What struck one most forcibly about the Conjunto Folklorico Nacional de Cuba -- the Cuban folk dance troupe which made its Washington bow at the Warner Theatre Thursday evening -- was the polychromatic profusion of cultural strands and influences.
Musical and choreographic elements from Africa, Europe (France, for example, by way of Haitian fugitives), other Caribbean sources and of course Cuba itself blended themselves into a rich stew with its own very individual flavor.
Ballerina Alicia Alonso and her Ballet Nacional de Cuba are by now quite familiar to American audiences. But the Conjunto Folklorico, though it has toured major cities on four continents, is currently paying its first visit to the United States.
Like similar troupes from other lands, the Conjunto acts both as conservator and showcase, and hence its performances are educational and well as artistic in import.
The opening "Congo" number, for instance, depicted 19th century black slaves as railroad laborers, dancing in tribal rivalry, rebellion and celebration. It afforded a glimpse of social history as well as such clearly African choreographic manifestations as tubular hand drums, stamping steps and rolling hips and shoulders.
In "Tumba Francesca," one saw the squared-off cotillion formations of continental ballrooms fused with the sound of maracas, African shout-and-response songs and Caribbean serpentine chain dances. "Polirritmia" featured dancers in wooden-soled sandals, showing us Cuban-style tap dancing to Latin rythms.
On the whole, the Conjunto appears to represent something of an uneasy compromise between unvarnished folklore and theatrical stylization, with an effective point of balance yet to be reached. And despite the diversity of costume, language and form, the dance contents seemed fairly monotonous. Only in the finale, "Rhumbas and Comparsas," a kind of brilliantly caparisoned street carnival, did dance virtuosity burst forth in the person of two amazing rubber-legged, rhythmically vivacious male soloists.
The Conjuncto Folklorico continues its performances through tommorrow, bringing to a close a 10-day international folk festival at the Warner under the auspices of the Washington Performing Arts Society.