When folk troupes from abroad come to town -- for example, the Turkish State Folk Dance Ensemble at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall last night, on its first North American tour -- they tend to become focal points for the expression of homesickness, fellow-feeling and national pride. Last night's occasion was no exception -- it had the atmosphere of a rally. With the entrance of the exquisitely clad ensemble in the opening Candle Dance, the crowd burst forth into cheers, whistles, yelps and applause, of a volume and duration well beyond what one would expect from pure esthetic appreciation.
The troupe deserved the accoladed on artistic grounds as well, however. Founded in 1975 as a custodian of Turkish folklore, the sizable company (some numbers had 32 dancers on stage, plus half a dozen musicians) is precise, obviously beautifully trained, and electric with rapport. Both the dance and musical repertory, moreover, seem blessedly free of show-biz adulteration. The material is theatricalized only to the extent that each dance is arranged into a consonant formal statement, but there's no attempt to exploit virtuosity (apart from its natural manifestations) or to intrude with a lot of simplistic pageantry. Even in the few numbers that briefly illustrate regional customs or labors, the mimicry (kneading dough, for instance) is woven right into the dance fabric.
Much of the choreographic vocabulary bepseaks the common heritage of the Middle East -- chain and circle dances with deep bends and rapid facings, spoon clickings, scarf wavings and so forth. Among the elements that may be more specifically Anatolian are a shoulder-shimmy and a characteristic hop-and-angled kick step that showed up in many dances, as well as a rhythmically intricate step patter that reflects the wonderful metrical assymetry of the music. A little more lyrical relief in mood and tempo would give the program even more staying power.
Extra security patrolled the Concert Hall area in response to alleged bomb threats elsewhere on the troupe's tour.