The Strauss Symphony of America

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Editorial Review

BSO gives Vienna tradition a whirl

By Lisa Traiger
Friday, Dec. 31, 2010

As dance scandals go, the recent season of "Dancing With the Stars," with its allegations of voter fraud related to Bristol Palin's rise to the final three, has nothing on the sordid history of the waltz.

The social dance popular in the 18th and 19th centuries was decried as "an obscene display confined to prostitutes and adulteresses." One magazine wag of the era wrote, "We ... can scarcely realize the horror which greeted the introduction of this wicked dance."

Lucky for us, those opinions changed.

"In its day, the waltz was a scandal," said Guido Mancusi, who will conduct the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in "Salute to Vienna," a Viennese-style holiday event that twirls into Strathmore on Saturday and Baltimore's Meyerhoff Symphony Hall on Sunday.

Waltzes, particularly those by the Strauss family, will be the centerpiece of this weekend's performances. Award-winning Hungarian ballroom dancers Viktoria Pali and Gergo Nagy and members of the National Moravian-Silesian Ballet of the Czech Republic will join the BSO in a rousing afternoon of music and dance welcoming in 2011, all inspired by the annual New Year's Day concert at the Musikverein in Vienna, Austria.

"In the 1840s, '50s, '60s, waltzes were the modern music," like jazz in its day and hip-hop today, Mancusi said from his home in Austria. "It was really the young people who wanted to hear modern music. And step by step, the waltz grew into a tradition. The young people from the 1850s became older, and they still wanted to hear their music."

The waltz was the first coupled dance featuring a closed hold, in which the man places one hand lightly on his partner's waist while his other hand clasps his partner's hand.

"Posture is important in waltz," Pali, 20, said in a translated e-mail. "Stand up straight with shoulders back and down. Keep a steady pressure on the partner's leading arm. And it's important to keep your torsos parallel as you turn."

But that's where the trouble ensued: "Because it's very quick, and you make one full revolution on each measure, you have to take your partner very close to you," Mancusi noted.

"The very last part of the waltz was always very, very quick, and young people had a chance to get closer and closer to each other; the bodies have to feel each other. This was a scandal, obviously, in the 1860s."

Concert producer Attila Glatz, who is bringing "Salute to Vienna" to venues across North America this season, said that although the program might differ from city to city, a few choice numbers remain constant: Johann Strauss II's sentimental "Blue Danube Waltz" and the final, assertive encore, Johann Strauss I's "Radetzky March."

"It's always the encore," Glatz said, "or else there's a revolution. Everybody claps and taps their feet. That's what keeps us going year after year."