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Dance and Music Reviews : Belgrade State Folk Ensemble at UC Irvine

February 12, 1988|CATHY CURTIS

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 Event Center at UC Irvine, 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 sometimes departed from their sturdy fast-stepping to spin in private circles or even whirl into space, supported by a partner's arm. Still, it was a surprise to see hip rolls and shimmies in a sultry, Arabian Nights-flavored dance from Vranje, in southwest Serbia.

Other distinctive works included a lindjo dance (named after the stringed instrument that accompanies it) featuring a male caller similar to the square dance variety, who wove in and out of the promenading couples and sometimes worked his fingers as if conjuring their zestful performances out of thin air.

In the bouncing, direction-shifting line dances, when comradely linked arms were not called for, performers obtained a firm anchor by grabbing the leather belt their neighbors on either side wore over finely embroidered, brilliantly colored costumes.

A gawky, youthful seven-piece band most memorable for its accordion component provided the accompaniment; playing alone in "a potpourri of traditional melodies," it made one long for the next entrance of the dancers and singers.

The ensemble will perform tonight at El Camino College, Saturday at Pasadena Civic Auditorium and Sunday at Downey Theatre.

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