Saturday, November 3, 2012

REVIEW: Śląsk Delivers!

Non-stop Show Full of Movement, Color and Style
(from The Polish American Journal-December 2012 issue )

by Staś Kmieć
Reviewed November 1 at St. Hubert’s High School, Philadelphia, PA; presented by Polski Express.

   It was 1959 when the cultural impresario Sol Hurok brought the Śląsk Song and Dance Ensemble of Poland (then called the Śląsk, The Polish State Folk Ballet) to America for the first time. It was the middle of the Cold War, and cultural exchange was one of the few international successes of the time.  The company’s sensational debut, followed by a lengthy sold-out US tour, symbolized a separation of art and culture from the politics of the day.
Polka Szturchana
  Śląsk returned to the United States delivering a non-stop show – full of movement, color and style.  Celebrating their 60th anniversary, the first-class professional folkloric troupe  shows no signs of creeping middle age here; the company’s legacy glittered for an action-packed two hours that possibly left observers more exhausted than the participants.  Skillful and dazzlingly energetic, the presentation was much enhanced by brilliantly colorful costumes and a compliment of 14 musicians.
   Much of the appeal of Śląsk relies on its immense unison, impressive patterning, and stylistic traits. The meticulously dispatched footwork and the exuberant dances excite and engage an audience.  The performers display a pedigreed training and present a version of "folk" that never was. Even though the repertoire is drawn from Poland’s many ethnographic regions, the numbers are a distillation produced for theatrical effect.   
Katarzyna Winiarczyk-Staszyńska
and Soloist Piotr Nikiel
  The company, founded by composer Stanisław Hadyna with choreographer extraordinaire Elwira Kamińska, is made up of professional singers and dancers with a great deal of ballet training.  Hadyna’s compositions are symphonic and neo-classical in structure. In the dancing the emphasis is on the legs, with a generous, expansive upper body and involves acrobatic tricks, jumping and partnered lifts.
   Due to the effects of Hurricane Sandy, which caused a lack of power at the scheduled venue, the presentation I attended was moved to a smaller, less-equipped location with limited theatrical effects.  The first act of the program in particular was “spot-on” – moving quickly with clean, precise dancing and a display of fine performance technique.
  Programs were not handed out, but having seen many performances of this company over the years, I knew each selection.   The performance included Kamińska favorites like the opening Trojak in Rozbar-Bytom costumes, the thrilling Cieszyński Taniec Chustkowy, Czardasz-Szot Madziar, and the Beskid Mountain Kołomajki. 
Beata Pyda - "Karolinka"
  Beata Pyda sang in a clean and clear open-throat vocal tone, while emphasizing the words, in the signature “Karolinka,” and later in “Słoneczko Wyszło.”  Piotr Nikiel was engaging and charming in a beautifully sung “Do Krakowa Jadą” sequence “Moja Marysiu, kochaj mnie.”
Not necessarily one of my personal favorites in the past – Polka Szturchana, a series of Slovak-styled swing dance lifts choreographed by Juraj Kubanka was wonderfully executed and changed my previous perspective of this newer work.

Adam Czechlewski supported
 by Joanna Mokwa
  Over the years, I have seen Kaminska’s stellar Kujawiak z Oberkiemchoreographed with depth and subtle nuance, morph in its interpretation and accent.  Having less effect in its transitions, the dance is less personal and overly exaggerated.  Once performed by the women in light-weight green pleated skirts with a Łowicz apron, the costumes are now fully realized and are duly heavy – which makes the turns less effective.  The fiery acrobatics still entertain and the culminating partnered lift-jump (known as "pistolety") performed by Adam Czechlewski supported by Joanna Mokwa was spectacular.  Usually executed by a compact dancer, Czechlewski’s long line allows the eye to continue further. 
   The entertaining Krakowiak has a change of storyline with regards to the Trumpeter of Kraków/invasion of Tatars sequence – which is less dramatic and historical than what the choreographer originally created. 
   The gem and centerpiece of the program is still the Góralskie Podhale Mountain Dances by Kamińska.  The suite begins authentically in form with couplets sung in biały głos (white voice) style accompanied by dance.  In this opening sequence, soloist Marcin Kędziora – who has an appropriate solid build, dances the steps in the manner that they were intended – with tightness and a weighted association to the earth rarely found in stylized troupes.  From this true base, what follows is a vivid display of true inventiveness and imagination closely related to Hadyna’s music – full of dazzling precision at super-speed.  Closing the first act, this resulted in the first standing ovation by the enthusiastic Philadelphia audience. 
   Śląsk’s artistic performance galvanized the audience with its brand of folk spectacle and pure entertainment.  With vigor, power, and amazing lightness they ignited bravura fireworks with consummate ease.

(11/14/12) UPDATE:  Śląsk returns with a North American tour in March 2013 produced by Canada’s Starvox Entertainment. At presstime the schedule is as follows: 16 -Toronto Canada (2 performances), 17 - Hamilton Canada, 19 – Pittsburgh, PA, 21 – Princeton, NJ, 23 - Bronx, NY (2 performances), 24 - Schenectady NY;  further information on or