his beloved. Stopping at each village, he accepts gifts and enjoys lively dances, including a number performed by women who balance wine bottles on their heads.

    > In the second act, the drama intensifies as the abducted girl is badly treated and passed from partner to partner in a rough Transylvanian dance. When her true love arrives with a male ensemble, the men do a percussive rhythmic dance with sticks. At the climax, the two rivals discard their sticks and dance a symbolic duel. There is no clear winner, so the bride makes the choice, and the story ends with a grand wedding celebration.

    After the wedding party dances into the wings, Zsuráfszki brings the audience back to the present with a show of intricate solo dances that involve quick footwork and deep knee bends. The predominantly ethnic audience got into the spirit of the performance early in the evening. By the end, they joined the party by clapping to the infectious rhythms of the loudly amplified music.



    E-mail: wsalisbury@plaind.com

    Phone: (216) 999-4248
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