Like a hurricane one instant, then a whirlwind, and never less than a lively gale, Lezginka blew into town Sunday afternoon for a single stint at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. As the State Ensemble of Folk Dance of Daghestan in the Soviet Union, this company numbering 50 performers leaves in its wake the vivid impression of a vital, vibrant people.
Daghestan isn't as well known abroad as Soviet Georgia, yet it is also located in the Caucasus and has been influenced by the Middle East. Its dances and music are kin to those of nearby Georgia, but as directed by Iosif Matayev for Lezginka they make the fiery Georgian folkways seem cool and contemplative.
For the men, almost all of whom sport big black mustaches, cavalry manners are second nature. They gallop onto the stage, catapult to the floor and rebound into the air as if leaping from and into a saddle. Dancing on their toes with the tips curled under, on their heels or on their knees, they ping-pong across the boards or turn corkscrews. Sometimes they spin up from a standing position, fold the legs in back and land on their kneecaps like buzzing tops.
Dance virtuosity doesn't suffice, for they borrow from acrobatic games as they do splits and somersaults, or piggyback and wheelbarrow each other in clusters of two or three. One soloist (the program listed no names) even danced while balancing on a high wire. In one of the few numbers that weren't extroverted the dancers, swathed in black sheepskin cloaks, seemed ominous, gliding across the stage as if traversing nighttime terrain on horseback. And, exceptionally, three of the men appeared classically elegant as they angled their arms resolutely in the courtship dance "Tenderness."
The women have fluid arms and hands, and their torsos sway and dip as they turn or move forward. They are as buoyant as swift schooners, revealing the intricate patterns of their gowns as these billow like sails. While the female range of movement and dynamics is restricted in comparison with that of the male, the women slyly imitate men's bravado when they are unchaperoned.
As with most folk troupes that came into being under socialist "realist" dictates, Daghestan's Lezginka paints a cheerily idealized picture of "the people," and some numbers are too pat or cute. Yet these faults are obliterated by the strength of dancing.