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O.C. MUSIC / ZAN DUBIN : Siberian Folk Dancers Put Spin on Tradition

March 17, 1993|ZAN DUBIN

Would the Krasnayarsk Siberian Dance Company rather spirit up a rousing, sequin-filled good time than stick to the letter of Siberian folklore law? Recent reviews leave that impression.

Wrote an appreciative critic in The New York Times: "Krasnayarsk does not purport to offer unvarnished folk dancing" and "clearly intends to entertain more than to educate."

A similarly pleased reviewer at the Ann Arbor (Mich.) News wrote: "This dance reminded me of 'Dr. Zhivago,' that one of Busby Berkeley; this dance seemed like Siberian flamenco, that one like the Siberian equivalent of hip-hop. . . . Entertainment takes precedence over authenticity."

As the saying goes, local audiences may judge for themselves when the 70-member troupe performs Friday in an Orange County Philharmonic Society-sponsored concert in Costa Mesa. (Review, F2.)

Chief choreographer Arkady Kondakov maintains that native dances practiced by humble villagers demand to be "interpreted in a theatrical way."

That, he said, means eye-popping costumes, 13 musicians, klieg lights and ballet-trained dancers who execute folk steps with a classically stylized technique.

But preserving tradition does not take a balcony seat to showmanship, Kondakov said through an interpreter during a recent phone interview.

"We would like the audience to love our performance," he said. Notwithstanding the dazzling costumes and stage effects, "Our aim is to present, as close as possible, the reality of the folk spirit."

Krasnayarsk (named after the Siberian city) was founded 33 years ago by Mikhail Godenko, who choreographed its entire repertory. Kondakov's job is to keep finely tuned the works by Godenko, who died in 1990. The troupe is on its first North American tour since 1979.

Kondakov, a former company dancer, said his favorite numbers are those in which women are women and men are men, in an old-fashioned sense--at least according to politically correct U.S. standards. "I prefer it when the women do lyrical, romantic dances," he said, "and the men show the women what they can do, how brave and vigorous and whatnot they are."

Such Eurasian machismo means a whole lot of leapin' going on.

That's the case in "Red Yar," a fasten-your-shoulder-strap Siberian Cossack dance, he said. ("According to historical data, the town of Krasnayarsk was founded by Cossacks," Kondakov said.)

Since January, the troupe has presented 40 concerts on its current tour, and "in every town, without exception, the dance has gotten a standing ovation," he added.

"My Siberia" is another crowd-pleaser, reflecting "the nature of the Siberian people" and evoking the magnificent beauty of their snowy land, Kondakov said.

"There is fur in the women's costumes because the climate in Siberia is, how to say, severe, cold winters and so on," he said. Dance-wise, things start off slowly, "but gradually the tempo becomes more rapid, and the choreography begins showing the energy, vigor and passion of the people."

Krasnayarsk dancers may have more reason to be passionate these days than some of their regional contemporaries. Many state-supported dance companies, orchestras and opera troupes have suffered dire money troubles since the fall of communism in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. But government support of his company has not waned, Kondakov said.

"You see, prices are soaring, that is the problem, and of course, the dancers cannot call themselves rich people. But the state fully sustains us.

"Our main aim is to preserve folk traditions, despite any political changes," he added, "because folk traditions are eternal."

Touring can seem never-ending, Kondakov conceded. The troupe is on the road--traveling by bus--10 months of the year; one-night stands are the rule. He conducted this interview from a Motel 6 in Weed, a small California town near the Oregon border.

"It is not easy, of course," he said, adding quickly "we try to manage it, and we have a rhythm. We don't like to complain."

Kondakov says that encouraging each of the troupe's dancers to develop his or her unique "creative spirit" or interpretive style is among his most important tasks. It's not easy either, he said.

"Everyone is different, and you must treat each person in an individual, special way."

K rasnayarsk Siberian Dance Company will perform Friday at 8 p.m. at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. Presented by the Orange County Philharmonic Society. $10-$30. (714) 553-2422.

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