The fact that Washington is such a culturally polymorphous city makes for immeasurable enrichment of the dance scene hereabouts. There's an almost continuous stream of dancing of every provenance and description going on in the area; one has only to take the trouble to seek it out. All this is by way of remarking on the delightful performance last night by the Grupo Folklorico de Panama en Washington, D.C. (Grufolpawa, for short), in the "Cafe Tertulias" series that the GALA Hispanic Theatre has instituted on Tuesday evenings.
Founded in 1977 and directed by Norma Small-Warren, Grufolpawa is made up of Panamanians dedicated to conserving and propagating regional dances of their homeland to use as instruments of cultural outreach. The group has appeared frequently on campuses, at festivals and on TV, both locally and as far afield as New York; it maintains a large repertoire, performed in handsomely authentic costumes.
The ensemble has a core of about 16 dancers, but the numbers for a given performance are determined ad hoc -- the participants all have other full-time occupations and each occasion has its own needs. The agreeably cozy GALA space set last night's limits; four dancers were about as many as the floor could handle. Even so, the half a dozen dances of the program were extremely beguiling.
Though production problems forestalled the director's customary pre-dance explanations, these were clearly dances of the town, not the field. The women wore festive, floor-length, full-skirted gowns (the hems held prettily at arm's length during turns), and gilt headdresses in the form of stylized combs and flowers. The men sported straw hats, ornate white shirts and dark trousers.
A ceremonial with candles, a polka-type number with stamped accents, and a formal courtship dance were among the choreographic types represented. The step patterns favored unequal rhythms -- short and long alternately -- and enhanced the overall lilt of the style, aided, too, by the musical syncopations. The dancers were aligned both in formation and as couples, but the men sometimes had flashy solo breaks, with rapid flurries of shuffle steps or strutting knees. Altogether, it was a tantalizing assortment that left one with a strong craving for more.