In their press release, Los Dondines, Dancers of the Americas, state that their troupe "was presented to American audiences in 1969 at the Ed Sullivan Show." Sixteen years later, Los Dondines seem to have lost a considerable share of the technique and bravura with which they made their reputation. Their program Saturday night at the Department of Commerce Auditorium was a slipshod affair, a predominantly lackluster pastiche of dances and songs from Argentina, Venezuela, Uruguay and Mexico that suffered from a variety of theatrical maladies.

As the curtains first parted a trio of dancers stepped and twirled anemically to an equally anemic tape of folk music. The choreography of this and other sequences rarely surpassed the level of routines mastered by an advanced folk dancing class, and the majority of the six performers -- particularly the two women -- lacked even the most rudimentary comprehension of bearing, timing or stage presence. The slippery floor made matters even worse, causing them to lose their footing, slide, and sometimes fall.

The high point came toward the end, when two ultramacho members of the company, guest star Luis Leal and Jorge L. Valverde, launched into a demonstration of Malambo, a wild dance that combines machine gun-style footwork with both drumming and the whirling of bolas -- ropes with stone balls attached. The grand finale came as they stamped and manipulated bolas and huge knives while a strobe light flashed maniacally over them.

Singer and guitarist Eduardo Rusca appeared between dance sequences, offering his adoring fans ballad after ballad in a strident, melodramatic voice. Since both his songs and his narrative were in Spanish, this listener experienced his art from across something of a cultural divide.