So fiercely disciplined that its 36 singers offered crystalline-voiced a cappella melodies without a conductor, the Belgrade State Folk Ensemble--which appeared in Bren Events Center at UC Irvine on Wednesday night--demonstrated what high polish adds to the raw materials of folk entertainment.
The most dazzling dancing was men's work. In a Macedonian piece smartly accompanied by a drummer, eight men tossed off springy jumps seemingly calibrated to the inch, lightly elastic movements on the ball of the foot, precise lifts of the knee and a distant cousin of a ronde de jambe en l'air that snapped to a whiplash finish.
With increased speed--and some of the dances accelerated rapidly--attention to details and the sustaining of a flexible, joyous, whole-body rhythm remained amazingly constant.
The lithe, heavily made-up women occasionally departed from their sturdy fast-stepping to spin in private circles or even to whirl into space, supported by one arm of a partner. Still, it was a surprise to see an utterly different approach to the body in a sultry, Arabian Nights-flavored dance from Vranje, in southwest Serbia, spiced with hip rolls and shimmies.