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Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2005

Russian State Cossack Dance Company - 'Cossack Passion'

by Kate Snedeker

August 9, 2005 -- George Square Theatre, Edinburgh, Scotland

This year the Edinburgh Festival Fringe has the good fortune of sharing in the talents of one of the Edinburgh Tattoo's outstanding performing groups. When they aren't entertaining crowds on the Castle Esplanade, the forty dancers, singers and musicians of the Russian Cossack State Dance Company fill the George Square Theatre in a performance rich with color and energy.

The engaging hour-long program combines singing, dance and light comedy, accompanied by both taped and live music. It opens with the full cast, about 30 dancers and singers, and the requisite fantastic folk dance, complete with barrel turns and high kicks from the men, and skirt-ballooning spins from the women.

The action tumbles into a series of songs, the words Russian, but the meaning clear enough through the action onstage. Cossack -- or Kazak -- means nomadic horseman, and the Cossacks roamed from Poland to the Pacific. The resulting cultural diversity is reflected in the costumes and complexions of the performers. In one dance, the costumes and sinuous motions were suggestive of Asian influences. Later on, the detailed embroidery in the women's costumes and the long cloths held aloft between the couples brought to mind the Ukranian flag, and the traditional Easter bread held aloft speaks of Orthodox Church traditions which have survived to the present day.

The comedic talents of the cast were best illustrated in a brief trio for a husband, wife and his huge winter boots. The boots end up everywhere but properly on the man's feet, the story told in a delightful quasi dance to live music. Earlier a quartet of musicians pumped out folk tunes, aided by an accordian player and his set of increasingly tiny accordians.

Among the group numbers, the finest was a fiery, dramatic sword dance. With the darkened stage bathed in deep red light, the men -- two swords apiece -- battled in an intricately choreographed group fight. The clashing sounds of metal on metal and the sparks jumping off the colliding swords added to the magical atmosphere.

The quartet of female singers and their occasional male compatriots had pleasing resonant voices and ample stage presence. Both singers and dancers were backed by an eight-piece band, with additional music on tape. Though the George Square Stage is deep, it is not big and at times seemed barely big enough to contain the powerful dancing. One can only imagine what this group can do in a larger space.

If one could find fault, it was in the over-amplification of the music, near painful at times. Both the musicians and the singers seemed quite capable of the necessary projection, and relying less on the sound system would have made the audience more comfortable and brought more balance to the mix of voices, instruments and pounding feet.

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