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Georgian National Singing and Dancing Ensemble

"The Legend of Tamar"

Civic Theater, San Diego, CA

October 8, 2000
By
Basheva


The Georgian National Singing and Dancing Ensemble performed on October 7th, 2000 at the Civic Theater, San Diego. Preceding the actual raising of the curtain an onstage announcer spoke to the audience for several minutes and gave a brief history of the country of Georgia. It has been a state for 3000 years and invaded 22 times in the past 1500 years. Though economically a poor country, it has been enriched by many other cultures, Arabic, Turkish, Mongolian, Slavic/Russian as well as its own Caucasian heritage. It is the birthplace of both Stalin and Balanchine.

The announcer then explained that the program is called “The Legend of Tamar”. Apparently, this is a national folk tale. A full page of the written program also elaborated on this legend. However, as the evening progressed, it was quickly apparent that the dancing and singing (which alternated) had nothing to do with a story. And neither dancing nor singing, needed a story – they stood quite well on their own.

This is a large company of 33 dancers, 29 singers, and 12 musicians. The singers are almost entirely male and produce a unique polyphonic chant that is strange, but not displeasing, to the Western ear. One of these chants was chosen as a sample of human music and sound for the Voyager Spacecraft when it left our solar system. The onstage musicians included drummers, flute, but mostly balalaika-type string instruments. The rhythms are quick and dynamic. At one point the flautist played two flutes at the same time.

The dancing exhibits all the classical hallmarks of folk dance. While male and female often dance side by side, there is no physical contact. Even when a hand is placed on an arm, the hand is covered, as well as the arm. The dancing is male centered and has competitive overtones, again typical of folk dance. Tempi are blazingly fast, very rousing; not a dull moment. The men are often beyond dance, into the acrobatic and certainly putting life and limb at risk. During a piece with metal swords the speed and force of the swordplay produced sparks that became part of the drama. Sky high jumping turns which land full on the knees is the norm. The men also land their jumps and turns with complete aplomb on toe, or rather the rolled over toe knuckle in a soft unboxed dance boot. One can only imagine how long those knees and toes will last.

Whirling dervish spins, and skimming turns, the length of the stage completely on the knees (imagine chaîné turns on the knees), gives a whole new meaning to “placement”. Only a few of the pas can be described in balletic terms – gargouillade, pas de Russe, pas de poisson, saute de chat, come to mind. The remainder are puckish jumps mostly unseen in the classical ballet.

The women are a vision of grace. Costumed in gowns with long sleeves and skirts, they have mastered the art of floating across and around the stage. Sinuous arms and complimentary heads complete the presentation of woman as ideal. It was pleasing to see that, though slender, the women do possess female physical attributes (yes, they have bosoms) very different from the almost androgynous, anorexic ideal of the ballet in our time. The forte’ of the women is in a magical skimming, shimmering quality as they move across the stage which is done at a much more moderate, but still engrossing, tempo. There were a couple of women soloists who danced with the men, duplicating their speed and turns, but eschewing the jumps, acrobatics, falls to the knees and toe work.

The costuming is pleasing, colorful and conceived to be part of the design of the choreography. This company is truly an integrated ensemble. They are well rehearsed and in the corps dances, operate with consummate precision without ever losing the excitement and, in the case of the women, the grace of the dance. Precise it is – stiff, drill team it is not. Simple backdrops and lighting served to center the attention on the dancers.

My only complaint, as well as that of my companion, was the loudness of the music. Though microphones were not visible, since there were large speakers at the sides of the stage, one can assume they were in use. And, the volume was painfully high. I spent much of the time holding my ears. That, however, did not spoil the fun and delight to my eyes. The company travels next to Chicago, New York City and Washington D.C. If you are in those areas, give yourself a treat – go see these dancers and singers.

 

Please join a discussion of this performance in our forum.

Edited by Marie.


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