Dance Review: LADO, National Folk Dance Ensemble of Croatia, at Strathmore

Rebecca J. Ritzel
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, October 13, 2009; 5:34 PM

Planning a destination wedding? Consider Croatia. This tiny Eastern European republic boasts rocky beaches, a quaint capital and 4.4 million people with a proud tradition of dancing and singing at nuptial celebrations.

LADO, the National Folk Dance Ensemble of Croatia, launched a rare American tour Friday with a performance at the Music Center at Strathmore. Elaborate wedding dances stood out during this fascinating program, a Baltic spectacle that featured 38 dancers, 15 musicians and more than a thousand costumes.

Music and dance are inseparable traditions in Croatia, so all the dancers double as vocalists. Translations of the lyrics would have been helpful, but it was obvious that most dances were either guy-meets-girl or guy-marries-girl.

Women rarely lifted their feet more than inches off the ground. Instead they sustained slight rhythmic bounces, usually counted in threes. The men's movement was more intricate, particularly the crossover footwork required in the Bunjevci "Young Man's Dance."

Many numbers climaxed with the dancers swirling in pairs. A woman would place her hands on a man's strapping shoulders. He'd tuck his thumbs into the waistband of her full skirt and away they whirled, never stepping on each other's toes.

The most bizarre number, by far, was a line dance from the island of Susak. The women came onstage wearing plaid kerchiefs, neon leggings and short, puffy striped skirts. Accompanied by bagpipes, they marched opposite the men, chanting. At a talkback following the performance, a dancer explained, through an interpreter, that Susak is a remote island where inbreeding is a problem. "That's why they're so weird," she said.

Costumes from the mainland were less garish but still colorful. In the finale, a wedding dance from Podravina, the bride wore a towering flower-covered hat. She challenged the groomsmen to a jig, jumping over wine bottles. Then the groom took a spin with the bridesmaids, who came onstage blindfolded. Add wedding party guests leaping over rolling pins and this was one raucous reception. How do you say "mazel tov" in Croatian?

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